Last week, the New England Patriots narrowly avoided another defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, craftily eking out a 35-31 victory at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. This week, the Pats host the Indianapolis Colts, who ousted the Denver Broncos led by a less than healthy Peyton Manning.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks’ second-half barrage against the Carolina Panthers got them yet another step closer to consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Before getting there, they will be challenged by a Green Bay Packers team that needed all 60 minutes and some favorable officiating to outlast the Dallas Cowboys.
The first game Sunday, which starts at 3:05 p.m. Eastern time, is a replay of the opening game of the season, pitting the offensively-dominant Green Bay Packers against the tremendous defense of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.
The Packers continue to win despite QB Aaron Rodgers struggling with a calf injury. Rodgers looked less than 100 percent last Sunday against Dallas, but got the job done, throwing for 316 yards and three touchdowns. This week, Rodgers will have to out-maneuver the best secondary in the NFL. Look for the Packers signal-caller to move breakout wide receiver Randall Cobb around the formation to get him touches in space. Rodgers will also look down the field to wide receiver Jordy Nelson for big plays.
The Seahawks will look to stifle the Packers wide receivers and get a consistent rush on Rodgers to make the All-Pro quarterback uncomfortable. The cornerstone of Seattle’s success has been a suffocating defense, one that led the NFL in passing yards allowed and the Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value above Replacement (DVOA), which measures how, when and where yards and points were conceded by the defense.
This year, a name that should become a household one is Kam Chancellor, Seattle's strong safety. Chancellor was crucial in sealing the victory last weekend, intercepting a Cam Newton pass and taking it 90 yards for a touchdown. While Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas III might make the most noise off the field, Kam is making his on the field, laying big hits on wide receivers and making game-changing plays in the secondary. Asked about the hit that knocked him out of their Week 1 bout, Packers running back Eddie Lacy, a physical player himself, could only heap praise on Chancellor.
“Definitely one of the hardest hitters I ever ran into,” Lacy said on Wednesday to reporters at packers.com. “We stalemated. Pretty cool.”
The Packers will plan to mitigate the Seattle secondary and ultimately put up a stronger fight than they did in Week 1. That being said, the Seattle defense at home will be too much to handle and the Seahawks will likely go on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. You can watch the Seahawks and Packers on Fox.
The second game Sunday kicks off at 6:40 p.m. Eastern time in Foxborough, as Tom Brady and the Patriots welcome Andrew Luck and the Colts in the AFC Championship game. The last time these two teams played, the Patriots' running game dominated the Colts to the tune of 246 yards and a 22-point win in November.
This time, the Colts know that stopping the run will be paramount, and will look to do so from their base package without sacrificing the safeties they need to stop the Patriots passing attack. On offense, the Colts will turn the game over to Andrew Luck and hope that he can generate enough points to outlast the Patriots. The Colts offense this postseason has been even more one-dimensional than their regular season iteration, throwing the ball 88 times and running only 43 despite having the lead for the majority of both of their playoff games.
Meanwhile, it is difficult to gauge what to expect from New England, especially during playoff time when head coach Bill Belichick is at his most dastardly. Last week, the Patriots used Julian Edelman in the passing game to score and created more than 40 yards using an ingenious interpretation of the rules to mask which receivers were eligible and which were not. While we might expect the Patriots to key in on the running game, which was so effective against Indianapolis the first time, it is never easy to say what game plan they will employ.
It is far easier to predict what we will get from Tom Brady, who will be making his ninth AFC Championship game appearance in his 15-year career. Brady has thrown more touchdowns in the postseason (46) than some quarterbacks in their careers, and his 19 postseason wins speak for themselves. Expect the Patriots to advance to yet another Super Bowl, proving to be too much for the promising young Colts team. The Patriots and Colts will be televised by CBS.