Conference Championship Previews

Well, I went 1-1, and once again I’m furious at myself for the loss. As it turned out, Marshawn Lynch wasn’t ready to play against Carolina– and neither were the rest of the Seahawks.

Had I simply said “Hey, a team that struggles to win a playoff game– which needs help from the opponent– probably won’t turn things around against the the #1 seed”, I’d have a better record. Well, never again.

The other game turned out to be pretty much what I expected– Ben Rothlisberger played better than I thought he would.

Oh, and the Hue Jackson profile has been stalled because I wanted to see what his staff looked like. One of the loudest complaints about Jackson in Oakland was that he hired (or retained) a bunch of people who didn’t know what they were doing. It seemed dumb to speculate about whether he had learned anything from his time in Oakland when I could just wait and see what he did.

What he did was very stupid. I should be able to get the profile out this week.

New England (-3.0) at Denver

This would be an easy choice if one of two things were true:

  • The Patriots had anyone who could run the ball.
  • Denver weren’t starting Peyton Manning at QB.

New England went 14-38 against Kansas City last week; the only rushing touchdown came on a Tom Brady sneak. Kansas City allowed the third-lowest rushing average in the NFL; Denver was #1. So if New England wins, they’ll have to do it by throwing, with trick plays or defense and turnovers.

Manning played badly against the Steelers. He gained 222 yards on 37 throws (exactly 6.0 yards per pass), throwing his longest pass for 34 yards. Both that pass and his only other pass over 20 yards (31 yards) were short balls where most of the yardage came after the catch.

The Steelers had to play a conservative defensive game, because they knew their offense (which had no running backs and a quarterback whose arm was attached by a ligament or two) probably couldn’t answer if the defense gave up any big plays. That benefited Manning, by keeping the pass rush away from him, and letting him complete a slew of dinks and dunks.

That, plus running Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson 32 times, until the Pittsburgh defense tired, let the Broncos eke out enough points to win.

A healthy Pittsburgh team– Roethlisberger at full strength, LeVeon Bell and DeAngelo Williams running and Antonio Brown catching– would have beaten Denver handily.

The problem, of course, is that New England isn’t close to being healthy– and Denver isn’t that much worse defensively than Kansas City.

The one thing going for the Patriots is that they lost to Denver 30-24 in overtime– and both WRs Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola missed the game, and TE Rob Gronkowski got injured in the fourth quarter. ALl three players are injured– but they can at least play.

Also, Denver had Brock Osweiler playing the game they won, and he played better than Manning has. Manning doesn’t play well against New England, and he’s been quite bad against them in the playoffs.

Also, Gary Kubiak is a bad coach who usually commits a couple of errors in judgment in close games.

Also Denver barely escaped the Steelers.

Plus there’s this. I don’t like Bill Belicheat or Equipment Manager Tom Brady. If I pick Denver to win– and New England does– I’ll be mad that they won and mad because I picked against them and lost. If I pick New England to win, I’ll either be happy about my correct prediction or happy to see the Patriots lose.

I’m leaning toward New England anyway, but that really locks it down.

Prediction: New England 23, Denver 14

Arizona at Carolina (-3 )

There is simply no reason to pick Arizona. Carolina has won more games, scored more points and allowed fewer. They run the ball better and stop the run better, and are not substantially worse than Arizona on either side of the passing game. They turn the ball over less and force more turnovers and sack the quarterback more.

Carolina has more wins in the playoffs over the last few years and have played better in those games. Last week’s game– where they stomped on the NFC Conference Champion for a half and then hung on to win– was a very impressive performance.

Arizona, on the other hand, got slapped around by the Packers, pulled ahead, let their opponents tie the game… and could have lost had the Packers tried a two-point conversion and made it. They won in overtime because the Packers had a defensive collapse reminiscent of the 2013 Browns under Ray Horton– leaving Arizona’s best receiver totally unguarded.

Carson Palmer had a good game if you look only at the stats… but if you pull out that 75-yard completion due to a Green Bay screwup– and the fourth quarter touchdown pass that looked like a tip drill– his performance was very ordinary. Cam Newton didn’t have a spectacular game– once the Panthers went up 31-0, you could almost see him repeating the words “Don’t blow this, don’t blow this…” like a mantra.

The game will be in Carolina. Weather won’t be horrible, but it certainly won’t be as nice as the Cards like it.

About the only thing going for Arizona is that Larry Fitzgerald has a lot of experience and can still take over a game… and Carolina’s stats were compiled against weaker opponents.

Unless Arizona comes out in “Take no prisoners!!!” mode, while Carolina isn’t ready to play, this ought to be a pretty one-sided game.

Prediction: Carolina 27, Arizona 13.

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