2014 NFL Conference Championship Predictions: Number 12 Looks Just Like You

This is a Championship Sunday where the number 12 should be very decisive.

Three of the quarterbacks wear No. 12 and Russell Wiiiiiiiil-son is cheered on by Seattle’s 12th man.

  • NE: Since last winning a Super Bowl, the Patriots are 4-8 in the playoffs when the game is a rematch from that regular season. 
  • IND: The Colts are 12-0 in rematches (9-0 vs. AFC South, 3-0 in playoffs) in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era.
  • GB: Since 2012, the Packers are 2-10 in road games against teams with a final winning record (worst record for any team with multiple playoff appearances in that time).
  • SEA: Russell Wilson is 4-8 when Seattle allows more than 20 points (0-6 when allowing more than 24 points).

Do any of these 12-game samples mean a lot for tomorrow? Maybe not, but it beats any of Heath Evans’ “Tommy” flavored audible pollution.

We know Green Bay lost 36-16 in Seattle in Week 1 and Indy lost 42-20 at home to New England in Week 11. Fortunately, the NFL is a complex game capable of producing a wide range of results. Teams change a lot from week to week as well and I think we will see more competitive games this week, even if the winning teams look familiar. But hey, this is why the regular season is so important. Green Bay would be in a much better spot if the game was at Lambeau, which it almost certainly would have been with a win in Week 1 or a win in Buffalo late in the season. The Broncos and Colts had their chances against the Patriots, but both were outclassed and that stretch put the Patriots in the driver’s seat for this No. 1 seed. Yeah, sometimes it’s not bad to lose a game so you can learn from it for a rematch, but the numbers prove your best odds of winning again are playing at home. So win the big head-to-head matchups in the regular season and your path to the Super Bowl should be smoother.

Colts at Patriots

I said all I really could on this one at FO this week. Please read it if you haven’t, or click again out of appreciation. We also have a NFC preview by Aaron Schatz.

I think the Colts put up a good fight, but NE’s balance is too much to overcome again.

Final prediction: Colts 20, Patriots 27

Packers at Seahawks

Man, opening night feels like a long time ago. The Seahawks were like a kid on Christmas playing with their new toy, Percy Harvin, complete with “Jet Sweep Action.” By New Year’s that toy was collecting dust in the corner. But for a weekend, Darrell Bevell was a genius for throwing Dom Capers’ defense off all night. Marshawn Lynch looked incredible. Wilson had some dropped interceptions. Eddie Lacy was a dud. Aaron Rodgers played one of the worst games of his career and submitted to the Richard Sherman matchup. Bryan Bulaga was injured and things really went to hell on the line.  Seattle tackled really well and limited YAC. That second half was not even competitive from the Packers.

Plenty of things have changed since, though I still think the Seahawks are the better team. Harvin is gone and Paul Richardson is on IR, but you get the sense that it doesn’t even matter for this Seattle offense. Wilson will find a way, on 37 attempts or fewer, to make enough plays, either through design or schoolyard scrambles. Doug Baldwin was very quiet in Week 1 too and should play a bigger part. Jermaine Kearse has made more big plays in two postseasons than some HOF-caliber wideouts have in their whole careers. Someone like Ricardo Lockette could even step in and catch a deep ball. I remember him beating Aqib Talib for a touchdown in Week 3. That’s the value of having a really good quarterback. Every receiver is an option. I like what Luke Willson is doing at tight end and of course Lynch is going against the worst defensive unit playing this weekend: Green Bay’s 24th-ranked run defense. Seattle has won its last two playoff games in convincing fashion without Lynch doing much. I think this is a game where he really needs to go over 100 yards to sustain longer drives that keep Rodgers off the field and shrink his margin for error. Seahawks hit big plays last week, but I think this offense works better with the longer drives that shorten games and makes the opposing offense have to play even more efficiently against the best defense in the league. I’m not in love with Seattle’s offense in this matchup, but I think they will play well again.

We have strength (GB O) vs. strength (SEA D) on the other side, and by now I think we know to side with defense in these matchups. How healthy Rodgers (calf) is obviously dominates the conversation here. If he plays like he did in the first half last week, unwilling to move in the pocket and taking bad sacks, then this might be another 20-point blowout. He has to play like he did in the second half, though Seattle covers, pressures and tackles much better than Dallas. Yeah, that’s the long way of saying this is a much better defense. Am I worried that Seattle’s dominant stretch has come against subpar QBs/offenses, and that Carolina actually moved the ball decently with a banged-up Cam Newton? Just a little. This is still Rodgers and the Packers, so a great game on offense is always a possibility. However, in Rodgers’ last two trips to Seattle he has scored a total of 28 points and been sacked 11 times. Even when healthy this year Rodgers was held under 200 yards on the road against SEA/DET/BUF and under 17 points on the scoreboard. The Vikings also contained him in Minnesota and that defense was just average. This GB offense was spectacular at home, but much easier to defend on the road. I also think Seattle’s track record against the best quarterbacks in the league is valid enough to think they won’t be shredded in this game.

Rodgers has to play very well, but Lacy must be a big part of the offense. I think the key to beating Seattle is sticking with the run even when it’s not overly effective. You can’t expect your quarterback to throw 45+ passes and win this game against that defense. Look at how San Diego played Seattle in Week 2. Philip Rivers handed off 26 times for 84 yards and threw 37 passes with 9 catches by running backs. Those 37 passes were the 2nd-most thrown against Seattle in a win since 2012. Only Matthew Stafford had more with 49 in 2012, though that version of Seattle wasn’t as good on defense. Lacy has to hit some chunk plays and break tackles to wear down this speedy defense.

The receivers are very interesting here. We have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams against Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Tharold Simon. Rodgers shouldn’t aggressively attack Sherman, but he can’t repeat Week 1 and just not throw there. The Packers had Jarrett Boykin in Week 1 with the rookie Adams not adjusted yet. Well, he’s had two huge games in GB’s biggest wins of the year against New England and Dallas. Unfortunately, he did nothing in between those games (four catches for 29 yards) so he’s a real wild card. If Adams plays at a high level than the Packers may have something here with Simon as the weak link. I expect Nelson to play much better this week. He had 14 targets in Week 1, but didn’t make big plays. Cobb’s had a weird season: 10 touchdowns thru Week 10 and only two since. You expect Sherman to win his matchup, but the Packers have enough receivers to move around and make plays. Tight ends can also be of value against this defense, but I don’t really think of Andrew Quarless or Richard Rodgers as weapons. Sure, they can run routes and catch the ball, but they’re mostly productive if Rodgers throws them strikes. This Seattle defense has only allowed four touchdown passes that gained 10+ yards, best in the NFL since the 2009 Jets (3). Rodgers has to be pinpoint in this one, and while he might have his best offensive line yet, he doesn’t have full health and I think that’s going to show up on Sunday.

I still don’t trust Mike McCarthy’s game management, or his team in crunch time. Home field is big here, with a 25-2 record since 2012 (Wilson era). Seahawks have led in 54 consecutive games (NFL record). They’re always at least within a score in the 4th quarter. This is the team to beat right now. The potential for a dynasty has been there and to do that, you have to win a game like this.

Final prediction: Packers 19, Seahawks 27

Yep, I almost went with the same score in both games. I know what I want to see happen this weekend, and it is 100% self-serving.

Hey, why not? Winning the Super Bowl is a young man’s game and the internet is just dying for that Luck/Wilson debate to take things to another level.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Week 15: 14-2
  • Week 16: 10-6
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Wild Card: 3-1
  • Divisional: 2-2
  • Total: 177-86-1
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