NFL: Final Four

By: Shawn Davis

New England @ Denver

We have two of the most consistent franchises in the AFC this season squaring off for a ticket to New Jersey for the Super Bowl. You may have heard of the quarterbacks, I’m not sure though. (I’ll mention them in a bit.) Having the top-two seeds face each other squashes the “right team at the right time” mantra that has been giving every franchise a glimmer of hope when training camps open; this year the four best teams are left standing. Sunday will be a great day to be in front of the television.

It’s a safe bet to say that the scoreboard is going to be getting more of a workout in this game compared to its NFC counterpart. The winner, here, will have to get at least 31 to walk off the field in a jovial mood. Field goals will not be enough to secure breathing room and are only going to cause tension while possibly ensuring a warm seat on the couch while the festivities are kicking off two weeks from now.

Where to focus? Well, I’m going to look on the defensive side of the ball because it’s not going to be about stopping either offense as much as it will be about getting the necessary stop. The Broncos trot out the Defense That Keeps Drives Alive so that sums up how I feel about them on that side of the ball. Additionally, their best pass rusher, Von Miller, is out and their best player in the secondary, Chris Harris, will also be on crutches. They were able to get a good amount of pressure against the San Diego Chargers last week but it’s hard to predict if that will carry over.

New England has to play without their defensive anchor, Vince Wilfork, as well as Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly. The Patriots held the (limited) Indianapolis Colts offense to 22 points last week which would clearly book their trip to the Snow Bowl if they can cap the Broncos scoring there. The Patriots are 18th in passing yards allowed (239 yards per game) and 30th in rushing yards allowed (134.1) while the Broncos are 27th in passing (254.4) and 8th in rushing (101.6) respectively. Tom Brady will be able to carve them to shreds because they do not get teams off the field in third down situations. Hence the whole keeping-drives-alive thing I mentioned above.

The offensive game plan for the Broncos will be to focus Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball and that’s a great way to go about it considering the Patriots are weak against the ground attack. The final score will be 38-35 because both defenses bend just enough not to break.

Both teams are talking about featuring the rush, and they should, but I’m sure Brady is going to take his shots. He really should because the Broncos actually have Quentin Jammer starting at corner when he’s better suited to play safety at this point in his career because he’s about two steps slower than the receivers he’s been tasked with lining up against.

Who needs it more? That is a question that the media has been screaming about constantly this entire week. Peyton Manning, unquestionably, needs to WIN another Super Bowl more than Brady does but they both need this victory. Who do you think wants to leave the field tomorrow knowing another year goes by without holding the title at the end of the season? They are both knocking on the door of 40 so it’s no guarantee they get another shot next season.

Historically, Manning presses when he’s on the sideline when his offense doesn’t get the touches that he’d like. Unless this game gets out of hand – I think it stays tight all afternoon – he will be anxious at some point in time. I don’t know if that’s going to lead to turnovers, missed throws (or rushed throws) but it will manifest somewhere if the Patriots get out to an early lead. He’s going to have all the pressure on him, and whether he wants to admit it or not, he knows what this game means for him, individually and historically. He’s also aware that he has to get as many touchdowns as he can because his defense will be giving them up when they’re on the field. Quarterbacks get all the attention – positively or negatively – and the spotlight is on #18.

If Brady takes the loss, he is still Teflon. His career and his legacy are already secured so he won’t be dinged if the Broncos prevail. Any additional ring that he may or may not win is just extra dessert after the meal; take it home or eat it now, order it or not. If the Broncos win, even more pressure sits on Manning until he overcomes the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks.

Who goes to the Super Bowl?

Peyton Manning will use his full allotment of weapons and get his touchdowns with little resistance but the problem is that Brady will do the exact same thing when he has the ball. Both defenses will be on their heels and someone will make a key tackle, interception or cause (and recover) a fumble. Someone will NEED to make that play and I think…

Pick: Patriots over Broncos, 38-35. I do not trust the Broncos defense at all! I’m sorry Peyton. Throw away your phone, television and car radio – and replace them during training camp in a few months because it’s going to be harsh.

San Francisco @ Seattle

Russell Wilson has been an average starting quarterback over the last month. What’s going on? It seems to me that his confidence is down and I don’t know why. He’s been missing open targets one possession and reluctant to fire on throws that he’s made before on the next one. I think that over the length of the season he just doesn’t believe his receivers can win any longer. It could all be mental but his inconsistency needs to be alarming entering such a big game. The sky isn’t falling but it’s worth taking notice of.

The 49ers are now sporting the “nobody wants to play us right now” title since the Chargers are no longer in the tournament…and they didn’t deserve the moniker anyway. (I know that I picked them to beat the Broncos last week but that’s because Denver’s defense smells like alchohol-induced farts.) Colin Kaepernick is wearing his annual playoff-destruction armor because he is killing opponents through the air and on the ground. However, I have noticed that when he takes off, at least recently, he does not keep his eyes down-field. There were a few moments last week when his receivers broke open once the initial play fizzled and he just took the easy rushing yards. Even though the 49ers controlled the Carolina Panthers by winning 23-10, I think there were chances for 10 points (or more) that were left on the field.

I find it amusing that these teams have experienced their greatest success as West Coast offense adopters but are now trotting out the best defensive units the NFL has to offer. They feature power running attacks, read-option wrinkles in their offensive scheme, good players in the secondary that can both tackle and cover, they both have a multitude of options in terms of getting after the passer and they are physical. It is telling that the Seahawks have outscored the 49ers 71-16 the last two times that the 49ers have made the trip to Seattle.

Who has the edge?

This is like “Street Fighter” when Ken and Ryu have to face one another. They are competing against an opponent that is best equipped to defeat them – as well as having the same strengths and weaknesses. The Seahawks and 49ers draft for one another, they acquire players with the other teams’ transactions in mind or to blatantly mirror what their rival is doing. This is going to be fun and I think you should put the kids away for this game. This one will not be for family viewing.

Pick: Seahawks over 49ers 23-17.

Last week: 2-2
Playoffs: 4-4

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