NFL Picks: The Conference Championships

Published 5:02 pm Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The NFL has its dream matchups this weekend. All season, I’ve heard analysts talk about the greatness of Peyton Manning, the overachieving of the Patriots and the physicality of the Seahawks and 49ers.

Seattle and San Francisco is the best rivalry in the NFL right now and Manning vs. Tom Brady is the NFL’s equivalent to Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird in the NBA.

I think the four best teams in the league will be playing this weekend and that doesn’t always happen in a league full of parity.

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Buckle up and get ready for an exciting Sunday of conference championships.

Here are the picks:

New England at Denver

First and foremost, I need to destroy a myth that ESPN is trying to spread. I’ve heard at least twice on that network that Tom Brady is doing more than Peyton Manning with less. I agree that Brady has less around him on offense, but let’s look and see who has done more this season.

Manning threw for 5,5477 yards with 55 TDs and 10 interceptions this season. Good for a QB rating of 115.1.

Brady threw for 4,343 yards with 25 TDs and 11 interceptions. His QB rating of 87.3 is his worse rating since 2008, when he threw 11 passes the entire season. If you don’t count that season, it’s his worse rating since 2003.

I know Brady is an all-time great, but let’s not pretend like the Patriots rash of injuries have not impacted his game at all. The man is human.

What the Patriots have done this year is find ways to win a lot of close games. New England won seven games by a touchdown or less this season and some of those games came down to the last play of the game. Their success is a direct credit to the coaching of Bill Belichick and a strong running game.

The Denver Broncos happen to have one of the best running defenses in football, but their pass defense is bad. So Brady will have his chance to light up the Broncos and get his team back to the Super Bowl.

If Denver wants to win this game, it will have to run early and often against a Pats defense that struggles against the run. I fear that Manning will try and take this game over and prove that he’s still got it against a pretty good Pats’ secondary and New England will take advantage.

Let’s not forget that Manning throws the ball away almost immediately any time he sees a semblance of a pass rush.

I made the mistake of picking against the Pats last week. I won’t do it again.


San Francisco at Seattle

This game will set an NFL record for trash talking and late hits. I expect to see a lot of posturing and gesturing from both sides. In fact, I’m going to keep track of such activities for next week’s blog. I will tally every time a 49er or Seahawks talks trash after a play, any time there’s any type of altercation and every flag that happened after a whistle.

I expect the numbers to be high.

These teams will try to intimidate one another, but it won’t work. They’re both full of tough guys.

Sadly, I think this game will come down to who gets the benefit of the doubt on penalties. I’ll be shocked if the team that wins the penalty battle doesn’t win this game. Both defenses are so good that it’ll be tough for either offense to move the ball.

A late hit here or a pass interference there could change the whole dynamic of how this one turns out. Last week the 49ers got away with 12-men in the huddle right before they scored a TD at the end of the first half and Anquan Boldin got away with clear head butt as the 49ers were marching in for a score.

Normally I’d say the 49ers would get the calls, but they’re going to Seattle, where the Seahawks once credited with a game winning TD against the Packers by throwing an interception. Seattle’s secondary probably gets away with more contact than any other in the league. It’s like the refs think its 1985 and the bump and run is still the norm.

With that in mind, I’m going with the home team.


Playoffs: 5-3; overall: 157-100