The final countdown -'s NFL Championship Games preview

Will there be any surprises this week?

BY THE EARLY hours of Monday morning, we’ll know which two teams will contest Super Bowl XLIX with the Patriots and Seahawks going into this weekend’s AFC and NFC Championship Games as favourites,

Here we take a closer look at both games and see if that favouritism is justified.

AFC Championship Game – Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots, 11.40pm Sunday

Source: Darron Cummings/AP/Press Association Images

To reach this stage, the Indianapolis Colts have beaten a quarterback in Andy Dalton who has lost all four of his playoff games and a quarterback in Peyton Manning who has reached the postseason 14 times only to lose at the first attempt on nine occasions.

On Sunday, they face a New England Patriots side who – in the three times they’ve played since Andrew Luck became the Colts’ starting quarterback – has beaten them by 35, 21 and 22 points respectively. In short, they’ve no chance against the Patriots in Sunday night so lets move on to the…

Actually, the Colts have every chance – which is why the home side are only 6.5 point favourites – but they’ll have to be a lot better at stopping the run than they traditionally are against the Patriots. Indeed, in their last three games, they’ve allowed New England to run the ball 115 times for nearly 600 yards (5.2 yards per carry). Little wonder they’ve conceded an average of four rushing touchdowns per game against the Pats.

I’ve seen nothing from the Colts to suggest they can stop the Patriots run game in the same way the Ravens did last weekend – limiting them to 14 yards all game – but they do have the ability to keep their hosts on the sideline for vast swathes of the game with a run game of their own that has improved significantly since they combined for a grand total of 4 yards on 13 carries against New England back in week 11.

And then there’s Andrew Luck. With their re-jigged offensive line holding off Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware quite easily last weekend, and Chandler Jones so disappointing in the pass rush for the Patriots, it’s quite possible the former number one overall Draft pick could have one of those games we’ll talk about for years to come.

Of course, New England just have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis, Bill Belichick…

Storyline you’ll hear most about on the tv broadcast: Chandler Jones going up against his brother Arthur Jones of the Colts. You many have heard of their other brother Jon Jones, UFC light heavy weight champ.

Coaches Film potential talking point: After using just four offensive linemen on plays against the Ravens, don’t be surprised if the Pats use six against the Colts. They did so nearly 40 times back in week 11.

Betting line: The Patriots are 6.5 point favourites.

Pick: The Patriots. In Foxborough. With their record against the Colts? How could you pick anything else other than New England covering the spread?

NFC Championship Game – Green Bay Backers @ Seattle Seahawks, 8pm Sunday

Source: Elaine Thompson/AP/Press Association Images

The opening game of the 2014 NFL season seems a long time ago but there won’t be a Packers fan or player who doesn’t lose sleep over just how dominant the Seahawks were in all facets of that loss.

And for those who say location doesn’t matter in the postseason, the very reason this game is taking place in Seattle is because the Seahawks were so dominant at home against the Packers in week one. Scarily for Green Bay fans, since 2012, they’ve lost seven games in a row on the road against teams with winning records. That’s Raiders bad.

Both teams come into the game on impressive streaks with the Seahawks winning their last seven and the Packers recording eight wins in their last nine games. However, not all streaks are created equally. While the Packers have struggled to put teams away (winning just two of their last six games by a touchdown or more) the Seahawks have killed opponents on defence, conceding a record low of 6.5  points per game over the last six weeks of the season.

This all sounds like I don’t think the Packers can win. I do, but they’ll need Rodgers to be as perfect throughout the game as he was on the final ten plays of Green Bay’s win over the Cowboys when he went 10/10 for 163 yards (16.3 yards per attempt), two touchdowns and no interceptions.

However, even that might not be enough. On third down against a very good Panthers defence last weekend, Russell Wilson showed he was not just a running quarterback. On third down, Wilson was eight of eight for 199 yards (nearly 25 ypa), three touchdowns and no picks.

Storyline you’ll hear most about on the tv broadcast: Aaron Rodgers and his dodgy calf. Expect it to be mentioned every time the quarterback is sacked.

Coaches Film potential talking point: No team makes more explosive plays (plays of 16 yards or more) on offence than the Seahawks, expect at least one monster play.

Betting line: The Packers are 7.5 point underdogs.

Pick: Super Bowl XLIX will be the Patriots v Seahawks with Seattle covering the spread this weekend.

Coaches Film: Here’s one way the Packers could beat the Seahawks on Sunday

Coaches Film: The Patriots prove that necessity is the mother of all invention

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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