Sunday, January 18, 2015

NFL Championship Game Predictions

I know, I've talked some trash -- and will continue to do so in the future -- about the nature and culture of the NFL, about its propensity for brushing over the off-field incidents, the catastrophic injuries, the slave system of the NCAA that feeds the machine by making unholy sums of money literally off the bodies of broke college kids, etc.

But the competition is the thing; I've been a football fan since I was like seven or eight years old, and so as always, despite my many misgivings about this (or indeed any professional) sport, here are the usual predictions. I would have hit last week's divisional games (and correctly, except for the upstart Colts surprising the Broncos at home, and weirdly sending that latter team into a full tailspin), but real-life circumstances have gotten amazingly busy lately (mostly very good, but still very busy).

Anyway, here are my semi-educated guessesinfallible predictions:

Green Bay (+7.5) at Seattle:  Both of these teams began the 2014 regular season with high expectations -- indeed, this matchup was highly anticipated back in September (the teams were matched up as the very first regular season game of 2014, with the Seahawks winning 36-16). However, both teams got off to very rough (for them) starts, identically going 5-3 in the first half of the season, then each getting hot at the right time and going 7-1 in the second half of the season.

So:  identical regular-season records at 12-4, both teams have elite quarterbacks and excellent defenses, indicating a close game. However, Seattle is very strong at home, losing only twice in the last three seasons (25-2 including playoffs), their defense is fantastic where Green Bay's is merely very good, Marshawn Lynch is a more punishing runner than Eddie Lacy (who again is still very good), and so on.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers refused to challenge trash-talking Seahawks CB Richard Sherman in their regular-season meeting, and as Rodgers appeared to be pretty banged-up last week against their lucky-break win against the Dallas Cowboys, Sherman may have yet another easy afternoon, freeing him up to blitz and harass Rodgers even more. Packers rookie WR Davante Adams is a budding star, and should have at least one or two big plays, but it won't be quite enough.

Also, too:  Did you see what Seahawk safety Kam Chancellor did last week, not once but twice on two consecutive plays? First half should stay close, but Seattle should pull away later in the game.

Final Score:  Seahawks 31, Packers 17.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at New England:  As a lifelong fan of the hapless Oakland Raiders, my disdain of Tom Brady is duly chronicled, primarily due to the refereeing travesty commonly known as The Tuck Rule Game. (As folks are fond of saying about anything and everything, Never Forget.) Ray Lewis had a valid point when he noted that Brady owes a good chunk of his Hall of Fame career to that particular game; it was in the media leading up to that game that coach Bill Belichick had questions about Brady and the Patriots' spotty defense, and it's more than likely that Brady would have been relegated or even traded, losing a home playoff game on a 4th-quarter fumble.

Anyhoo, despite all that, Brady has certainly performed as a top-tier QB for his career, and in the last couple seasons especially, without a true #1 wide receiver, has pushed the Patsies into the playoffs again and again, almost by force of sheer will. Non-murderous tight end Rob Gronkowski has returned to form after significant injury surgeries the last couple seasons, and is Brady's go-to guy.

Andrew Luck and the Colts are making a strong case already to be the AFC dynasty of the future, as Brady and Peyton Manning near retirement. The Colts still need a reliable #1 running back, having wasted a #1 pick in the trade for Cleveland's Trent Richardson last year. T.Y. Hilton has emerged as a #1 wide receiver, but they still need a complementary receiver opposite Hilton. Defensively, Indy is in the middle of the league, slightly better than New England against the pass, slightly worse against the run.

It's tempting to call for an upset on this one -- and it wouldn't be that surprising, but the Pats have the experience and the home-field advantage, and whatever deal with Beelzebub (and the refs) that took place over a decade ago.

Final Score:  Patriots 34, Colts 31.

[Updates and SB predictions immediately following the AFC game tonight.]

[Update:  Even when I'm right, I manage to get it a little wrong -- while I picked both winning teams, I had picked Seattle and Indy to beat the spread. Instead, the increasingly insufferable Seahawks played one of their worst, most inept games in several years, only to stage an epic 4th-quarter comeback, while the hapless Colts were hopelessly overmatched from the outset. Anyway, we get the expected Super Bowl matchup of Seahawks-Patriots, to which half the football-watching nation wonders, can't they both lose? We can at least be consoled by the fact that Tom Brady is getting closer and closer to retirement, while the Seahawks are about to have to make some tough and expensive decisions in free agency. Tune in on game day for our amazing Super Bowl prediction, and Katy Perry's cans.]

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