There are only three games left in the 2015-16 NFL season. They are the AFC and NFC Championship games, which are being played this Sunday, January 24, 2015. The last game, of course, is Super Bowl 50, in Santa Clara. The two championship games will determine the opponents for the landmark Super Bowl 50. The AFC Championship game features a quarterback rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, which goes back over 15 years. As most people know, Manning and Brady are going to meet fir the 17th time. Tom Brady leads the overall series with an 11-5 advantage. The two future Hall of Famers are 2-2 in the playoffs.
In the less talked about NFC Championship game fans will see two Heisman Award winning QBs, Carson Palmer and Cam Newton. Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in 2002, and Cam Newton won it in 2010. Both men were the #1 overall picks in their respective draft classes, Palmer in 2003, and Newton in 2011. This match-up should be interesting, especially since it’s between a team led by a QB representing the “old guard,” in Carson Palmer, and a team representing the “modern player,” in Cam Newton. I know that Newton strikes a nerve with some people, to the extent that they write ridiculous letters to the newspapers, but I think Newton gives the NFL a shot in the arm.
Both games should be very exciting games. In this blog, I will discuss the team’s in each of these games. I will discuss how they got to their respective championship game. I will analyze what each team needs to do to win, and then give my prediction. I hope that my readers will enjoy this blog.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for the NFL 2015-16 AFC and NFC Championship games.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
TEAMS: (2) New England Patriots at (1) Denver Broncos
DATE: January 24, 2016
KICKOFF: 3:05PM, EST
LOCATION: Denver, CO.
STADIUM: Invesco Field at Mile High
I will start with the home team, the Denver Broncos, and how they got here. They’re the #1 seed, and in last week’s Divisional Round playoff game, they defeated a short-handed Pittsburgh Steelers team by a score of 23-16. The Browns win can be credited to mainly their special teams/kicking game, running game, and their defense. QB Peyton Manning was efficient in the passing game. Unfortunately, for the Steelers, despite a 339 yard performance by a badly injured QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint put the ball on the ground, and that doomed Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ punter and play calling didn’t help either.
Now, to the visiting New England Patriots, who are the defending Super Bowl Champions, and are the #2 seed. They made their 5th AFC Championship game in a row, by beating the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium in the Divisional Round. Not only was Tom Brady sharp in that game, but he had his full complement of weapons. WR Julian Edelman, who earlier in the regular season suffered a Jones Fracture against the New York Giants, finally returned, and the Patriots offense was revived. TE Rob Gronkowski had a great game as well. The Chiefs tried to make a game of it, but coach Andy Reid’s clock management issues came up to bite him in the rear. The Patriots prevailed 27-20.
As for this game, there’s been a ton of trash talking from the Broncos, with Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski tweeting a response. It appears that either the Broncos players are scared, or they’re trying to curry favor with the officials, but Broncos players like DE Antonio Smith are calling QB Tom Brady a “crybaby.” CB Chris Harris said that the only way to bring down Gronkowski is to hit him in the knees. To me, the Commissioner and his cronies look like a bunch of hypocrites, with their platitudes about player safety and integrity of the game, by not commenting on the “hitting guys in the knees.” Then again, I guess that’s applies only to the Patriots. Imagine the uproar if a Patriots player initiated this nonsense? How could Park Avenue be whining about player safety, when there are players announcing in the media, that they’re going to dive into an opponent’s knees?
I am seeing a nip and tuck game. The Broncos need to try to get Brady to hold the ball a little longer, so they can disrupt the timing. They do have DeMarcus Ware back. Ware didn’t play in the Week 12 match-up. Chris Harris has gone through a full practice on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be. Both RBs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson have to have big games. QB Peyton Manning has to be more of a game manager, like he was against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For the New England Patriots to win, their battered offensive line must protect Brady. That Denver defense will be coming up that middle all day long. Fortunately, for Tom Brady, Edelman is back. Edelman shed off some rust against the Chiefs, so he should be a lot better in this game. Brady must get the ball out of his hands fast. Gronkowski must be aware of the fact that those Broncos players will try to dive at his knees. I saw a few of them diving at Steelers players’ knees, and the referees looked the other way. Patriots defense must stop the Broncos’ Run game. That run game is essential to Denver’s offense. As the saying goes, “Don’t give Peyton the answers.”
PREDICTION: I realize that Tom Brady is 2-6 against the Broncos. I am also aware that the Broncos are 6-0, since 2008, when Ed Hochuli is the referee. I hope that Ed doesn’t become a factor. The Patriots will have WR Danny Amendola, who was not in the Week 12 match-up. Yes, with the on-coming East Coast storm, the Patriots probably wished they had won one of those games, so they’d be the #1 seed, but, I don’t think it is going to matter.
The winner and AFC Champion will be the New England Patriots by a score of 24-20.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
TEAMS: (2) Arizona Cardinals at (1) Carolina Panthers
DATE: January 24, 2016
KICKOFF : 6:40PM, EST
LOCATION: Charlotte, NC
STADIUM: Bank of America Stadium
I’m going to start with the #2 seed Arizona Cardinals. They made it to the NFL championship game by defeating a valiant and undermanned Green Bay Packers team in the Divisional Round by a score of 26-20. That game was one of the most exciting games ever. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is outstanding with that deep ball. He tied the game with a Hail Mary pass, much like that Hail Mary pass he threw to win the game against the Detroit Lions. Not only that, more drama ensued, when head referee Clete Blakeman messes up the coin flip for overtime.
The coin didn’t flip, so Blakeman flipped it again, and the Cardinals won. QB Carson Palmer, whose interceptions nearly cost his team the game, throws the ball to WR Larry Fitzgerald, who slashes the Packers defense, before being stopped at around the 10 yard line. The Cardinals end up scoring the winning TD on a shovel pass to Fitzgerald. Complaints came in about the OT rules, but I think that teams should man up, and play defense.
Now, the Carolina Panthers, who earned a #1 seed, defeated the SeattleSeahawks by a score of 31-21. I have heard experts say that problems in the regular season tend to pop up in the post season. That was true for both of these teams. It was a good thing that the Panthers got up 31-0 in the first half. During the regular season, against teams like Green Bay, and Indianapolis, the Panthers would get a lead, and then nearly blow it. They won, but they almost game the game away. Well, in the second half of the Divisional Round game, the same thing happened, the Panthers allowed the Seahawks to get back into the game. They have to correct that. Other than that, Cam Newton had a very good game. Jonathan Stewart had a very good game. LB Luke Kuechly had an outstanding game.
As for the Seahawks, they have to figure out how they gave up so many leads. Does coach Pete Carroll need to re-think his play calling? His clock management was horrible against the Panthers. Is the team going to change its identity, and become more of a passing team? I didn’t understand their strategy in the Panthers game at all.
For the Arizona Cardinals to win, Carson Palmer must protect the ball. This is paramount. The Panthers defense is very aggressive. Bruce Arians must not get too aggressive with his play calling. The Cardinals may finally be getting RB Chris Johnson, so that should help their running game. WR Larry Fitzgerald must have a great game. The Arizona defense, especially DE Dwight Freeney, must be able to stop the run game. Freeney and their pass rushers have to contain Cam Newton, as he is a threat to run. The secondary must account for Panthers TE Greg Olsen.
For a Panthers victory, as I said, the team must keep the pedal to the metal, when they have a lead. As much as he gets criticized for doing so, Bill Belichick takes this approach, as NO LEAD is safe in the NFL. I’m sure that 1993 Houston Oilers team, which gave up that 35-3 lead to the Buffalo Bills will agree. In the Divisional Round game last week, the Panthers nearly gave up the entire game. The defense has to pressure Cardinals QB Carson Palmer into throwing interceptions. The defense has to force fumbles. Cam Newton needs to get the ball out quickly to WR Ted Ginn and TE Greg Olsen. Newton needs to protect himself, if he chooses to run.
PREDICTION: This will be a battle between defenses. The Cardinals are the more complete team. However, Carson Palmer’s penchant for throwing interceptions is concerning, especially against an opportunistic defense like Carolina’s. Palmer has a finger injury. He said that it’s not bothering him, but from looking at some of his throws, it looks like it is hampering him. On the other hand, the Panthers have a tendency to nearly give away games. That habit is going to bite them in the rear, but I don’t think it happens here.
The Winner and NFC Champion will be the Carolina Panthers by a score of 35-28.
Your Super Bowl 50 match-up will be the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots vs the Carolina Panthers, which is a rematch of Super Bowl 38.