Tag Archives: Playoffs

NFC Championship Game Preview: 49ers @ Seahawks

Seahawks 49ersby Jim Bearor

           For the most part, I’ll spare the statistics, because as I said in my earlier post, I’m not going to be able to give numbers and matchups that aren’t already out there.

            We all know Seattle has home field advantage, but many people don’t truly appreciate how much playing in CenturyLink Stadium benefits the Seahawks.  Since the beginning of last year – AKA the beginning of the Russell Wilson era – the Seahawks have gone 16-1 at home (yeah I know what I said about stats, but come on, that’s unbelievable). 

Seattle fans are notoriously loud already, and this game could be the loudest yet. This is not only because their team is playing for a Super Bowl berth, but also due to the unusual policies concerning ticket sales enacted by CenturyLink earlier this week. Tickets were available Monday morning for the NFC Championship game, but only to those who live in Washington, Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, or the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia (the Broncos have done something very similar to this as well). Obviously their intent is to keep San Fran fans out of the stadium.

Controversial? Maybe, but my NFC Championship Preview isn’t the place for an ethics discussion (because I said so).

Bottom line: the place is going to be rocking, and I think it will affect the Niners – Colin Kaepernick in particular. Although he has had some rushing success in his two games at Seattle (118 yards total), Kaep has struggled throwing the ball. He has completed 32 of his 64 passes for 371 yards – which comes out to be around 5.8 yards per attempt – and has only one passing touchdown versus four interceptions.  I’m a Kaepernick fan, but those struggles can’t be ignored.

While this all this suggests Kaepernick might get rattled and cost his team the game, I’m not completely convinced that this is how it will play out.  Yes, the noise will be a factor – a HUGE factor – but in his young career, Colin has proven that he is the kind of player who can handle the pressure that comes with big games like this. So I expect to see Colin take the field on Sunday night as confident as he seems to be in those Beats commercials.

It’s pretty for Kaep easy to keep the right state of mind though when you’re handing the ball off more than you’re forced to drop back and pass against the biggest, baddest, most ball-hawkingest secondary on the planet.  The Seahawks know this, and I believe Bobby Wagner and a fully healed KJ Wright will be bringing the heat early and often, daring Kaepernick to test his luck through the air. It will take a great deal of stress off of Seattle’s offense if they can keep San Fran’s ground game in check — including Kaepernick tucking and running on designed passes.

Speaking of tall orders, Russell Wilson is going to have his hands full if the front seven of the 49ers takes away the running game. The offensive line for Seattle is impressive, but not as good as the group they’re facing.  I think the 49ers are going to give Marshawn Lynch a very tough time, in hopes of putting Wilson on the spot. 

Essentially, I believe that San Francisco and Seattle will come in with very similar gameplans.  Both will try to force the other’s young quarterback to try and make plays against a staunch defense.  The only differences I see are that the Seahawks have a better secondary, and the 49ers have a better set of lineman and ‘backers. 

Here is what it comes down to: the 49ers may have an easier time forcing the ball into Russell Wilson’s hands, but if the Seahawks somehow manage to contain Gore and Kaepernick on the ground, Kaepernick will be given the near-impossible task of throwing on the Legion of Boom in their own dojo.

So to wrap things up, CenturyLink Stadium is going to be very loud, each team is going to target the opposing quarterback, CenturyLink Stadium is going to be very loud, Kaepernick hasn’t had success in Seattle thus far in his career, and CenturyLink Stadium is going to be very loud.

Wilson and Kaepernick both put together impressive games, but Seattle’s D forces one big turnover that makes the difference. 

Seattle wins, 20-13.

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Key Matchups and My Prediction for Broncos – Patriots

Patriots Broncos

by Jim Bearor

There are only three weeks left of football – maybe the best football we’ve seen all year – but still, the NFL season is almost over, and that sucks.  As excited as I am to see a new champion emerge, I am equally as scared to go about my life without football for the next several months, and I know there are thousands of fans who feel the same way.

Knowing the end is near changes how we view things.  Playoff games are already overanalyzed, and the magnifying glass only gets bigger as the weeks go by.  Here we are, the day before the AFC and NFC Championship Games, and every aspect of both games has been broken down. All positional matchups have already been covered, and I’m sure that every possible result has been predicted by one “expert” or another. This makes it awful tough for me to offer a “unique take” on it all, but I’ll give it a whack anyway.

I firmly believe that despite the high-profile quarterbacks on either end, the AFC Title game will be won at –or near – the line of scrimmage. More specifically, here are a couple positional matchups that deserve more attention.

When the Patriots have the ball

The offensive line of New England has improved a great deal as the season has gone on.  Although it is the same patchwork group that allowed Brady to be sacked 40 times in the regular season, their suddenly dominant run blocking has defined the team’s playoff run to this point.  How well they handle Denver’s defensive line on inside handoffs – primarily Terrance Knighton and Shawn Phillips – will determine what role the Broncos linebackers will play.  If the Patriots have difficulty moving the ball inside, that frees up Linebackers Trevathan and Woodyard to focus on pass coverage.

Another matchup that draws my attention is WR Danny Amendola versus Champ Bailey.  While I’m not positive that this is how Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio will play things, I’m fairly certain that CB Rodgers-Cromartie will be tasked with keeping the versatile Julian Edelman in check.  If this is how it works out, I think Amendola’s speed creates major problems for an aging Bailey.  Maybe he will get some extra safety help, which could leave DRC and Edelman 1-on-1.  Regardless of how they choose to defend the two small, speedy wideouts, the Broncos are going to have their hands full without starting Corner Chris Harris in the lineup

When the Broncos have the ball

The injuries to Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork will most likely become targets for the Denver offense, which means Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and Jamie Collins have a lot of slack to pick up – and in recent weeks, they’ve done exactly that.  But keeping tabs on Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball without sending too many defenders is crucial, as the Pats will need to  dedicate most of their resources to pass coverage if they have any hope of containing Thomas, Thomas, Decker, and Welker.

In my opinion, the biggest x-factor for the Broncos is TE Julius Thomas.  His size and pass-catching ability often creates drastic mismatches for opposing defenses, but the Patriots may have an answer for him.  New England met a similar threat in Week 6 when they faced Jimmy Graham and the Saints.  Graham was held without a catch by physical CB Aqib Talib, and I feel like Thomas might be handled the same way.  I could be wrong though, as Jamie Collins did a great job last week against Colby Fleener.  But Fleener isn’t quite Thomas, so the Pats must either risk that matchup or pull Talib off of Decker or the other Thomas.  Neither of these scenarios bode well for New England.

My Prediction

Belichick has always had Peyton’s number in the playoffs, but Peyton has never had so much talent around him.  Denver’s weapons in the passing game will spread New England’s defense thin, allowing Moreno and Ball to run wild. I also expect the Patriots to move the ball well, relying heavily on the run game again.  Amendola hauls in a couple long balls, and Edelman will perform at about the level that is expected from him.  However, they will not be able to match Denver’s scoring pace, leading to Tom Brady seeing more pressure as New England falls behind and is forced to abandon the ground game.

Denver wins 38-27

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A Word on Peyton Manning and the NFL PLayoffs / Broncos – Chargers Preview

broncos chargers

By Jim Bearor

Today at 4:40pm EST, the Denver Broncos host the San Diego Chargers for the right to face the Patriots in the AFC Title game.

But before I even talk about today’s game, I want to address the one topic that is always the focus when Peyton Manning is in a playoff game: he isn’t the same player once the regular season ends.

I don’t disagree.  You can look at his legacy in the postseason any way you want and try to convince yourself and those around you that his playoff shortcomings aren’t his fault, or that the choking narrative is just not true. But however you try and spin it, the results are still the same – for whatever reason, the elder Manning doesn’t live up to expectations after Week 17.  Only if the Broncos win out and claim the Lombardi trophy, does this criticism stop – and even then, it doesn’t change the past.

Now does this mean that I don’t want Peyton Manning quarterbacking my team in the playoffs? Absolutely not.  I’m just saying, it is an established fact that to this point in his career, Peyton in the playoffs isn’t the same as Peyton in the regular season, and he certainly isn’t Tom Brady in the playoffs. Just accept it.

That being said, I don’t expect him to fall on his face in every game after December.  His past failures shouldn’t be ignored, but any knowledgeable football fan knows that the script can always be rewritten.  While I don’t expect to see Peyton play at Brady’s level – because let’s face it, nobody is Tom Brady – I also don’t expect him to be the reason the Broncos get knocked out.  Remember, if it wasn’t for a horrifically bad read by Denver Safety Rahim Moore in last year’s AFC Chamionship, Peyton would be praised for carrying his team to the Super Bowl.

But let’s talk about the game today…

Coming off of a bye, the top seeded Broncos are the obvious favorite, considering the offensive fireworks that they put on display all season. The Chargers are pretty comparable in essentially every category besides passing offense, and I favor their rushing attack over Denver’s. San Diego even came into Mile-High Stadium in Week 15 and got the win during their playoff-clinching 5 game streak to close the year.  The gap between these teams is not what you would expect in a matchup between the top and bottom seeds in the AFC – and remember, this is a divisional matchup.

Phillip Rivers is 2-0 against Peyton, for whatever that’s worth (it’s not like they’re on the field at the same time), but Manning is on a different team now and the present-day Chargers look nothing like the groups of years past.  Although San Diego put together quite the impressive streak to close the season, they needed help to get in and snag the last remaining playoff spot.  Now, if you think back to the Marty Schottenheimer days, you’ll remember how supremely talented those Chargers teams were, and how often their postseason success fell short of expectations they set during the regular season.

I don’t know what kind of label I want to put on this Chargers team.  Are they as good as they have looked in recent weeks, or are they an over-performing team that is about to be exposed in a big way?  They do resemble – at least to a degree – the championship Packers and Giants teams that got hot at the right time, snuck in, and beat a lot of teams that were better than them.  This is just a gut feeling though, a sort of déjà vu that I may be forcing myself to buy into because of the crazy things I’ve seen in years past.

I could see this game going a couple of ways:

Scenario 1: The game starts with the Broncos creating a little havoc up front – just enough to disrupt the run game and make Rivers uncomfortable – and Peyton gets a few early opportunities.  He gets into a rhythm and puts up a couple quick scores.  He gets the playoff monkey off his back and out of his mind early and the Broncos roll.

Scenario 2: Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown do some work on the ground, and help get the heat off of Phil’s back. The Chargers control the clock and hang around long enough to create doubt among the Broncos and their fans. Chargers squeak it out.

This is a tough, and I’m honestly not leaning one way or the other. But again, if you had a gun to my head and I have to make a pick?

Denver wins 35-14