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Saturday, November 18 2017

NFL Predictions 2013: Championship Games

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Hey, I finally had a decent week. I was 4-0 straight up (7-1 for the playoffs)  and while it doesn’t seem that great, I’m tied with 10 other humans for the best mark during the tournament so that’s good. At least four out of the group differ from the picks I expect to make, but I doubt I will win outright because there just aren’t enough games. Tying for the lead would be great.

 

I was 3-1 against the spread (6-2 for the playoffs) and should have been perfect if not for Eric Decker’s many shenanigans. Seriously, did he take the points? First the “turf monster” tackles him then he has a ball bounce off his chest for an interception in the end zone and finally he lunges unnecessarily for an onside kick only to allow possession to be lost. At least I was a perfect 4-0 on the over/under (6-2 in the playoffs) so there’s that. I won’t be able to top my 19-3 all-time record though and that’s a bummer.

New England (13-4) @ Denver (14-3): Both games are rematches on Championship Sunday, but whereas the other game is the rubber match this one switches venues. In week 12 it looked like the Patriots were going to do a rare thing, dropping two games in a row, and in the process fall to 7-4. They were down 24-0 at halftime and all I could think was “these guys are going to come back and win”. I was actually pretty confident, and the reason is that I knew the Broncos couldn’t shut them down forever, plus they got a defensive score as part of their big half.

 

In all, the game had 7 turnovers and Denver turned out losing that battle 4-3. The teams combined to fumble an astronomical 11 times, with 6 going over to the opponent, so the only interception belonged to Peyton Manning. Speaking of Manning, he completed a paltry 19-of-36 passes for 150 yards and during a season in which he set single season records for yards passing and touchdowns (besting Tom Brady) that’s crazy. His offense was much more successful running with Knowshon Moreno (37 carries, 224 yards, TD) and combined with Montee Ball and even C.J. Anderson the backfield totaled an outlandish 280 yards on 47 rushes.

 

First off, New England won’t let that happen again. They are going to plug those holes and figure out what went wrong. Moreno might get 100 yards here, but I doubt he reaches 150. Second, Manning won’t get locked up again. If need be he’ll take command of the game because I promise you at this stage of his career he’s not going to lose without throwing to a record-setting group of receiving options. So it sort of offsets. I’m comfortable with the Broncos scoring around the 31 from the first meeting.

 

As for the Patriots, they cut Brady loose and he went off to the tune of 344 yards on 68-percent passing with 3 scores and just one turnover on a lost fumble. His now dynamic stable of running backs totaled 29 rushes for 116 yards with both Stevan Ridley, and then much less used LeGarrette Blount losing fumbles. Things are going to change on their end as well because Rob Gronkowski and Kenbrell Thompkins are not in the mix. They were targeted on 19 of Brady’s 50 throws and combined for 146 yards and a score. Clearly this time around the team wants to run more and simply hold onto the damn ball, and I expect they will. Of course, Chris Harris being out certainly helps offset the lack of receiving options.

 

I don’t know how the defenses keep up here. These are two clear Hall of Fame first ballot quarterbacks at the controls of their respective offenses. Weather isn’t a big factor and while Mile High is a bit of a home field advantage for Denver, it won’t impact either offense. If anything it will help the offenses because the defenses will get worn down and out. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem, and that favors the visitors because I know they will be in the game throughout. They proved the first time that no lead is safe. Manning came back from 21-3 down in a title game on Brady as well so these guys know the deal.

 

On the road, the Pats have struggled this year and I don’t want to overlook that. They lost in Cincinnati, New York (Jets), Carolina and Miami. Two of those teams were division rivals who finished 8-8 and the other two were division champions, but their offense really only opened it up three times on the road scoring over 23 in Atlanta (30) Houston (34) and late in the year at Baltimore (41). So yes, it looks like the offense is untouchable having followed up that big output against the Ravens by scoring 34 and 43 in home wins including last week in the playoffs, but they’re not perfect.

 

At home the Broncos aren’t perfect, but 8-1 is pretty good and they just avenged their lone loss. San Diego had their number when it came to stopping them this season as they scored 28, 20 and 24 against the Bolts. The only other team to hold them below 31 was another division rival Kansas City. Teams familiar with them gave them issues, and here come the Patriots. On defense it certainly looks like Denver is peaking with their past three opponents scoring 13, 14 and 17 but the first two were teams skidding on big losing streaks (Houston, Oakland). Last week was very impressive until the end, but now they lose Harris and they don’t have Von Miller to harass Brady.

 

There are not too many options when it comes to calling a winner here. I have to roll with Denver at home, and not just because I thought they were Super Bowl bound the day after the last Super Bowl. It’s partially a destiny factor. Manning would play in his little brother’s stadium just as his little brother played in his. Whether or not he wins to match Eli’s ring total is another story, but I don’t see Brady matching scores with such a limited arsenal around him. New England has a great running game, but with the box loaded up there just aren’t many guys capable of burning Denver. Julian Edelman is a great regular season player. I’m not sure he can impact the result here that much. Josh McDaniels tried to run this franchise into the ground by drafting Tim Tebow, and now a player he drafted (Moreno) will help ruin the Patriots. Balance rules the day and the tiebreaker is offensive options. I want it to be close, but I’m not certain the final score will be: Denver 35, New England 27 (DEN -4/over 55.5)

 

San Francisco (14-4) @ Seattle (14-3): I think I like the 49ers better as an underdog. When Colin Kaepernick is swaggering around they don’t seem as good. They have been hot lately, winning eight in a row and every game since Michael Crabtree came back. Included was a home game against the Seahawks. I wouldn’t say it was a big deal though. They came up with a huge TD at the end of the half (six seconds left) to get a 16-14 lead and stuck in a field goal in the second half for a 19-17 win. The second half was ugly. Neither quarterback passed for 200 yards. Frank Gore had 110 yards rushing, but 51 came on one long run. Everyone expects another defensive struggle and it’s easy to see why.

 

Out of the last three year’s worth of meetings, Seattle scored more than 17 points only twice out of six games. Both of those were home blowouts the last two years (42-13, 29-3). San Francisco has not scored 20 against this defense in any of the past five meetings, twice posting 13 and 19 and once scoring 3. The last time they did hit that mark was the 2011 season opener, a year that ended with the Seahawks going 7-9. It’s a lot of history to overcome expecting really either of these teams hitting 20. Last week I said the first team getting there would decide the 49ers-Panthers and it was true.

 

Something tells me we might be in for a relatively unusual high scoring affair here. I’m not sure if it’s a defense score, or two, that goes down or even a big special teams play. Two of the last six in this series have ended 19-17 and four have seen totals no more than 36 so this is where I go out on a limb. The 49ers have an improving offense. They can throw a few different guys at this “All Pro” secondary, and balance things with the running game. The Seahawks have a huge home field advantage and it probably results in at least two turnovers to set up their offense. Unlike Carolina last week, I think they can finish with touchdowns.

 

It’s not impossible to reach 20 on the Legion of Boom, it’s just really hard. The only team to do it here was Tampa Bay of all teams, and they did most of their damage in the first half jumping ahead 21-0. The aspect of this game that will go as expected is the physical nature of play. That works against the visitors in a big way. The Seahawks had an extra day of rest, and haven’t been on a plane since they got back from New Jersey on December 15 to celebrate a 23-0 win over the Giants. On that same day the 49ers were also travelling across the country coming back from Tampa Bay, but they have spent the last three weeks going to Arizona, Green Bay and Carolina. Two of those teams (Cards, Panthers) are very physical and the third game was played in a bitter cold.

 

I would love to call for the big upset here for the defending NFC champs, but they have to be tired. It’s too much to overcome with the noise, the grabby defensive backs and the momentum of a team that right now is just a little bit better than they are. There is enough confidence in San Francisco for them to come out early and play well enough to stay in this game, something they need to do if they want to have a chance in the end. I believe it’s close in the first half, and probably throughout. Russell Wilson to me is a more accurate, careful quarterback than Colin Kaepernick whose wobbly throws will be intercepted and taken to the house here. I’m going chalk with another team I said the day after last year’s Super Bowl would be in this year’s big game: Seattle 26, San Francisco 22 (SEA -3/over 38.5)

 

 

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