Four and half months after the season kicked off in Seattle with the Seahawks raising their championship banner before hosting the Green Bay Packers the two teams are back at Century Link Field with a trip to Super Bowl XLIX on the line. Like last year’s Super Bowl these teams are complete opposites, with the Seahawks basing their success on a tough aggressive defense, while the Packers rely on the arm of Aaron Rodgers, the likely MVP of the 2014 season.
In the season opener, the Seahawks facing the Packers for the first time since infamous “Fail Mary Game” came out strong, pulling away late for a 36-16 win. The Seahawks defense frustrated Rodgers all game, limiting him to 189 yards while forcing two turnovers. Marshawn Lynch was the Seahawks leading offensive player scoring two touchdowns with 110 yards rushing. Both teams finished 12-4, with the Seahawks getting the right to host the NFC Championship Game by winning that Thursday Night Opener 137 days ago.
The Packers faced their crisis point early in the season as they played sloppy football and lost two of their first three games. With fans panicking in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers told them to Relax and then led the Packers to 11 wins in their final 13 games, posting a perfect 8-0 record at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers needed to play through pain as a calf injury hobbled him in December. However, he still led the way to a Week 17 win over the Detroit Lions and a win over the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
The Seahawks who last week became the first defending champion to win a playoff game in nine years, faced their moment of truth in the middle of the season as they split their first six games, and parted ways with Percy Harvin, whom they expected to be a key target for Russell Wilson on offense. The Seahawks as many champions do, lost several players to free agency and fought through injuries. They were without Center Max Unger and Linebacker Bruce Irvin for a significant chunk of the season, but as both return and the season ended the Seahawks began looking like the team that won the Super Bowl last season, they got home field by winning nine of their last ten and six straight. Now after beating the Carolina Panthers sit 60 minutes away from back to back Super Bowl appearances.
The big question in this game will be the health of Aaron Rodgers, as even a healthy has struggled in Seattle. The Packers do have some weapons on offense that can put up points, but the Seahawks defense has been strong particularly as they have allowed more than seven points just twice since November 16th. While keeping the Packers under ten points is a tall order, the assistance of the 12th man makes it possible. The Packers defense meanwhile is mediocre at best and stopping Marhsawn Lynch will be key. In week 1 Lynch was running all over the field. The sense is he goes into beat mode early and the Pack are unable to comeback as the crowd, Rodgers Calf and the Seahawks defense are just too much for one man even the MVP to handle.
The Indianapolis Colts have faced the New England Patriots three times in the Andre Luck era and it has not been pretty. In his rookie season the Patriots boat raced the Colts 59-24 at Foxboro, last year the Patriots took advantage of an early Andrew Luck interception in the Divisional Playoff Round and won easily 43-22. This season the Colts finally got the Patriots at home, but the result was not any better as Jonas Gray came out of nowhere and rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns as the Patriots won 42-20 on Sunday Night in Week 11.
The most important thing for the Colts is to avoid any mistakes, as only a flawless game would give them a chance to beat the Patriots and advance to Super Bowl XLIX. The Colts have done an impressive job since the arrival of Andrew Luck, making the playoffs in all three seasons, and advancing a step forward in each season. However, to beat the Patriots in Foxboro, the Colts are going to need a perfect game with no mistakes. Even in their win over the Broncos in Denver last week, Andre Luck was picked off twice, such slipups will be fatal in AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots are the battle tested and have been here before and have lost before and won before in fact this is their fourth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots have lost the last two games with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. After starting 2-2 and being called past their prime, the Patriots again were the best team in the AFC in the regular season, winning all but two of their final 12 games. The Patriots defense, last week notwithstanding has been terrific as the addition of Darrelle Reavis has given them a weapon against the pass they lacked against superstar quarterbacks. The Patriots running game has also been key as LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray have all been big when given the chance. The Patriots receivers meanwhile all have been potent weapons for Tom Brady, with Julian Edelman being the little man who can do anything, while Rob Gronkowski is a subtle as a bull in a china shop, breaking everything in sight.
The Colts are clearly a team on the rise and are better than they were in Week 11, with some confidence on the side after knocking off the Broncos in Denver last week. In 2012 they made the playoffs in Andrew Luck’s rookie season. In 2013 the Colts won a playoff game, a comeback win making it all the more impressive. This year the Colts made it to the AFC Championship with Andrew Luck winning his first road playoff game and knocking off Peyton Manning, taking his mantle as the best pure passer in the NFL in the process. However, this next step is much harder and with the game in Foxboro it is nearly impossible. The Colts should put up a better fight in Week 11, and the Colts can score on the Patriots defense, but stopping the Patriots offense is going to be much tougher. Tom Brady comes into this game knowing he does not have many more chances to get to the Super Bowl, as father time will eventually catch up to him now that he is 37. The Colts have a very bright future, while the Patriots time is now. Every playoff loss at this stage for the Colts is still a learning experience, and the important thing is to keep the game close and have a chance in the fourth quarter. The Colts will be in sniffing distance, but as the game comes to a closer, their inability to stop the Patriots running game will be what finishes them as the Patriots again reach 40 points.