AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

About two weeks ago I produced an over-excitable hiccup of a blog entry to preview the wildcard round and to convey the anticipation of the start of this season’s NFL playoffs.  Now things get serious.  There are just four teams remaining as the AFC and NFC Championship games are ready to go on Sunday and the two winning teams will roll on to Super Bowl XLIX.

Winning these games is a big deal, aside from the obvious that the two sides earn their place in the Super Bowl, each team gets a trophy and the accolade of Conference Champions.  Over the past ten to fifteen years though, it feels like victory in a Conference Championship game has lost some of its majesty.  Mainly because the AFC and NFC are no longer viewed as two separate halves of the same league the way they were when the Super Bowl era began; teams from each conference play each other and trade between each other all year round nowadays.  There’s also the fact that after a team wins their respective conference, they still have to go and win the Super Bowl or the season ends in failure.

The two games feel like they will be exciting spectacles with all four teams capable of big plays, in the important games it often comes down to an offense getting a big score or a defense getting a big turnover at the crucial time that decides who moves away and gets the winning result.

NFC Conference Championship – Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

Just to get this out of the way, it’s difficult for me to think about this game without simply jumping up and down on the spot and shouting “COME ON SEAHAWKS!!!”  I’ll refrain from that for the time being but rest assured that’s exactly what will be happening during the game.

These are the top two seeds in the NFC, although it can be argued the Packers are slightly fortunate to be here following the controversial catch that wasn’t a catch by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant towards the end of the Packers 26-21 win over the Cowboys last week.

The Cowboys were seen as a dangerous team by many and beating them should certainly earn the Packers a lot of credit despite that incident that would have put the Packers in a difficult spot.  Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks around but seems to be still struggling on a leg injury that is hampering his movement, it is not affecting his throwing though and he is still managing to win big games.  He will need as much movement back and help from the rest of his offense to go up against the best defense in the NFL that will be trying to run him down in Seattle.

The Seattle Seahawks come into the game looking good on all sides of the ball.  One key to the game will be how their defense matches up against the Green Bay receivers in order to cover them and stop Aaron Rodgers from making plays.  If Rodgers doesn’t feel 100% fit the defense will focus on halting the Packers run game, thus giving Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the rest of the Seattle offense the chances to move the ball and get points.

It certainly feels like the key will be the Seahawks defense versus Aaron Rodgers, which is why Green Bay will hope Rodgers is as fit as possible, because whoever gets on top in that battle will dictate the match, give the rest of their team a lift and be hard to beat.

AFC Conference Championship – Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

This has been chosen as the ‘prime time’ game to kick off later than the NFC Championship, so by the time these two teams take the field at Gillette Stadium they will know who awaits them in the Super Bowl.

Both of these sides rely on their star quarterbacks to make the difference.  All-time great Tom Brady will play in his ninth Conference Championship after driving the Patriots past a much fancied Baltimore Ravens team last week.  New England had to come from two scores down twice during the game and ended strongly to win 35-31 and earn home-field advantage for this one.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck overcame his predecessor Peyton Manning in a 24-13 upset win over the Denver Broncos in the previous round.  Luck completed some excellent throws against a good defense while Manning struggled – reportedly with an injury – to make plays and get the Broncos into scoring range.

This game has the potential to get a little bit wild if both quarterbacks start completing passes.  It could be fun to watch how the veteran Tom Brady and the younger Andrew Luck match up, they’re both good enough to take over a game but they will be facing two good defenses here.

The Patriots do look stronger on each side of the ball and will be favourites to win at home.  The offense has been working well as a unit around Brady and the defense has looked good all season.  If the game plan works it will be a long night for the Colts, who may have to be brave with their play calling at times to be successful.

There is a really good atmosphere building in preparation for each of these games and cases can be made for all four teams to be victorious.  Hopefully we’ll get two more thrilling matches to add to the post season and by late Sunday night (or early Monday morning here in the UK!) only two teams will remain to contest the Super Bowl.

PLAYOFF TIME!

It’s that time of the NFL year again when the regular season ends and we head into the post season.  PLAYOFF TIME!

This weekend sees the playoff curtain raiser – the wildcard round – begin the road to the Super Bowl.  For most of the league the season is over and the battle to avoid joining them is at stake for the remaining twelve teams.  From now on it’s simple – win or go home.

Whether my beloved Seahawks have been involved or not the excitement and anticipation that builds entering the post season has always been a special feeling.  As it is, this year the Seahawks not only come into the playoffs as one of the favourites to go to the Super Bowl, but they are doing it as defending Champions.

In the NFC conference the Seattle Seahawks have secured the number one seed and will be joined in having a bye week by the Green Bay Packers.  The top two AFC teams getting a week off are the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos.  Right now these four teams certainly look like the best in the league and earning this time off gives them a chance to recharge and prepare for the following week, when they will know their opponents for the next round.

The four games in the wildcard round are Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers, Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts.  Right now I will refrain from going into each game and previewing them in detail, perhaps I will recount the games next week once the results are in and we know which teams are left to contest the next conference round in the playoffs.

For now I’m still enjoying the build-up to these games.  The drama that it is now a sudden death situation in the NFL, defeat is terminal for a team’s season.  It really adds to the spectacle that this is the case for the losers and the winners keep on playing.  Every game is sure to be exciting; the NFL playoffs from beginning to end are always dramatic.  And it’s time for them to kickoff.