Monday, January 16th, 2017

Conference Championships

I went a perfect 4-0 on my picks last week (after going 0-4 the week before). This week will be a lot more challenging to pick. Could you ask for two better matchups? Here are my predictions for this week….

Denver vs. New England

This is the 15th time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have faced each other and it may be the last… expect a good show.

Manning has had a record-breaking season and the Broncos looked unstoppable throughout most of the season. Manning has the advantage of having many different weapons. If you take one receiver away, he’s got three others. If you are able to apply pressure and take away the pass, he can hand off the ball to one of two decent running backs.

Brady on the other hand hasn’t had a memorable season, but he has held his team together and found a way to lead what should have been a mediocre team to the AFC title game.

Despite losing his top five targets in the offseason and dealing with a lackluster backfield, the two-time MVP led the Patriots offensive to an impressive 27.8 points per game average (third-best in the league).

While Sunday’s showdown will be highlighted by quarterback play, let’s not forget the impact of the running backs.

New England finally found a running back in LeGarrette Blount. Relatively quiet in the first three months of the season and resigned mostly to backup duty, Blount has been a beast in the offseason. In the past three games, he has rushed for 431 yards and found the end zone eight times. He’s also made contributions on the special teams on kickoff returns. Look for the Patriots to feature Blount early and often to setup the pass for Brady later in the game.

Stopping New England’s attack may prove to be difficult for a depleted Denver defense. Not only is All-Pro Von Miller done for the season, defensive end Derek Wolfe remains out after experiencing seizure-like symptoms and cornerback Cliff Harris suffered a torn ACL against San Diego.

In 15 meetings Brady has a 10-5 record against Manning. As I said last week it’s hard to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in any big game, but I’m going to this week. This is Denver’s year and they are playing at Mile High Stadium. Manning has too many weapons and Brady doesn’t have enough.

Many experts think this game will be decided in the final minutes, but I see Denver taking a lead in the 3rd quarter and never giving it back.

Denver 31, New England 20

49ers at Seahawks

I expect this to be a close game. You have two stingy defenses and two sneaky good offenses.

Seattle finished the 2013 season as the league’s top defense against the pass (172 yards per game) and the seventh best defense against the run (surrendering only four rushing touchdowns).

San Francisco also ranked among the top seven defenses in both rushing (fourth) and passing (seventh).

The 49ers and Seahawks are two evenly-matched teams, which was shown when they split the season series.

In Week 2, Seattle crushed the 49ers, 29-3, at CenturyLink Field. The 49ers had four costly turnovers and Marshawn Lynch scored three touchdowns in that game. He ran for 98 yards and two TDs with 37 receiving yards and a score.

In Week 14, San Francisco only turned the ball over once and the 49ers won 19-17 win. Other than protecting the football, the biggest difference between San Francisco’s win and loss was the use of Frank Gore. In the first meeting, Gore only managed 16 yards on nine carries. In the rematch, Gore ran for 110 yards on 17 attempts.

If San Fran is going to win this game, Frank Gore will need to take some of the pressure off Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers are a great road team……except when they travel to Seattle.

This will be a great game, but Seattle’s defense will take advantage of a late Kaepernick turnover and pull out the win.

Seattle 21, San Francisco 17