We’re down to the final four in what’s going to be one of the better conference championship weeks we’ve seen in the NFL for quite some time. Ill call it the fantastic four so I can get my Jessica Alba reference out there. For these teams sake we will say that in our first matchup we have LeGarrette “Ben Grimm” Blount and the Patriots taking on the Peyton “Sue Storm” Manning led Broncos. I don’t think I need to explain why I gave Benn Grimm to LeGarrette Blount, but I went Sue Storm for Manning because often in the playoffs he becomes invisible but at other times he can cover up and shield the weaknesses the Broncos have on defense. In our NFC Championship matchup we have the Russell “Reed Richards” Wilson led Seahawks hosting the Colin “Johnny Storm” Kaepernick led Niners. Lets be honest Russell Wilson is a class guy so its just goes hand in hand with the goody two shoed Reed Richards. Not to mention he gets the beautiful Jessica Alba! Although in this scenario it would be Peyton Manning? Yuck. Colin Kaepernick gets the flame on boy not so much just because of him but because the whole 49ers team seems to be into themselves much like Johnny Storm.
Now let me get back on topic here. I don’t think anyone is really shocked to see these four teams in their respective championship games. Lets be honest the Seahawks and the 49ers were the two best teams in the NFC. The only reason they aren’t the number two seed is because they are in the same division as the Seahawks. On the other side of the bracket it comes as no surprise that we get a Tom Brady Peyton Manning game for the right to the Super Bowl. However what is surprising is for a pass happy league that the NFL has become the 49ers, Seahawks and Patriots got to the championship game by utilizing the ground and pound game. Who would have thought if the Patriots scored 43 points that Tom Brady would have ZERO touchdown passes? Well it happened last week versus the colts. It’s going to be interesting to see if the Patriots stick to this game plan. People forgot that when the Patriots were winning the Super Bowls back in the early 2000’s they were doing it by establishing the run game and play action off it. Cory Dillon has been reincarnated as LeGarrette Blount.
Our early game features the Broncos and Patriots at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The two met earlier in week 12 at Foxboro and it provided us with one of the best regular season games we saw this year. Tom Brady and the Patriots climbed back from a 24-0 halftime hole to win 34-31 in overtime. It was Peyton Manning’s worst statistical game during the regular season. Bill Belichick dialed up an effective defense against Manning who went 19-36 for 150 yards. Now part of that had to do with the fact that the Broncos were having such success running the ball. But you would think with 36 attempts that Manning would find a way to reach at least the 200-yard plateau. Brady finished the game with 344 yards and three touchdowns. Score another one for the Brady Bunch over the Manning family. But I have a feeling this game is going to very different in terms of the Patriot offensive game plan. As we have seen the Patriots have recommitted to the run game of late. And this is important to note because in all four losses the Patriots had this year not one of their running backs accounted for more than 51 yards rushing. Furthermore in those games where they lost the Patriots had close to a 2.5-1 pass to run ratio. If the Patriots find themselves with a 100 yard running back its pretty safe to say they will probably come out on top. During the regular season every time they had a 100-yard rusher they won the game. Going 4-0 in such situations. Lets be honest the key to beating the Broncos has to be keeping Manning off the field as much as possible. I expect a lot of running back by committee this time around. Defensively for the Patriots it has got to be pressure on Manning. It seems the only thing that really gets Manning off his game is constant pressure early. Bill Belichick is the master at getting in Manning’s head. Hence why he is 4-10 against Belichick and the Patriots in his career. I expect a lot of early blitzes to try and get Manning out of a rhythm early. Maybe channel some inner Rex Ryan and stand everyone up around the line of scrimmage so not to give Manning pre-snap reads.
However there is something that I’m sure has got Belichick staying up late at night this past week. Julius Thomas. If there was one KEY cog of Manning’s arsenal that was missing in the defeat in week 12 it was Thomas. Thomas has been one of Manning’s favorite targets in the passing game this year in the red zone and key situations. I mean lets be honest when it was 3rd and 17 late in the game in the fourth quarter versus San Diego it was Thomas who he went to. He like Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten are nightmares in the red zone. His 12 touchdowns prove that. Now when the Patriots went against a similar tight end in Jimmy Graham they decided to put Aqib Talib on him to shut him down. It worked too, holding Graham catch less in the game. However the Saints don’t have the same weapons around Graham that Thomas has in Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker. If they decide to put Talib on Julius Thomas then the other Thomas should be in position to have a big game. Oh did we mention that Knowshon Moreno rushed for 224 yards in their first meeting? Yea so its just another weapon that the Patriots are going to have to try and shut down. It’s a nightmare for the Patriots but its one they are going to have to figure out or it will be Peyton and not Brady taking a bite out of the big apple in New York.
At the beginning of the week I really liked the Patriots but I’ve talked myself into the Broncos. Sorry Patriot fans. I started saying the Broncos were the Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four and I cant go against a Jessica Alba led character!
Jessica Alba’s Sue Storm takes out Ben Grimm in a doozie.
After Jessica Alba books her trip to New York we look to see if her brother joins her there or if her hubby will join her. The Seahawks have owned the 49ers the last two meetings in Seattle by a total of 71-16 including a 29-3 beat down in week 2. Colin Kaepernick had one of his worst games passing in that one going 13-28 for 127 yards and three picks and a fumble. But he wasn’t getting much help either. Frank Gore also was held in check rushing for only 16 yards. Something that the 49ers will have to avoid so that Kaep isn’t left with long third down situations against that vaunted Seahawk secondary.
They really got back to this in the second matchup with these two squads. Frank Gore rushed for 110 yards on 17 carries. Including the big run that set up the game winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. They were more committed to the ground game in this one rushing the ball 39 times versus 20 in the opener. The 49ers are a whopping 10-0 including the playoffs when the former Miami running back goes for one hundred yards in a game.
So what we here’s what we need to look for when we watch these two teams go at it Sunday and this should tip the scale to the winning team.
1. Whose O-Line/Running back combo produces?
As we already mentioned the 49ers are undefeated when Frank Gore goes for over 100. If the 49ers win the battle in the trenches that means they are taking the ball slowly down the field and keeping the 12th man at bay. Where as if the Seahawks and Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch are controlling the line of scrimmage then it may mean he’s producing another earthquake at Century Field and sending the 49ers packing. The team that has had more rushes and running yards in each game won. Not to mention the team that has won the time of possession in both regular season games also was victorious.
2. Can the 49ers set the edge on Russell Wilson?
The 49er combo of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks has been deadly to opposing quarterbacks all year. In the first matchup at Century Link Russell Wilsons lone interception came from Aldon Smith pressuring Wilson off the edge and forcing him to stay in the pocket and force a throw downfield. Later in the game the pass rush of Smith created a sack for Glenn Dorsey. Not to mention having two sacks of his own. Ahmad Brooks sealed the opposing edge on both those sacks for Smith. Setting the edge is key on Russell Wilson because when he gets out of the pocket he kills the 49ers. Producing two plays of over 50 yards when escaping the pressure. In a game where there wont be many yeards 50 seems like 200.
3. Can the Seahawk defensive line pressure Kaepernick?
In their week fourteen loss the Seahawks only had two sacks and ten quarterback pressures versus Kaep. But in the Seahawks victory at Century Link they were able to get to him three times and pressure him 21 times! It doesn’t take a brain scientist to know that the Seahawks need to get in his face early and stay there. According to Pro Football Focus Colin Kaepernick is statistically the worst quarterback in the NFL when he is being pressured. And he’s not getting any better in such situations in the playoffs completing just 35 percent of his throws! We all know the trick to beating the 49ers is make Kaep pass the ball and not let him beat you with his feet. Much like Russell Wilson it’s just about keeping him in the pocket and under duress.
4. Who wins the turnover battle?
The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game between these two. In the first match up Seattle won it easily 5-1 contributing heavily to the 29-3 win. However in the second match up it was even 1-1 but the Seahawks surrendered a blocked punt. Which to me is a turnover. So we will score it 2-1. Also something to note is who makes the turnover late in the game. In the first meeting San Francisco had two fourth quarter turnovers where as the Seahawks in their defeat had a fourth quarter interception of their own.
5. Does Vernon Davis find the end zone?
Vernon Davis to me has been the biggest beneficiary of Michael Crabtree coming back. It has opened up the middle of the field for him and taken away the abilities for safeties to key in on him when they get down to the redzone. Since coming back Vernon Davis has a touchdown in six of the seven games. Including a big touchdown to put the 49ers ahead in the win versus Seattle in week 14. If he wins the battle with Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor its could be costly for Seattle’s Super Bowl chances.
6. Who wins the Kicking game?
Plain and simple there’s not going to be a whole lot to separate these two teams so whoever has the best kicker may win the game. The 49ers went out and got Phil Dawson just for this reason. Make it when it matters, something that David Akers seemingly couldn’t do. Steven Hauschka is having the best year of his career. This year Hauschka is 36-38 kicking it through the ole goal posts. Not to mention one of those was blocked because his tackle missed his block. He’s three for three on kicks over 50 yards and made both of his game winning kicks. So the question is who makes the mistake? The answer may lie with the team who loses.
This is going to be a downright ugly defensive game. Seattle hasn’t been clicking on offense of late. Since week 14 statistically they have been the second worst passing team in the league only averaging 144 yards. It’s not going to get any easier versus the niners. The 49ers can’t figure out how to attack this Seattle defense in Century link. So all signs point to the under in this game. I expect it to be a close one.
Richard Reed edges out Johnny Storm.
Thus creating a second honeymoon for Sue Storm and Richard Reed in New York City.