New England at Denver
For the fifteenth time in their careers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will play each other. They’ve squared off in all types of scenarios; for glory during the regular season as well as the chance to go to the Super Bowl via the AFC Championship. This Sunday may be the last time we get to see these two play in their prime. Somehow, Peyton Manning still makes you believe he is the greatest quarterback of all time, even at the wily old age of 37. All veterans are wily and Manning has proved that this year. He is having one of his best statistical years ever. It helps having such a stacked team on offense. Manning is lucky enough to have the best receiving core in football; Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas can stretch the field vertically while Wes Welker works the slot. Tight End was a serious need at the beginning of the season, but then Peyton was blessed with one of those basketball-playin’ types, Julius Thomas, who is an unbelievable athlete that had a connection from the start. However, Thomas isn’t the only breakout star on this Denver offense. Knowshon Moreno, largely considered a bust after the Broncos selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft is now the focal point of the Denver running game. This aspect of the Denver offense was underrated all year.
The Patriots are thriving off their running game and another unlikely hero in LeGarrette Blount. Released by Tampa Bay, Blount has been the Patriots saving grace. His performance against the Colts not only starved Indianapolis of another comeback by keeping Andrew Luck off the field, but he scored four touchdowns as well. The absentees for New England have been well documented with Rob Gronkowski being the most outstanding. Blount needs to play well for New England to have a chance and will be Denver’s primary concern, something that has never been said about a teammate of Tom Brady’s. Brady’s lack of weapons makes their passing game a little bit of an afterthought. However, both teams struggle to defend the pass, so it all comes down to who is more successful through the air. With the kind of season he’s having, I think it is Peyton Manning’s time to shine. New England’s lack of talent on offense finally comes around to bite them.
The Pick: Denver 34, New England 30
San Francisco at Seattle
It’s almost a shame that we have to watch these games two weeks early. Both of these teams are Super Bowl-caliber squads and will be great matchups to watch. No team has more momentum than San Francisco right now. After two little losing streaks in the regular season, the 49ers have gone on winning streaks of five and six games. Their latest winning streak could be considered eight games because of their road warrior performances in Lambeau and Carolina. That dreadful performance against Seattle in week two is all but behind them. The Seahawks held the Niners to their lowest point total all year and Colin Kaepernick looked confused and flustered all night as the 49ers could only muster a field goal. The problem for even the hottest of teams is going into Seattle and winning. The 49ers certainly haven’t played well there. The last time San Francisco played in Seattle, the Seahawks scored on offense, defense and on special teams. Kam Chancellor’s hit on Vernon Davis (that would eventually be penalized) set the tone of the entire game as the 49ers put together another dreadful performance at Century Link Field.
The only chance I give San Francisco to pull out another grueling matchup on the road is if Colin Kaepernick can be decisive. For as great a playmaker as he can be, he hesitates and seems confused about when to run and when to keep a play alive downfield by throwing the ball. Luckily for the 49ers, Seattle’s passing game disappeared before their bye week; Seattle has been terrible through the air this year. In game where passing yards could come at a premium, I give to the edge to the home team. The Seahawks secondary will continue to give Kaepernick fits and lead them to a Super Bowl appearance.
The Pick: Seattle 20, San Francisco 17