I’m not going to lie, I’m still crying inside after that heartbreaking lost last Sunday in Denver. As a Pittsburgh fan, it is a tough pill to swallow. To be so close to the upset, so close to the AFC Championship game, so close to another 6-seed run, but unfortunately the NFL Gods are a cruel bunch.
For now, I’ll have to settle on watching the so-called Manning-Brady rivalry and a very intriguing match-up in the NFC. Since neither game boasts the Steelers and I’m still bitter about last week’s outcome I won’t be posting my usual in-depth position breakdowns. Rather, I’ll just do a quick analysis and prediction of each game.
I will be posting a few free-agent target articles later this week about the Steelers’ off-season plans, so stay tuned. As always enjoy the games and Championship Sunday.
New England Patriots 26 – Denver Broncos 10
This isn’t because I’m being a disgruntled Steelers fan, it simply is the fact Brady is 11-5 against Manning all-time. Yes, I know ESPN keeps saying their 2-2 in the playoffs, but Brady’s Patriots have still outscored Manning’s Colts and Broncos 94-81 in the postseason (all-time New England has outscored Manning-led teams 479-392). Add in the fact, Manning has been lackluster all year, a routine playoff choke artist, and he has thrown at least one interception in all but 2 of their 16 contests against one another – I just don’t see Peyton winning this one. Manning’s has thrown a total of 22 picks in their so-called ‘rivalry’ compared to Brady’s 12.
Passing Yards, TD:INT Ratio in 16-Game Rivalry
Brady – 3,956 yards, 29:12
Manning – 4,839 yards, 33:22
Add in the fact the Steelers’ exposed Denver’s soft zone coverage twice this season with shallow and deep slant patterns. The Steelers’ did that with and without Antonio Brown. The Patriots offense runs through Julian Edelman’s ability to run the slant and I don’t believe there’s a better team in the NFL at running the slant combo patterns in the NFL than the Patriots. I just cannot see any outcome where Manning leading his team past a completely healthy New England squad (maybe Brock Osweiler can though). I also do expect a surprisingly healthy dose of Stephen Jackson this afternoon. The Pats signed him for a reason and the NFL is about to see why. Here’s to another Super Bowl featuring the team everyone loves to hate.
Arizona Cardinals 22 – Carolina Panthers 21
To me this is the game to watch. Arizona has been the most well-balanced team all year on both sides of the ball. Yet, Carolina is a juggernaut at home. I was wrong about the Seattle upset last week, but I still have my doubts. Yes, the Panthers won, but they were outscored 24-0 in the second half. They cannot have a repeat performance like that against this Cardinals team. The Panthers offense runs through Cam Newton (161 passing yards and 1 TD last week) and they’ll need him to win this one, not rely on a breakout game from Jonathan Stewart (106 yards with 2TDs vs. Seattle). I believe the Panthers defense will keep this one close, but the Cardinals are a scrappy team. I like the various looks this defense gives with their front seven and I believe they can shut down the explosive run game Carolina has. Dwight Freeney and the versatile safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon to wreak havoc for Cam and Co. forcing Cam to beat them with his arm – something I don’t believe he can do against this secondary. Ultimately, Bruce Arians’ aggressive play-calling will the difference in this one. I see the Cards winning this one in the fourth after the go-ahead score and 2-point conversion for the W. Bold prediction I know, but so was Arizona calling Fitz’ number twice in a row to win in overtime last week.