Some fun notes before we start.
The #1 seeds have only met in one Super Bowl against each other since 1993 (Buffalo-Dallas). That was when the Saints beat the Colts.
AFC Title game history: New England 7-2, Denver 6-2, Seattle 0-1
NFC Title game history: San Francisco 6-8, Seattle 1-0
The last time Denver and Seattle hosted the Conference Title games they did it on the same day. January 22, 2006. Seattle beat Carolina 34-14 and Pittsburgh beat Denver 34-17. Kobe Bryant also scored 81 points against Toronto, the 2nd most in NBA history.
With a win, the Patriots will tie the Steelers and Cowboys for most Super Bowl appearances ever with 8.
New England +5.5 @ Denver
Turnovers were the story when these two teams met in Foxboro on November 24. The Broncos had 4, the Patriots had 3. The wild swings in the game were directly related to them in the Pats 34-31 OT win. Two years ago New England won 31-21 at home and had a 31-7 lead in part to 3 Denver turnovers.
Many of the players have changed, and therefore the strategies to attack will in this game too. CB Chris Harris injury is a big one for Denver. Oddly one of the injuries that really hurt the Broncos this year happened against New England when DT Kevin Vickerson went out for the season with a hip injury. The Broncos defense ranks 7th in the NFL against the run, but it did decline over the last couple of months because of that.
The Patriots have a short passing game that challenges your defense laterally. The Broncos will play a lot of zone and look to tackle in space. It will also help them identify the run better.
The Pats corners have played well, but this time around face Julius Thomas who missed each of those other games. New England is, of course, without Rob Gronkowski this time. I think both are huge factors.
The Broncos are the better team. I think they are better on defense and better on offense. They are at home. OC Adam Gase and Peyton Manning will be forced to earn it by Bill Belichick…and they will.
San Francisco +3.5 @ Seattle
In the last 5 meetings with the Seahawks, the 49ers have scored 19, 3, 13, 13, and 19 points. So we can talk about how their offense might be now, but they haven’t done anything special against Seattle. Now, they did win 3 of those games.
Seattle has blown out San Francisco their last two visits 42-13 and 29-3. They forced 7 turnovers, returned a blocked kick for a touchdown, and had a safety. Colin Kaepernick was 13/28 for 127 and 3 interceptions in his only start at Seattle. He never completed a pass more than 15 yards down the field.
The Niners were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks were my mid-season choice to win the Super Bowl.
I am admittedly torn. The 49ers have the type of team and plenty of talent to win this game. I think them winning comes down to answering “yes” to the following two questions:
1. Can they win the one-on-one battles? Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rodgers, Tremaine Brock, and Eric Wright.
2. Can they avoid mistakes? Penalties. 18-179 in their last two trips to Seattle. And most importantly, Kaepernick. He can lose the game just as easily as he can win the game.
The Seahawks are beatable at home, but it’s tough. Their defense gets a helping hand and is simply better there because of the noise. They gave up 11.9 points per game last year and 13.8 points per game this year at home. The last two seasons they have given up an average of 16.9 ppg on the road. Still elite, but not all-time great.
They own the top scoring defense each of the last two seasons. The question for them is simply: Where does the offense come from?
Marshawn Lynch is really the first and second option. Without Sidney Rice and possible Percy Harvin the passing game doesn’t threaten you. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are capable of making plays, but hardly reliable. Russell Wilson can be a headache when he starts scrambling, and that is really where many of their big plays come from. They play close to the vest and don’t beat themselves.
In the end, I like San Francisco better, but trust Seattle more.
Last week straight up: 4-0
Last week against the spread: 3-1
Overall straight up: 7-1
Overall against the spread: 5-2-1