Quite a rebound effort from the guys in their Divisional Round picks last week. After a don’t-tell-anyone collective 12-20 for the Wild Card games, our team put up a 26-6 record when given the second chance.
With the Conference title games each seeing dissenting votes, we’ve now gone with only one consensus choice through the playoffs (the Denver win last week) as the team has had some trouble agreeing along the way.
While Steve and I expect the Patriots to come away with the win in Denver, Neil again offers a lone-wolf pick that he hopes goes differently than his Colts choice against New England.
Through the playoffs so far, here’s what we’ve got (yes, I’m taking the opportunity to show off):
New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
Ben - As an all-around package and with homefield advantage I am backing the Broncos here. They’ve had defensive players rounding into form and have been getting solid contributions from the bench — a group who could see expanded rolls against the Patriots this weekend if New England forces them to spend much of the game in sub-packages. I don’t expect the Broncos to offer the same soft under belly to the run that the Colts did last week, one area to keep an eye on for the Broncos’ defense, though, is their depth at corner. Though they have quality depth, in Chris Harris they have lost their best slot cornerback and with the likes of Edelman and Amendola on the opposite side of the field, the Broncos’ other corners will need to be on their game to stay with them in the short areas.
Gordon - It feels right that we get to see Manning and Brady square off again with the chance to go to the Super Bowl on the line this time. The game earlier in the year was an instant classic with the Patriots’ phenomenal comeback but this time they’ve got to go on the road, and with Manning coming off one of the best playoff performances of his career. I’m backing him and the Broncos to book their place in the Super Bowl, but I can’t say I feel comfortable counting the Patriots out of this one.
Khaled - You live, you learn. The Broncos blew in against the Patriots earlier this year but at Mile High they’ll be a different proposition. As good as the Patriots have been, there’s plays to be had against them and the Broncos’ offensive line, especially up the middle, looks too powerful.
Nathan - While the Patriots won the first matchup, I think the game being in Denver will make a little difference. Manning had his worst game under pressure and also had a lot of drops — I think his numbers in both of those categories will regress to the mean.
Neil - It’s Manning’s chance to prove with a Super Bowl he’s more than just the best regular-season QB of all time. The bottom is slowly falling out of his defense but that probably puts the two two teams on a par in that facet of play; the Patriots lost their key players much earlier so it now looks comparable there. So if this is the case, it’s now which offense can take most advantage of a weakened opponent. Denver has a few more weapons in that regard and I see them just prevailing in a classic.
Rick - I have a tough time betting against the Belichick-Brady tandem in the playoffs and though I wavered during the week, I can’t get past the feeling that the Patriot defense will give Manning enough trouble and force enough mistakes to allow their offense the shot to decide it. Denver losing Chris Harris last week finished it off it my mind. The right coach to limit the Bronco offense and the right QB to take advantage.
Sam - These are two sides both battling with injuries, but the Broncos have been hit hard in really key places – their best pass-rusher, probably their best corner now (at this stage Harris is eclipsing Bailey) and their stud left tackle. As much as it pains me to echo the narrative the week really is largely about Manning vs. Brady and both team’s offences. I’m leaning Manning.
Steve - Despite many signs pointing toward Denver in this one, I think the Patriots’ defensive backfield matches up fairly well against the Broncos’ passing game and that could be just enough to pull the upset. Both teams have shown a better running game, which adds another dynamic to the Brady vs. Manning storyline, but it will still likely come down to which future Hall of Famer plays best and limits mistakes.
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Ben - It seems fitting that it comes down to these two teams and I just hope that the officials let the two supremely physical teams play and not try to over-officiate the game. Both defenses have the upper hand here and it should be a race to 20 points with potentially the number of big plays having the biggest say in the game. These two teams are 2-2 in the last two regular seasons with the home team winning on each occasion and I’m siding with the home team again, though I don’t see Seattle having it as easy as they have in their previous 42-13 and 29-3 home victories over San Francisco.
Gordon - Way back before the season began when we completed our preseason predictions, I inexplicably left the 49ers out of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, a few 49ers fans have pointed out my error this week, made worse by the fact that I’ve picked against them the past two weeks too. Not one to break a bad habit, I’m taking the Seahawks on Sunday, though I’m fully expecting it to be a close affair that’s decided late. The best rivalry in the league right now, and a place in the Super Bowl on the line, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Khaled - Rule No. 1, never bet against the Seahawks at home. And with good reason as when that noise is cranked it means they can get away with having an off day. They were far from their best on offense against the Saints but rode Marshawn Lynch to the win… but I see this one as being about their defense. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t like being contained and the Seahawks’ plan to avoid the blitz and make him beat him with his arm is a solid one when you play coverage like them. That’s the difference between these two teams.
Nathan - Both quarterbacks have struggled in this matchup in the past, but Marshawn Lynch has been running a bit better than Frank Gore recently. I expect the run game and also the home field advantage to be enough to give Seattle the better chance of winning.
Neil - This could easily go the way of my gut pick for Indy last week. All logic says the Seahawks should make the most of their home-field advantage but deep down I feel the 49ers are the team of destiny this year. I had them as my top-ranked team before the season started based on the overall quality of their roster and only some lackluster play from Colin Kaepernick made me back off that for a while. He’s still not playing great but he seems to find a way to play well enough on the key drives and with Russell Wilson fading of late, I’m going for the away team.
Rick - I don’t think there’s a team around better equipped to steal a win in Seattle as San Francisco has proven themselves more than capable of taking their winning ways on the road of late. They’ve battled in close matchups and have owned the ability to get that one play late in the game to put them over the top, but this week that play goes the other way with the Seahawk secondary getting the best of Kaepernick, capitalizing at an opportune moment to seal the win and send Seattle to the Super Bowl.
Sam - I think Seattle has the best team left. Their defense is punishing and with Lynch playing as he is they are set up to succeed in the postseason. Russell Wilson is playing well enough to get it done though their O-line continues to be a concern.
Steve - Even beyond the homefield advantage, Seattle’s secondary should make it difficult for the 49ers to move the ball through the air, so look for Anquan Boldin to be a key player in this one. If he can make some big plays against Seattle’s tight coverage, it gives San Francisco a much better chance, but I’ll take Seattle’s defense along with a bounceback week for Russell Wilson leading the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.