NFL Conference Championship Weekend
Only four NFL teams are still alive: Packers, Seahawks, Colts and Patriots. Two of those squads will advance to Super Bowl XLIX with a victory on Sunday. Here’s a preview of the NFC & AFC championship games:
NFC Championship Game: Green Bay at Seattle
CenturyLink Field, 3:05 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Quick Take: A-Rod vs. The Legion of Boom. The two best teams in the NFC — perhaps in all of football — face off for a Super Bowl berth. How much does Green Bay regret that Week 15 loss to Buffalo now? If the Packers had won that contest, the NFC title game would be at Lambeau Field instead of Seattle’s raucous CenturyLink Field. These teams have already played one nationally televised game this season -- the Seahawks’ 36-16 opening night rout of the Pack. Don’t expect a repeat of that score.
Keys to the Game
Green Bay: Eddie Lacy — The intimidating Seahawks’ defense doesn’t have many weaknesses, but it did allow big games to DeMarco Murray, Tre Mason and Jamaal Charles in respective losses to the Cowboys, Rams and Chiefs this season. Lacy, the Packers go-to running back, has recorded back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, and he can make plays coming out of the backfield. If Lacy and James Starks can gash away at Seattle’s defensive front, it could help free up Aaron Rodgers’ passing lanes against the Seahawks’ stellar secondary.
Seattle: Beast Mode — Marshawn Lynch ran for 110 yards and two scores in Week 1 against the Packers, whose run defense ranked 23rd in the NFL this season. The more that Lynch can go ‘Beast Mode’ this Sunday, the less time Rodgers will have to dissect the Seahawks defense. If it’s raining Skittles in Seattle, Green Bay may taste defeat instead of the rainbow.
AFC Championship Game: Indianapolis at New England
Gillette Stadium, 6:40 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Quick Take: The Quarterback of the Past vs. The Quarterback of the Future. Unless something goes terribly wrong, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck won’t play a single down across from one another. Still, the pre-game hype will speak about the QBs as if they are prize-fighters staring down each other in the ring. This game will come down to which team executes best. The Patriots just about executed the Colts in a 42-20 rout in Week 11.
Keys to the Game
Indianapolis: Take Care Of The Ball — Andrew Luck had 22 turnovers in the regular season — tops among AFC quarterbacks. Some of those mistakes came from Luck trying to win games on his own (because the Colts have no running game). Luck, his talented receiving corps and his no-name running backs must avoid turnovers on Sunday to win the game. Indianapolis is the only one of the remaining teams that didn’t finish among the top four of the NFL in turnover margin.
New England: Adjust & Destroy — Darth…er, Bill Belichick is on another breathtaking roll. He, Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels find ways to beat teams in the postseason — like Julian Edelman passing to Danny Amendola vs. Baltimore or LeGarrette Blount stampeding over the Colts for 234 yards in last year’s AFC playoffs. Hell, Jonas Gray piled up 201 yards and four touchdowns against Indy in November, and he’s not been seen since. Given time and protection, Brady, Bill and the Pats figure out how to win.