(Photos courtesy of New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks)
SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME GAMES
Green Bay @ Seattle, 3:05 p.m., Eastern
The line: Seahawks by 7-1/2
The weather: Showers, high of 52
The story: Russell Wilson is 25-2 at home, and the Seahawks not only are the defending Super Bowl champions; they have Marshawn Lynch, the best defense on earth and the 12th Man. OK, I get all that. But that’s not what this game is about. It’s about one quarterback playing on one leg and the other on two.
Aaron Rodgers might be the best in the NFL, but not when he’s gimping around like Dr. Greg House. Granted, he tore apart Dallas in the second half last week, and that was terrific. But that’s where the second half of this equation comes in ... which means this ain't Dallas, folks. The Cowboys are nothing more than ordinary on the back end of their defense and can’t pressure the quarterback.
And Seattle? See for yourself. There's no secondary better. Nor is there a superior defense. And they're on a roll. Over their last seven starts, the Seahawks allowed just one fourth-quarter touchdown … and that was a so-what score last weekend vs. Carolina. Plus, they squeeze the pocket, which means Rodgers better have wheels. He doesn't. He’s riding a unicycle.
All I know is that when Rodgers was healthy … when he went to Seattle in Week One of this season … he and the Packers got torched. So now you’re telling me that we take away one of his legs ... send him to Seattle ... crank up Marshawn Lynch against a defense that DeMarco Murray punctured for 123 yards … dare Russell Wilson to outplay him ... again ... and Rodgers pulls off another come-from-behind win? Sorry, I don’t see it.
Seattle will have to screw up big-time – turnovers, blown assignments, short fields, special-teams errors …. something .. to give Green Bay the green light. The Packers can't win this one, but Seattle could lose it.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Since 2012, the Seahawks are 9-0 vs. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, including two defeats of Rodgers.
Indianapolis @ New England, 6:40 p.m., Eastern
The line: Patriots by 6-1/2
The weather: Light rain, high of 45
The story: Andrew Luck is the next great young quarterback, except he’s not so great when it comes to New England. He’s 0-3 vs. the Patriots, with six touchdowns, eight interceptions and playing from behind in a 144-66 score. That, folks, is not good. Neither is this: The last time he was in New England was the 2013 playoffs. Final score: New England 43, Indy 22.
OK, it happens. But this doesn’t: The Patriots intercepted him four times. I know, he just pulled off an upset of Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver. Swell. Manning looked 68, not 38 in that game. Brady's still Tom Terrific, playing superbly vs. Baltimore when he threw for three scores and ran for another to rally the Patriots from two 14-point deficits.
Granted, there are holes in the New England pass defense that Luck can exploit. Joe Flacco proved that. But I'd be shocked if the Patriots didn't spend this week plugging them and if cornerback Darrelle Revis doesn't rebound from a sub-par performance. He wasn't himself last week, but he wasn't alone. Virtually every defensive back looked vulnerable ... until, of course, it was time to make critical stops, which they did twice in the second half with interceptions.
But that was Baltimore. This is Indy, and the Colts don’t have a running attack. The short pass is their running game. And, unlike Denver, New England should be able to pressure Luck. The Patriots did when they torched Indy 42-20 this season, and that was at Lucas Oil Stadium. So what? So this is at a site where the Patriots are 16-4 in the playoffs.
Bottom line: It just seems as if there are too many variables against Indianapolis. First, there’s the homefield advantage – and it’s big. Second, there's the running game. Indy doesn't have one, and the Pats' LaGarrette Blount ripped the Colts for four TDs in last year’s playoffs, while Jonas Gray put 201 yards on them this season. Third, there’s history. Luck and the Colts have stunk in three straight appearances vs. New England. Last, of course, there are the quarterbacks. This is Luck's first championship game. It's Brady's ninth. Nobody in NFL history has more.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Brady is 13-3 at home in the playoffs but 5-3 over his last eight postseason games there.
Clark Judge -- Seattle 27, Green Bay 13; New England 31, Indianapolis 20.
Ron Borges -- Seattle 31, Green Bay 21; New England 24, Indianapolis 21.
Rick Gosselin -- Seattle 27, Green Bay 20; New England 34, Indianapolis 27.
TEN GUYS ON SUNDAY’S WALL-OF-FAME
1. New England TE Rob Gronkowski. In five home playoff games he has 26 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Plus, he scored in his last four postseason starts at Gillette.
2. New England coach Bill Belichick. With one more win, he becomes the winningest coach in NFL playoff history. He’s tied with Tom Landry at 20 victories apiece.
3. Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. He's the first player in history to throw for 250 or more yards in his first five playoff games.
4. Indianapolis K Adam Vinatieri. He has field goals in 13 straight games, tying him with Toni Fritsch for the longest streak in NFL playoff history.
5. Indianapolis WR Reggie Wayne. He needs 63 yards receiving to move past Michael Irvin (1,315) for the second most yards in playoff history. Wayne has played in six career postseason games.
6. Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy. He has 100 or more yards from scrimmage in 10 straight games, including the playoffs – a franchise record.
7. Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He’s 2-0 vs. Green Bay, with a 105.9 rating.
8. Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch. In four career playoff games at home he’s run for 439 yards and four touchdowns.
9. Seattle S Kam Chancellor. He aims for his fourth straight playoff game with an interception.
10. Green Bay FB John Kuhn. He’s one of two active players with four or more rushing touchdowns and three or more receiving scores in the playoffs.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. There have been seven straight NFC championship games decided by seven or fewer points – including three that went to overtime.
2. With a win, Seattle can become the 12th defending Super Bowl champion – and the first since the 2004 New England Patriots – to return to the Super Bowl.
3. Green Bay’s 10 road wins are tied with Baltimore for the most in NFL playoff history. The Colts are tied for fourth with eight.
4. With a victory, New England’s Bill Belichick would tie Don Shula for the most Super Bowl appearances by a head coach with six.
5. New England’s 16-4 home playoff record is second only to Seattle (10-2). The Patriots are 4-1 in home conference championship games.
6. Tom Brady (6791) needs 10 more yards passing to move past Peyton Manning for the most in playoff history.
7. Over the last 20 years New England is 38-9 when the temperature at kickoff is 34 degrees or colder and are 11-2 in cold-weather playoff games. They’re 11-0 at home when it snows, outscoring opponents 257-77.
8. This is the third time Seattle and Green Bay meet in the playoffs. The Packers won the previous two.
9. Russell Wilson’s 109.6 passer rating is the best in playoff history. At 105.3, Aaron Rodgers is second. But Rodgers’ 108.2 rating on the road is the best in NFL postseason history (minimum 100 attempts).
10. In the Seahawks’ last seven home playoff games, they outscored opponents 102-20 in the second half and 62-7 in the fourth quarter.