The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos had big victories this weekend, but neither team will be advancing after next weekend's championship games. The New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers will pull off the road victories because of the 49ers' defense and the Patriots surprisingly successful run game. The other difference factor for the Patriots will be Tom Brady's clutch DNA, while the 49ers' run game and added motivation will help them take down Seattle.
New England beat the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night 43-22 in a game that was dominated by Legarrette Blount and the Patriots' defense.
New England intercepted Andrew Luck four times, which was a big reason why the Colts could never get any momentum going. The Patriots ran the ball very effectively, with Blount going for 166 yards and four touchdowns. Stevan Ridley also added 52 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Bruce Feldman of CBS compares how far Blount has come in just a year with this tweet:
LeGarrette Blount had 4 TDs today & 166 rushing yards. Only had 151 rushing yards in 13 games with the Bucs last year.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 12, 2014
New England will have a tough task defensively stopping Peyton Manning, but this is a secondary that is hot right now coming off that four interception performance. Aqib Talib has done a great job for the Patriots' defense this season, totaling 41 tackles and four interceptions.
Tom Brady is not a stranger to playing against Manning. He has a very good record against the Denver quarterback, shown in this tweet below from Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel:
Brady is 10-4 v Manning all-time, 2-1 in playoffs. They split AFC title games (2003 Brady, 2006 Manning). http://t.co/Wpuv9AW0YO— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) January 13, 2014
Blount has been a big part of the Patriots' success lately. In the last two games, he has rushed for 355 yards and six touchdowns. The ability to run the ball will open up some big pass plays for Brady down the field.
I am a big fan of Manning, but one can not overlook his mediocre 10-11 playoff record. Brady, on the other hand, is not shy to the playoffs, winning three Super Bowls since 2001.
The run game opening up things for Tom Brady will be a huge factor, and will give New England the upper hand in this one.
The 49ers' formula for success is similar to New England's. They have a defense that is among the best in the league, owning the fifth-ranked defense in terms of yards per game. In Sunday's game, the defense was really what won the game. The Panthers could not get anything going offensively in the second half, thanks to pressure by the 49ers' front seven. This tweet from Sports Talk, a radio show in California, shows how dominant that San Francisco defense played when it mattered most:
Seattle also has a good defense, probably the best in the league, but with the way the 49ers have been running the ball I expect them to control this game. During the regular season, San Fran had the third-best rush offense in the NFL. Frank Gore has been big for them in the playoffs, going for 66 yards against the Packers and 84 against the Panthers.
Colin Kaepernick is 4-1 in postseason. 5 QBs chosen before him in 2011 draft (Newton, Locker, Gabbert, Ponder, Dalton) are a combined 0-4.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2014
Another important factor that gives the 49ers the edge is motivation. Yeah I know, it's the playoffs and everyone should be motivated. San Francisco will have extra motivation though, considering how close they have been to the ultimate goal and because of who they are playing.
If that doesn't leave a giant chip on their shoulders, then the struggles of playing in Seattle will. In 2012, the Seahawks demolished the 49ers 42-13 in Seattle. Earlier this season, the 49ers got another chance to win in Seattle but got beat again, falling this time 29-3.
Donte Whitner, who had a big interception in the Carolina game, didn't hold back in his opinion about the division rival. According to this article from ESPN's Ashley Fox, Whitner said "They don't like us. We don't like them." Kaepernick also added his opinion on the Seattle game in this article from the Associated Press, saying "It's going to be a knockdown, drag-out game."
The struggles to win that game on the road should provide extra motivation for the 49ers this week in practice to get the job done.
New England and San Fran will both likely be underdogs this weekend, but each team will find a way to win. The defenses and run games from both teams will be big, along with the 49ers' chance at redemption and Tom Brady's proven playoff record.