Exhale. On the heels of a mediocre Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs, the divisional round certainly didn't disappoint. There weren't many shocking results, but it was an enthralling quartet of games to decide the conference championship matchups.
The New England Patriots kicked things off with a come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Ravens. Then, on Saturday evening, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson moved to 4-0 against the Carolina Panthers to reach the NFC Championship for a second straight year.
Sunday's slate saw the Dallas Cowboys fall to the Green Bay Packers, ironically enough on a controversial call. After the Packers secured their spot in the NFC Championship Game, the Indianapolis Colts rode off with a massive win over the Denver Broncos.
Taking all of that into account, the NFC and AFC showdowns are now set. Here's a look at the early odds and predictions for both matchups.
NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (-7.5)
It's only fitting that the first NFC matchup of the season will also be the final one.
The Packers come in with one of the most explosive offenses with weapons all over the field. The Seahawks feature the best defense in the NFL with the secondary literally damaging people's souls.
That's exactly how Richard Sherman described Kam Chancellor after his phenomenal performance against the Panthers, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times:
Kam Chancellor damages people's souls. ...
Kam doesn't get the respect he deserves. Any time you say another strong safety is playing better than him, then you're not watching tape. Who else is playing better? Show me the tape. Show me the playoff tape. Show me in a big game that somebody else played at a higher level, and I'd appreciate it.
Whether it was leaping over an entire offensive line two times to attempt to block a field goal or his 89-yard pick-six off of Cam Newton, Chancellor made a statement in the divisional round. Now, he and the Legion of Boom will be tasked with Aaron Rodgers again.
Seattle's defense got the best of Rodgers and Green Bay in Week 1, coming away with a 36-16 beatdown at home. With that loss still weighing on his mind, Rodgers spoke about what fans can expect from the Packers offense next weekend, per the team's official account:
Since that opening loss, Rodgers has been unflappable, throwing for multiple touchdowns and no interceptions in 12 games this season. That includes the three-touchdown, no-interception showing against Dallas on Sunday.
Though he was hampered by a calf injury throughout the game, Rodgers was still dangerous under center. ESPN Stats & Info points out his unreal statistics from the end of the divisional round:
Just call it a hunch, but this seems like a perfect opportunity for Rodgers to truly make sure fans in Green Bay are R-E-L-A-X-E-D with a huge win. Equipped with explosive players like Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy, the Packers will advance to the Super Bowl over the defending champs.
Prediction: Packers 23, Seahawks 20
AFC Championship: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-7)
Oh, the rivalry between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots enters a new chapter. Peyton Manning struggled for years against Tom Brady, and now, Andrew Luck has yet to beat Brady in his career, including a showdown in the divisional round of the playoffs last season.
Luck has been great this year, passing for 40 touchdowns in the regular season, but he doesn't have the playoff experience of Brady. Even after taking down Manning in Denver on Sunday, the Pats are a completely different animal in the playoffs.
Brady has been on a tear at the end of the season and put his name in the playoff record books Saturday. The Pats quarterback broke Joe Montana's record against the Baltimore Ravens:
Adding to his already great legacy, Brady went out against the Ravens and proved his brilliance yet again. While it wasn't always perfect—he did throw a befuddling interception—he led the Pats to a game-winning drive in the playoffs for the eighth time in his career.
Brady's pass fell into the hands of Brandon LaFell, who has been a breakout star all season for the Patriots. LaFell spoke about the perfect laser from Brady following the game, per Phil Perry of CSN New England:
Tom was at the line preaching for something long. I'm thinking he's gonna change the play, and I'm like, 'No, man! Let me go out there and work it.' He had faith in me. ... [The window] was real tight. The guy was grabbing my arm. It was just a perfect throw. All I had to do was stick my arm out.
While he'll have another strong quarterback on the other side of the ball, Brady will once again pull through at home in the AFC Championship. After taking them down earlier this season, the Pats will do the same at home.
Thanks to a defense that is able to shut down nearly any offense down the stretch and the reliability of Brady in the clutch, New England will keep rolling into the Super Bowl for the sixth time with Brady under center.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Colts 24
Odds via OddsShark.com.
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