The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is officially complete, which means the Super Bowl is one step closer for the teams still in the hunt.
The Seattle Seahawks are arguably in pole position at the moment with their win over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. They'll meet the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game in what is one of two regular-season rematches.
On the other side, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will play to determine the champion in the AFC. The two clashed back in Week 11, in addition to last year's AFC divisional round.
Below is a brief preview for each game and the Super Bowl odds for the four remaining teams.
Super Bowl Odds
|Super Bowl Odds|
|Green Bay Packers||25/4|
|New England Patriots||233/100|
AFC Championship Preview
In a way you have to feel sorry for the Colts. Even as they advance to the conference championship game, the majority of the discussion following Sunday's AFC divisional-round game is focusing on Peyton Manning and his future/poor record in the playoffs.
Indianapolis played extremely well, holding Manning to 211 yards through the air and limiting one of the best offenses in the league to 289 yards of total offense.
ESPN.com's Mike Wells also praised Indianapolis' offensive line, which all but neutralized Denver's pass rush:
Andrew Luck also looked great for stretches despite his two interceptions. His performance prompted this tweet from ESPN's Chris Mortensen:
It was impossible to look beyond the symbolism of Luck beating Manning—the student beating the master.
However, the Colts still have to be considered underdogs when they head into Gillette Stadium. The last time they played the Patriots, New England picked up a 42-20 victory in Lucas Oil Stadium. Jonas Gray almost certainly won't rush for 201 yards and four touchdowns again, but the gulf between the two teams went beyond Gray's performance.
The game served in part as a sign that Indianapolis hadn't yet taken that next step toward being a Super Bowl contender. It also illustrated that Luck can't do it all on his own. He threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns, but the team combined to rush for 19 yards, and the defense had no answer for Gray.
The Colts are facing off against one of the most balanced teams in the league. While New England doesn't boast an explosive offense or sweltering defense, the combined strength of the two units makes the Patriots so tough to beat.
Luck and Indianapolis haven't even gotten close to New England before, per ESPN Stats & Info:
And as cliche as it sounds, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the most successful postseason duo in the game today. You don't bet against them when they're at home in the playoffs.
Until Luck and the Colts prove they can get over this hurdle, New England gets the benefit of the doubt.
Prediction: New England 20, Indianapolis 17
NFC Championship Preview
Maybe Aaron Rodgers was a little more injured than the Packers were letting on.
Back on Friday, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy seemed to indicate that all was right with Rodgers, and Green Bay's offense wouldn't see any sort of drop, per the team's Twitter account:
Although Rodgers went 24-of-35 for 316 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, he was clearly laboring in the divisional-round win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The 31-year-old normally has enough mobility to get outside of the pocket and create more time for himself. That athleticism was nowhere to be found on Sunday.
As Greg Matzek of 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee added, it's hard seeing Rodgers' condition improve between now and the conference championship:
That's not good news for the Packers, who lost by 20 points to Seattle back in Week 1. The Seahawks held Green Bay to 255 yards. Rodgers threw for 189 yards, a touchdown and an interception and avoided Richard Sherman like the plague, per Sunday Night Football:
The Seahawks head into the NFC Championship Game on a seven-game winning streak, having allowed 53 points during that stretch.
Seattle didn't even play all that well against the Panthers on Saturday but still won by 14 points. That defense can be devastating when it's on. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out how turnovers completely changed Saturday's NFC clash:
One minute, the Panthers look ready to put points on the board and possibly make it a one-score game; the next, Kam Chancellor intercepts a pass and waltzes 90 yards to the end zone:
Simply put, the Packers are facing a massive uphill battle with this game in Seattle. Green Bay is a different team away from Lambeau Field, while CenturyLink Field has turned into a true fortress for the Seahawks.
Add in that Rodgers looks a tad off his game, and Seattle should be headed to its second straight Super Bowl.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Green Bay 17
Note: Super Bowl odds are courtesy of Odds Shark.