Back again after another wild week of Divisional games, I shall press on and predict Sunday’s Conference Championship games.
If you have been keeping track at home (which I’m sure you have) you’ll see that I went 3-1 in picking the Divisional games this past weekend. That would push my playoff prediction record to 6-2, after going 3-1 on Wild Card weekend.
I would say that’s definitely a formidable record, to give you a reference point Chris Berman went 4-4 in his Wild Card and Divisional picks. Keep in mind that he is the so-called “Swami” and is revered for his “excellent” ability to predict football games. Maybe you could call me the new Swami, as it seems Berman has lost his magic touch.
So, with that, let me guide you through this week’s NFL Conference Championship games. This week we have the top two seeds in each conference duking it out for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. As Colts fans we’ll see some old friends (and enemies) as well as some fresh faces.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for this week.
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#2 New England Patriots vs #1 Denver Broncos
Would you want it any other way? Besides the Colts being in the AFC Title game of course. It was almost predictable that Brady and Manning would meet yet again. This time, it is presumably the last, as I’d venture to guess this is Peyton’s final year.
I’m sure every Colts fan wants to see Manning dethrone Brady en route to another Super Bowl appearance. This would obviously be a sweet conclusion to this ongoing “feud” between the two, and would leave Manning with the last laugh.
First, let me make this clear, right now, Tom Brady is the better quarterback of the two. Peyton has lost some arm strength, and quite a bit of accuracy over the past year and a half. While Manning has regressed from his former glory, Brady has continued his steady output, despite New England being ravaged by injuries all season.
What gives the Broncos an edge is their defense, and Peyton will admit to anyone within earshot that they are the reason Denver is in this position. He is most certainly correct, but it’s worth noting that Manning played fairly well against Pittsburgh in the Divisional round. If it hadn’t been for some timely drops by the Broncos receivers, Denver could have won running away last Sunday.
New England, on the other hand completely controlled their match-up with the Kansas City Chiefs, as I and many others expected. The addition of Julian Edelman greatly improved their offense, and Tom Brady, was, well, Tom Brady for the most part.
The Patriots have been titans of the NFL over the past 15 years, especially in the postseason. However, I like Denver in this game, and it goes beyond me wanting Peyton to ride off into the sunset on his noble steed.
Denver has a far better defense, and they can at least somewhat control New England’s offense. We know the Patriots rarely turn the ball over, but the Broncos do not need turnovers to win football games. Their pass rush and secondary can completely control the tempo and momentum of this game.
The Broncos defense will key in on Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, who was kept in check when these two teams met in the regular season. Again, it will be left up to Denver’s defense to win this game for them.
For Denver on offense, they have a better run game, and can exploit a relatively soft Patriots rush defense. The beauty of the Broncos is the fact that Peyton Manning doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards and three TDs for them to win. Manning didn’t even throw a touchdown last week and Denver was able to win.
Historically, Brady has dominated Manning in head-to-head match-ups, but I think we see Peyton and the Broncos win this game for the reasons laid out above. Yes, it’s difficult to be impartial in this match-up, but I truly believe the Broncos will win.
Prediction: Broncos 24, Patriots 21
#2 Arizona Cardinals vs #1 Carolina Panthers
This game takes a backseat I’d say to the Manning-Brady duel, but this could turn into the better game of the two in all reality. Both teams have a horde of talent on both ends of the ball, and it truly is another toss up in my opinion.
Carolina, has the presumed MVP in Cam Newton, who was able to vanquish the “mighty” Seahawks last Sunday. I compared the first half of that game to the Apollo Creed v Ivan Drago fight from Rocky IV. It doesn’t need to be explained who is who in that comparison, but it’s safe to say Carolina had this in the back on their mind at the end of the half. Meanwhile Seattle was like, but in all seriousness RIP Apollo, and I’ll stop with the Rocky references.
However, the second half saw Seattle come back as Carolina was very complacent on both ends. It was a lot like the second fight between Rocky and Clubber Lang, after Rocky lost the belt to Clubber earlier in the movie (RIP Mickey). Okay, I lied, I got Rocky references for days, but you get my point.
As for Arizona, their offense struggled against the Packers, but their defense was able to limit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. Luckily for Arizona, they were able to find their offensive groove in overtime with the help of Larry Fitzgerald, and they took the game.
It was also impressive to see the poise of Carson Palmer in overtime. The Packers had tied the game on another hail mary at the end of regulation. Most quarterbacks on the wrong end of that would be completely rattled, but give credit to Palmer who marched the Cardinals down the field on the first drive of OT.
It was a lot like when Rocky got up after being knocked down by Apollo in the first movie. Look at Apollo’s reaction! That’s a carbon copy of Aaron Rodgers’ reaction after Arizona scored in OT.
In this game, I think it will come down to which defense plays better. To me, the offenses are a wash, which may sound crazy to some, but it’s true. Arizona has their inconsistencies, and Carolina has a tendency to become complacent when they get a lead. We saw it last week, and we also saw it against the New York Giants in the regular season, that is why Carolina scares me.
In terms of which defense plays better, I’m inclined to choose Arizona. The Cardinals have a better pass rush, and they are capable of stopping Jonathan Stewart, who paced Carolina’s offense last week. That will leave it up to Cam Newton to win with his passing.
As good as Newton has been throwing the ball this season, I still think their receiving core is sub-par. Beyond Greg Olsen, every receiver the Panthers have is more than manageable for a talented Cardinals secondary. Patrick Peterson will lock up Ted Ginn, who has been the only other “reliable” option for Newton besides Olsen.
I think this is going to be an unbelievable game, but I think the Cardinals are going to win based on the defense they have, and how capable they are on offense. In the end, it’s going to be a matter of who gets up before the ten count, much like Creed v Balboa part two. Arizona will end up being Balboa.
Prediction: Cardinals 35, Panthers 31
There you have it folks, enjoy the games, and if you didn’t understand any of the Rocky references, well then, shame on you.