Jake’s Take on NFL Conference Championships

Images from dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com, dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com

Images from dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com, dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com

We’re down to the final four. We have just a few days remaining before the second- and third most important games in the NFL season, and I feel it is nothing if not my duty to prognosticate these two important games taking place this Sunday. Come with me on this journey through the AFC and NFC Championship games featuring the four best teams in the National Football League.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Time: 2:05 p.m. CST, Line: New England -3

This year’s AFC Championship, as it did in the 2013-14 season, features the Tom Brady-led Patriots visiting Peyton Manning’s Broncos. The last time these two met in a Conference Championship, Brady got the better end with a 26-16 victory, but that outcome will have no bearing on this year’s edition. These two teams match up well in intriguing ways, as the Patriots’ quick, short-passing offense will face the Broncos’ vicious, QB-murdering front seven. On the flip side, Denver relies on an unpredictable offense that ranges anywhere from incompetently ineffective to lethally explosive that will go up against New England’s shockingly effective/shockingly depleted defense. But not only is this going to be an impressive game on both sides of the ball, but these Patriots and Broncos have become this generation’s Steelers and Raiders- two high-powered teams driven by a cannon-armed, once-in-a-generation quarterback and an “us against the world” mentality, respectively. I’ll let you make the call as to which current incarnation is which.

On paper, this is an extremely close matchup, but this writer does not see that way. There is one team with oodles of momentum coming off of a huge statement win. The other is playing with a hobbled quarterback and is coming off of a lucky fumble that led to their win. The momentous team, of course, is the New England Patriots. Yes, they lost four of their last six regular season games, but those were all without Brady’s favorite target in Julian Edelman. The Patriots have won their last 15 games with Edelman on the field, and there is no reason that that streak should not continue on Sunday when the Patriots and their quasi-West Coast offense will head to their second consecutive Super Bowl.

The Pick: New England 31-23

NFC Championship: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

Time: 5:40 p.m. CST, Line: Carolina -3

If the AFC Championship pits the game’s greybeards against each other, then the NFC Championship showcases some of the bright young stars in the NFL in players like Cam Newton, David Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu and Luke Kuechly. The most important matchup, though, will not be completely between the young, as the deepest receiving corps in the league will be tested against one of the quickest and most resilient secondaries that, in this game, will be merely trying their best to not get burned. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers’ explosive offense should simply throw the ball to the opposite side of the field as Patrick Peterson and mix in a few Newton scrambles to be successful, at least in the first half. The biggest problem for Carolina, especially later in the season, has been finishing games, having surrendered 24 unanswered second-half points to the Seattle Seahawks last week en route to a too-close-for-comfort 31-24 win. The Cardinals are a much more complete team than the Seahawks, so a Carolina second-half power outage will almost assuredly hand the Cardinals a trip to Super Bowl 50.

As I said earlier, the team that dominates the aerial attack with the ball in Arizona’s possession will win the game. That will also be the team that demonstrates their cool head under the pressure of a road Conference Championship game. That team, the Arizona Cardinals. It’s only fitting that the fiftieth incarnation of the Super Bowl feature two teams with traditional drop-back passers in traditional offenses complemented by traditional balanced defenses. Not to mention that the two teams I’m predicting are coached to two of the most innovative football minds in the world. And that is what will lead the Cardinals to the Big Game- the intelligence and mind games of Bruce Arians. No disrespect to Ron Rivera, but Bruce Arians is simply the better coach, and he is the reason that the Cardinals will advance to their first Super Bowl since 2008.

The Pick: Arizona 24-20

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