Before we get to breaking down the NFC and AFC championship games, a quick plea to Mr. Peyton Manning:
Don’t do it. Please, for the love of God, do NOT hang up those cleats and call it a career. If you take your 76,491 combined regular-season and playoff passing yards, your 568 career touchdown passes and your 11-13 career playoff record and go home, how in the hell am I going to pay my mortgage each January?!? Come on, buddy, one more season! Do it, and I promise to sign up for that crappy insurance and start eating that crappy pizza you hawk every 15 minutes on my TV. Deal?
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s see if I can keep the momentum going after last week’s 4-0 performance in the NFL playoffs. (We don’t need to discuss the college football championship game. Besides, I told you there was no chance in hell I was nailing that pick—you were duly warned!)
Both of these conference title games feature nearly identical point spreads: As of January 13, the Seahawks were a 7 to 7½-point favorite versus the Packers, while the Patriots were laying 6½ to 7 points against the upstart Colts. A few interesting historical notes relative to these big numbers: Each of the last seven NFC Championship games were decided by seven points or less, with the average margin of victory being 4.7 points. Conversely, most of the AFC title tilts in recent years have been blowouts—since the 1998 season, 12 of 16 games were decided by nine points or more, with only three decided by fewer than six points.
Continuing with the latter theme, since the AFL/NFL merger necessitated the playing of conference championship games starting in 1970, nearly 72 percent (63 of 88) featured a victory margin of at least seven points, and nearly 57 percent were double-digit blowouts. One more startling figure to digest, courtesy of our friends at The Gold Sheet: Conference championship favorites of 7 to 9½ points are 15-6 against the spread!
Translation: We all need to think long and hard before choosing to reinvest our Manning winnings on Green Bay or Indianapolis …
Seahawks (7½, 46½) vs. Packers: With last week’s 31-17 trouncing of Cam Newton and the Panthers, Seattle has now won seven consecutive games and covered seven consecutive point spreads. Combined score during this winning streak: Seahawks 165, Foes 56. Amazingly, Seattle has given up two touchdowns in a game just twice since November 16 (and one of those was a garbage-time Carolina TD last week).
Now let’s spike the punch with these ingredients: Seattle’s defense this season led the NFL in points allowed, total yards allowed and passing yards allowed, while ranking third in rushing yards allowed; Green Bay’s explosive offense managed just two touchdowns against that defense in a season-opening 36-16 loss at Seattle (and Aaron Rodgers had two good wheels that night); that 20-point rout of the Packers is part of the Seahawks’ 25-2 straight-up and 20-6-1 ATS record at home in the Russell Wilson era; speaking of Wilson, he’s now 5-1 SU and 5-0-1 ATS in the playoffs, with nine touchdowns and one interception; and while Rodgers (28 TDs, 0 INTs) and the Packers (9-0) have been flawless at home, they’ve been anything but on the road (going 4-4, with Rodgers posting a modest 13-5 TD/INT ratio).
Oh, and then there’s the whole Pete Carroll-Mike McCarthy mismatch on the sidelines. Seriously, Stevie Wonder in the dark of night can see this one coming: Seahawks 37, Packers 17
Patriots (-7, 54) vs. Colts: There are a lot of things working against the Colts in this contest, the most important being this: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady flat-out have their number. In five meetings since 2010, New England is 5-0. In the last three meetings—all in the Andrew Luck era—the Patriots have won by scores of 59-24 (home), 43-22 (home) and 42-20 (road, two months ago). Luck’s numbers in those losses: 70-for-130 (53.9 percent), six TDs, eight INTs.
Throw in the aforementioned history of blowouts in AFC title games, and it’s tough to side with Indy. Then again, the Colts’ defense looks completely reborn in the playoffs (holding Denver and Cincinnati to 23 combined points). Then there’s this: After barely squeaking past Baltimore last week, the Patriots are now 3-11 ATS in their last 14 playoff games—including 0-3 ATS the last three years in this championship game. I smell a nail-biter: Patriots 28, Colts 26
Last Week: 4-1.
Final Bowl Record: 9-9.
Season Record: 64-62-1 (33-32-1 NFL; 31-30 college; 6-10-1 Best Bets).
Matt Jacob appears at 10 a.m. Thursdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview on ESPN Radio 1100-AM and 100.9-FM.