NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
PACKERS-SEAHAWKS CLASH THIS SUNDAY IN SEATTLE
PLUS "COACH TALK" AS REX RYAN, TODD BOWLES LAND AFC EAST JOBS
Once upon a time, the conventional wisdom was that the team with the longer pointspread winning streak won these NFL Conference Championship Games.
Maybe that hasn't always been the case the past few years but we do know this:
The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks enter Sunday's NFC Championship Game bash against the Green Bay Packers riding a seven-game ATS (against the spread) winning streak and dare we say Pete Carroll's squad is playing better now than at any point last year.
Now whether the 'Hawks are gonna slam another exclamation point to the end of this 2014 season, well, time will tell but consider right here/right now all the advantages that Seattle has while entering this title tilt:
The Seahawks - obviously - have the all-important home-field advantage where they won seven-of-eight regular-season games along with last Saturday's 31-17 triumph over Carolina in NFC Divisional Playoff round action and Seattle does have that extra prep day what with the Packers having beaten Dallas 26-21 last Sunday at not-so-frosty Lambeau Field.
So, what do the Packers have in their "favor" while heading into this game?
Revenge! - see that 36-16 loss at 4.5-point Seattle back in Week 1 play - and a seemingly healthier QB Aaron Rodgers who sure looked a whole lot better in the second half of last week's game against the Cowboys than he did in the first half ... ahh, modern science at work!
Lots more to say about this tasty NFC Championship Game matchup shortly but first this key reminder: Jim Hurley and his Handicappers and Bloggers have the Sides & Totals Winners of both NFC and AFC Championship Games this Sunday when you check in game-day morning either right here online or via the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.
Plus make sure you're all aboard for the hot NBA and College Basketball plays all week/weekend long as America's #1 Handicapper continues to roast the Las Vegas/off-shore books.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
GREEN BAY (13-4) at SEATTLE (13-4) - 3 p.m. ET, Fox
Y'all know the NFL history - no team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003 and '04 New England Patriots (and please don't ask whether they were totally "legit"!) -- but that's what stares straight ahead at these surging Seahawks who enter this one on an eight-game home playoff winning streak that includes a pair of post-season home wins against New Orleans (see 2010 and '13), San Francisco (2013) and this year's aforementioned win against the Panthers.
The Seattle defense yields less than 16 points per game and during this seven-game SU (straight-up) and ATS run you'll note that the Seahawks have surrendered single-digit scoring outputs on five different occasions.
In short, nobody's been denting this Seattle stop unit that had been pretty healthy of late until CB Byron Maxwell experienced some shortness of breath issues last weekend and Tharold Simon proved to be a not-so-adequate replacement.
If Maxwell's fine here and the Seahawks are "whole", than Mr. Rodgers (4,381 yards passing with 38 TDs in regular-season play and another 316 yards passing with 3 TDs in last week's controversial win against Dallas) will have his hands full even if the unexpected likes of WR Davante Adams (7 catches for 117 yards and one TD last week) and TE Richard Rodgers (key 13-yard go-ahead TD grab versus the 'Boys) are making contributions but what's the deal with WR Jordy Nelson who snared just two receptions against Dallas and was pretty much invisible.
Remember the Packers also have some issues with key RB Eddie Lacy who wound up with 101 yards rushing on 19 carries last week but he took himself out of the game a few times with asthma-related problems - if Lacy has to sit at times here than expect Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy to turn to WR Randall Cobb lined up occasionally in the backfield.
Gut feeling is the Seattle defense will "spy" Cobb when/if he heads into the backfield with QB Rodgers, so we believe his affect here will be minimal.
No, if the TD underdog Packers are gonna win here and make it back to their second Super Bowl in the past five years, than Rodgers must get a batch of "chunk plays" through the air waves and Seattle must be passive when it comes to a pass rush and it's duly noted that Green Bay's oft-underrated O-line did a number on the Dallas pass rushers a week ago.
When Seattle has the ball, all eyes remain on QB Russell Wilson who enters this game with a sizzling 73.9 completion percentage on third-down plays in post-season play - now that's the best in the NFL in more than 20 years - and you all know what havoc Wilson creates when he turns and runs.
Wilson's 849 rushing yards in the regular season was second-best on this Seattle team - bulldozing RB Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.7 yards a pop and rushed for 1,306 yards - and so the inevitable question here is will Green Bay's defense "spy" Wilson (and maybe even with MLB Clay Matthews) or will they take the chance that they can restrict Wilson's movements to be inside the pocket only here.
Seattle has become the beneficiary of major "chunk plays" through the air waves recently too with Wilson airmailing five of last week's 15 pass completions versus Carolina for 25-or-more yards and so the Pack and DC Dom Capers better not "sleep" on WRs Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse even though they combined for just four touchdowns in regular-season play. Hybrid TE/WR Luke Willson - yes, with two l's -- has become a favorite target of QB Wilson and watch for any downfield matchups where Willson gets to face off with a linebacker - mismatch city?
Now for a pair of X-factors:
The Packers were chewed up pretty good last week on the ground by Dallas RB DeMarco Murray - in all Green Bay allowed 123 yards on 25 carries - and so if Seattle is able to gash the middle of the Packers' defensive line here with between-the-guard runs by both Lynch and backup RB Robert Turbin, then this game could well fall into a nice rhythm for the home team. Secondly, don't overlook the all-important special teams here:
The Packers trust PK Mason Crosby to make those 50-yarders while Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka did miss three FGs in that lopsided win at Arizona back in Week 16 play and it's not really known whether he's recovered or not from that shaky showing.
Pointspread Notes - The Seahawks are 11-6 ATS overall this year including a snazzy 7-2 spread log at home and note that Seattle is a dead-even but vig-losing 3-3-1 against Green Bay the past 10 years. On the flip side, the GB Packers are a collective 9-7-1 against the Las Vegas prices this year and note the NFC North champs are a dreary 0-3 ATS as underdogs with pointspread setbacks at 4.5-point favorite Seattle in Week, at 1.5-point fav Detroit in Week 3 and at 2-point chalkie New Orleans in a Week 9 Sunday Night affair. Plus, the Packers are just 6-5-1 ATS overall in playoff games under McCarthy while the Seahawks are 6-2 vig-wise in post-season tilts under Carroll.
NFL COACH TALK
So, when all the dust settled the other day, there was former New York Jets loud-mouth head coach Rex Ryan making new promises, new guarantees and new boasts as the new coach of the Buffalo Bills ... and there was quiet-but-secure Todd Bowles stepping into Ryan's vacated green-and-white shoes in New York/New Jersey after a very successful stint as the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
Did these AFC East teams "win" or "lose" with their choices?
Ahh, it's not that easy, my friends.
The Bills wanted a more fiery, colorful character running their show in upstate New York and so Ryan might be called a "perfect fit" but isn't it just a tad ironic that he's headed to another AFC East team with a stout defense and no real/true quarterback?
Could a QB Mark Sanchez-to-Buffalo reunion with Ryan be far behind? Don't laugh.
And Bowles may have long ago "paid his dues" as an assistant/coordinator and he is a Bill Parcells "disciple" to boot but right away we don't love his choice of Chan Gailey as the NYJ offensive coordinator.
Bowles has patience - and he'll need it as the Jets' new head coach.
Ryan has glitz and lots of confidence - and he'll need that too going up against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots twice a year (again) till further notice.
So, we'll offer up "B" grades for both hires - Bowles would get a better grade if not for Gailey - and Ryan, from all reports, jumped the gun and might have been offered the Atlanta job with QB Matt Ryan.
Maybe he'll be a fit with the Bills, but he would have been better off with the Falcons.
NOTE: More NFL Conference Championship Games coverage in the next Jim Sez as we bring you the AFC Championship Game between Indianapolis at New England.
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