NFL Conference Championship Sunday is Set
THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS RE-CAPS
HERE'S TO THE WINNERS AS #1 AND #2 SEEDS PREVAIL PLUS "FIRST LOOK" AT CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY
NCAA HOOP NOTES: A BIG 12 BLOCKBUSTER ON TAP
Even in the grand world of the National Football League, even when things go "according to form" they really don't!
Consider that all the home teams/higher seeds came away from this past weekend's gridiron action with SU (straight-up) wins that landed 'em all in conference championship games this Sunday and yet getting to the promised land included - among other things -- a wacky overtime coin flip in Arizona, a near gigantic collapse from 31 points up in Carolina and a hardened playoff team score a touchdown for the first time in 23 post-season possessions to win in Denver.
Otherwise, it was truly a ho-hum weekend in the league where they play for pay ... yeah, right!
The proverbial bottom line is we now have a real "Lawrence Welk" final four - go head and google him, if you must - as it's 1, 2 and then 1, 2 in terms of playoff seeds in both of this weekend's games ... how can you go wrong there?
Lots to chew on in terms of what's ahead and what just happened but first this key reminder:
Get Sunday's NFL Championship Game Sides & Totals Winners when you check with us after 10 a.m. ET game-day morning as we steer you straight to the winner's circle with the AFC Championship Game between the #2 New England Patriots at the #1 Denver Broncos along with the NFC Championship Game between #2 seed Arizona Cardinals at #1 seed Carolina Panthers plus pile up the profits all this week/weekend long with NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - go ahead and pound the books today!
THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS - HERE'S TO THE WINNERS
In the AFC, it's ...
#2 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-4) - Okay, so by now you know all the particulars such as this will mark the fifth straight year the Pats are playing in the AFC Championship Game (the 1973-77 Oakland Raiders did the same) and how they're hoping to eventually become the first franchise since the 2003-04 New England teams to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles but the gazillion dollar question is can Bill Belichick's crew win in Denver as 3-point road favorites without any semblance of a ground game (see 38 yards rushing in last Saturday's wire-to-wire 27-20 win/cover against 6-point underdog Kansas City) and with QB Tom Brady continuing to shoulder the load of this entire organization?
Brady's emotionally-charged showing against the Chiefs - which featured 302 yards passing, two TDs and no interceptions - might well have been his most focused showing in months and it worked out quite well that prodigal son WR Julian Edelman just needed to shake some rust off his game after a seven-week absence to finish with 10 catches for 100 yards (he did drop three in-the-area passes in the first quarter) and TE Ron Gronkowski (two scoring grabs) looked limber enough but as we look ahead to this Sunday's game in the Mile High City, Brady must get some help from RB Stephen Jackson and that Pats' pass rush starring Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones must collapse the pocket on Denver QB Peyton Manning who still sits back that like a china doll more times than not.
Spread Note - The Patriots are a money-losing 9-12 ATS (against the spread) in all post-season games dating back to the 2005 campaign.
#1 DENVER BRONCOS (13-4) - Everyone's talking up the fact that this will be Brady vs. Manning 17 (or XVII, if you prefer) but toss aside that stuff for a bit and consider that the Broncos when they absolutely/positively had to have a go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter wound up going 65 yards on 13 plays and Manning completed only two of his three pass attempts in that touchdown march. Hey, no offense to the five-time league MVP but it was a bullish offensive line that plowed holes for RBs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman (they combined for eight carries on the winning march) when things got sticky although Manning does get high grades for his field-flipping 31-yard completion to Bennie Fowler.
True, the Broncos took forever to score their only touchdown in Sunday's 23-16 win/pointspread push against 7-point road underdog Pittsburgh and don't - for a second - overlook those clutch five field goals made by PK Brandon McManus who mastered the at-times tricky winds in Denver to nail 3-pointers from 28, 41, 51, 41 and 45 yards as just one single miss amongst those kicks could have swayed momentum permanently to Pittsburgh's side of the field.
Naturally, the biggest play of Denver's Divisional Playoff win was that fumble by Steelers' fill-in RB Fitzgerald Toussaint at the Broncos' 35-yard line with 10 minutes left and Pittsburgh then owning a 13-12 lead. Cornerback Bradley Roby - who has forced a slew of big turnovers this year - knocked the ball free for the Broncos there and we say Denver must get a couple of such plays this Sunday against New England if Manning and Company is gonna head to Super Bowl 50.
Spread Note - Denver is a rotten 3-6-1 versus the vig in all post-season games since 2005.
In the NFC, it's ...
#2 ARIZONA CARDINALS (14-3) - If truth be told, there were a whole lot of things that the Cardinals didn't do well in their wild 26-20 non-cover overtime win against 7-point pup Green Bay in last Saturday's NFC Divisional Playoff Game:
Quarterback Carson Palmer was painfully inaccurate on many tosses despite the seemingly brilliant 349-yard, 3-touchdown stat line - his first-and-goal lollipop pass into the end zone that was picked off was a true amateur hour throw, if you really want to know! - and the Redbirds' ground game went nowhere fast while registering a meager 40 rushing yards on 19 carries. Still, the only real memories you're left with following that OT victory was of the back-to-back bombs/Hail Marys thrown by Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers to the highly athletic WR Jeff Janis that soon was followed by Palmer's 75-yard catch-and-run wild reception by WR Larry Fitzgerald to start off the OT period (and then followed by the game-winning shovel pass 5-yard score from Palmer-to-Fitzgerald.
So, maybe the fact that Arizona was on death's doorstep before winning two coin flips to start OT with Fitzgerald's heroics will energize 'em here or else folks might have looked at the Cardinals' home playoff win as a rather ho-hum affair - by the way, what happened to Arizona's pass rush that sacked Rodgers eight times in that regular-season meeting back in Week 16 and only garnered a single sack here?
Spread Note - Arizona is 5-3 against the odds in post-season play the past 10 years.
#1 CAROLINA PANTHERS (16-1) - Good thing nobody ever pays attention to what Fox studio analyst Terry Bradshaw has to say ... because he told folks that the Panthers' eventual 31-24 win/cover against 2.5-point underdog Seattle was "over" when Ron Rivera's club bolted into halftime with a 31-0 lead.
Okay, so in Bradshaw's "defense" the Seahawks never did make it all the way back but don't you just think Carolina is spitting mad today because they allowed Seattle to roar back into that NFC Divisional Playoff game?
In fact, when Panthers' players were not busy handing out footballs to young fans after first-half touchdowns - which included a pair of short scoring runs by RB Jonathan Stewart and what we considered the game's biggest play when do-everything LB Luke Kuechly scored on a 14-yard "pick six" - they were busy congratulating themselves for a job well done but maybe the NFC South champs learned a valuable lesson here and that's you must F-I-N-I-S-H!
Now, QB Cam Newton (a modest 161 yards passing with one TD) and the aforementioned Stewart (106 yards rushing and those two scores) must get ready for an Arizona defense that will bring extra bodies - and from all different angles - in this Sunday's game and so something tells Newton must be sharp on those quick-hitter passes to TE Greg Olsen and mates and the aforementioned Stewart must grind out lots of between-the-guard rushing yards against a really quick Arizona defensive front seven.
Spread Notes - Carolina's a dead-even but vig-losing 4-4 against the odds in all post-season games since 2005 ... yes, the last time the Panthers made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
NCAA HOOP NOTES
Great way to cap off your holiday with tonight's #2 Oklahoma at #17 Iowa State showdown in Ames:
The OU Sooners (15-1, 4-1) didn't cover the 6.5-point price tag in beating Iowa State 87-83 back on January 2nd in Norman - the Oklahoma combo of G Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard nailed just 4-off-12 trifectas while Iowa State megastar Georges Niang poured in 29 points but tonight it's the Cyclones laying the smallish price (- 2 at press time) and Niang likely will face his share of gimmicky defenses.
It's a great way to start off a great hoops weeks - note that Tuesday it's Houston at SMU, Wednesday we'll be watching for Florida State at Louisville and Thursday's hardcourt menu features Memphis at Cincinnati and Arizona at Stanford and so make sure you're all aboard with Jim Hurley for all the big-time winners!
NOTE: More NFL Championship Game Sunday Notes in the next Jim Sez column plus Hoop News too.
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