PHUKET: There were some great games, along with a few surprises and questionable calls, in last weekend’s ‘divisional playoff’ round in the National Football League (NFL). When it was all over, the results only reinforced what most seasoned observers already knew: having an ‘elite’ quarterback is a key to playoff success.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks [3:05am Monday, FOX]: Superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers led his team to the conference finals with a gut-wrenching win over the Cowboys despite obviously still suffering from a calf injury sustained in the last week of the regular season. The most controversial call in the game came when the referees called what appeared to be a touchdown by Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant an incomplete pass, as he lost control just as he lurched onto the goal line.
Green Bay fans will be hoping that Rodgers will get some of his mobility back when his team travels to Seattle to take on the red-hot, Super Bowl champs the Seahawks, who have the most ferocious pass rush in the league – far better than what the Cowboys were able to produce last weekend.
On the topic of mobility, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s abilities in and outside the pocket were on full display when he led his team to a decisive 31-17 win at home over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Vegas oddmakers have put the line at seven points in favor of the Seahawks, the best home team in the NFL in recent years. The key for an upset win for Rodgers and his Packers will be not to fall behind early and try to silence the fans at CenturyLink field, who have come to be known as the “12th Man” due to their sonic support for the home team.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Indianapolis Colts vs New England Patriots [6:40am Monday, CBS]: The Colts are on a roll after upsetting the Steelers at home in the Wild Card Round and then definitively beating #2 seed Denver 24-13 on the road in a game that was not really as close as the final score might indicate. The Colts have the best young quarterback in the game in Andrew Luck, who totally outplayed his predecessor in Indy, Peyton Manning, by throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns. His fearless play seems to be lifting the entire team, who are far more solid on both sides of the ball than they have been all season.
Luck and crew will have their work cut out for them when they travel to Foxborough to take on the Patriots, who twice erased 14 point deficits to win 35-31 against their nemesis Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens last weekend. The Pats had to pull out all the stops in the second half to win the electrifying game. These included a touchdown pass on a trick play by slot receiver (and former Kent State QB) Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola as well as a legal, but never-seen-before offensive line tactics involving eligible receivers (beyond the scope of this article, but click here for more info) that completely stymied the Ravens defence, and had coach John Harbaugh crying ‘foul’. The move, used three times in the second half, may go down in history to cement Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick reputation as the most innovative and successful coach in NFL history.
Vegas oddsmakers currently make the Pats, who have appeared in an incredible 9 of the last 13 AFC championship games, as a 7.5 point favorite. But who can ever know what will happen when you have Luck on your side?
Whatever the result of the conference championships, the quarterbacks involved are arguably the four best the in the league and their legacies will hinge on what happens this weekend and, if lucky, in Super Bowl 49 two weeks later.
— Somchai Huasaikul