NFL 2015 AFC and NFC Championship Game Previews

January 17, 2015

At this point in the NFL season, things become really simple: Win and you get to compete in Super Bowl XLIX. Lose and you get to watch it on the couch with the rest of the fans.

The final four teams are set and this Sunday will determine which two will play for the Lombardi Trophy.

Championship Sunday begins with the NFC title game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks in a rematch of the Kickoff opener which Seattle won 36-16.

The Seahawks defeated Carolina 31-17 last week, while the Packers knocked off Dallas 26-21 in a game that hinged on an extremely controversial incompletion ruling by the officials in favor of Green Bay.

The AFC Championship Game will feature the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots who met in Week 11 with New England winning 42-20. The Patriots defeated Baltimore 35-31 in the Divisional round and Indianapolis won at Denver 24-13.

Here is a closer look at the AFC and NFC Championship Games:

Green Bay (13-4) at Seattle (13-4) (FOX, 3:05 PM ET)    

The Packers and Seahawks met in the 2014 season opener – won by the Seahawks 36-16 – and will face one another in the NFC Championship Game with a trip to Super Bowl XLIX on the line.

“It’s going to be one for the ages,” said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson completed 15 of 22 passes (68.2 percent) for 268 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 149.2 passer rating in the Seahawks’ 31-17 win over Carolina in the Divisional round.

With the help of Seattle's famous "12th Man" fanbase, Wilson has been particularly outstanding at home.  In his career, including the postseason, he is 25-2 (.926) at home with a 102.0 passer rating.  Wilson is 5-1 in the playoffs overall and his 109.6 postseason passer rating is the highest in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts).

“It’s exciting but the job’s not done,” said Wilson, who is 2-0 in his career against the Packers. “We’re on one mission. You just have to take it one game at a time. Our goal is to go 1-0.”

Still, as great as he may be, the key for Seattle will not be Wilson, but the Seahawks' superior defensive unit.

Seattle has won seven in a row, outscoring opponents 165-56. The Seahawks have been dominant in the second half of those games with a 102-20 advantage, including 62-7 in the fourth quarter.

During the regular season, Seattle led the NFL in fewest points allowed (15.9), total defense (267.1), and pass defense (185.6).

The defense had two interceptions last week as Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman notched his 25th career interception – the most in the NFL since he entered in 2011 – and All-Star safety Kam Chancellor had a 90-yard pick six, the longest in franchise postseason history.

“We’re playing for each other,” said Sherman. “That’s been the biggest thing. Guys are doing whatever it takes to win. Guys are playing for one another, they don’t care about stats. Championships are won in the playoffs.”

Meanwhile, Packers' Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers passed for 316 yards, three touchdowns, and a 125.4 passer rating in Green Bay’s 26-21 come-from-behind victory over Dallas last week to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

Considering that Rodgers played with a significant calf injury, and that the officials made a likely incorrect ruling on a late fourth quarter catch by the Cowboys' Dez Bryant, there is a sense around Green Bay that the team is fortunate to still be alive and that they are going into Seattle with nothing to lose.

“It’s fun to still be alive in the playoffs,” said Rodgers. “It’s exciting this time of year when you’re still playing.”

In the postseason, Rodgers has a 105.3 passer rating, the second-best mark in NFL history and trailing only Seattle’s Wilson among players with at least 150 attempts.

“We’re going to have to be efficient against them,” said Rodgers about playing Seattle’s vaunted defense. “They’re a great defense, they’ve got Pro Bowlers all over the place and they’re well-coached.”

Wide receivers Davante Adams (117 yards) and Randall Cobb (116) each had at least 100 receiving yards, and running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 101 yards, his team record 10th consecutive game with at least 100 scrimmage yards. It marked the first playoff game in franchise history in which the Packers had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and, two 100-yard receivers.

“We understand the job’s not done,” said Green Bay guard T.J. Lang. “Our expectation is to win a championship. Our goal is to go a lot deeper than the NFC Championship Game. Going up to Seattle, it’s going to be a good matchup and we’re excited about it. It’s going to be a tough one, we understand that, but we’ll be ready for the challenge.”

Indianapolis (13-5) at New England (13-4) (Sunday, CBS, 6:40 PM ET)    

The Patriots and Colts will meet in the playoffs for the fifth time since 2003, including the third time they’ll play each other in the AFC Championship Game. In last year’s Divisional round, New England knocked off Indianapolis 43-22 as the Patriots rushed for 234 yards and six touchdowns.

The two teams also faced one another in Week 11 of this season, a 42-20 New England victory. In that contest, the Patriots rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns.  Including the playoffs, the Patriots have won each of the past five meetings and are averaging 41.2 points per game.

New England advanced to its 11th AFC Championship Game with a 35-31 win over Baltimore. Patriots Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes – surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana (45) for the most playoff touchdown passes (46) all-time – and recorded his 19th career postseason victory, the most in NFL history.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman had eight catches for 74 yards and threw a 51-yard touchdown pass, the longest in NFL postseason history for a non-quarterback.

The victory moved Bill Belichick into a tie with Pro Football Hall of Famer and Dallas Cowboys legend Tom Landry for the most postseason wins by a head coach with 20. This Sunday’s game will be the ninth AFC Championship for Belichick and Brady together.

“That’s what you play for,” said Belichick. “You play to win your division, you play to be in the postseason and then you play to be in the AFC Championship Game and then you see what happens after that. That’s what it’s all about. That what you work all year for, it’s to get to this point. Thankfully we’ll be playing next week. It’s great to have Tom and his ability and his poise and presence as our quarterback. Obviously he’s done a tremendous job throughout the years. There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady.”

Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck led the Colts to a 24-13 win at Denver last weekend and has now won three of his past four postseason starts. Luck, who threw for 265 yards and two touchdown passes in the Divisional victory over the Broncos, has 1,703 passing yards, the most by any player in his first five career playoff games in NFL history, surpassing the previous mark set by Kurt Warner (1,644).

“We’re playing good team ball,” said Luck, who has guided Indianapolis to the postseason in each of his first three NFL seasons. “We’re feeding off each other. I’m so proud to be a part of it.”

The Colts’ defense limited the Broncos to 288 total net yards last week, including 200 net passing yards. During the regular season, Denver averaged 402.9 total net yards per game and 291.3 net passing yards per game.

“The defense did a heck of a job and it’s fun watching them making plays,” said Luck about the Indianapolis defense. “I know we feed off their energy and I’d like to think they feed off of us and special teams. It was truly three phases working together, but, what a great job we did defensively.”

The Colts will appear in their fourth AFC Championship Game since 2003 and have won the past two conference title games in which they’ve played. But the team knows the challenge won’t be easy winning in New England.

“The Patriots are a great, great team,” said Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano. “Hall of Fame coach. Hall of Fame quarterback. We all know how hard it is to win there. We know it will be a tall order but it’s going to be a great opportunity for our guys. We’ll continue to embrace this opportunity and prepare accordingly.”


GREEN BAY at SEATTLE - Injury Report 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

PROBABLE
DE Josh Boyd (ankle), RB Eddie Lacy (knee), QB Aaron Rodgers (calf), G Josh Sitton (toe)


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

QUESTIONABLE
T Justin Britt (knee), S Jeron Johnson (elbow)

PROBABLE
DE Michael Bennett (not injury related), RB Marshawn Lynch (not injury related), DT Tony McDaniel (shoulder), TE Tony Moeaki (calf), CB Tharold Simon (illness), C Max Unger (ankle)


INDIANAPOLIS at NEW ENGLAND - Injury Report 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

QUESTIONABLE
CB Vontae Davis (knee), CB Gregory Toler (groin)

PROBABLE
LB Erik Walden (knee)


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

OUT
C Bryan Stork (knee)

PROBABLE
QB Tom Brady (ankle), CB Brandon Browner (knee), LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), DT Chris Jones (elbow), WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder, toe)


By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services

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