I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Friday, January 17, 2014

Championship Weekend in the NFL

It is Division Championship weekend in the NFL, and the QB matchups of Manning vs. Brady and Kaepernick vs. Russell for this weekend have many believing this could be one of the greatest football weekends in playoff history. In the AFC, we have a familiar matchup of the two best teams and two of the best QB’s in NFL history. While in the NFC, we have two of the younger but most exciting QB’s currently playing in the league. Many feel that these two QB’s are the future of the NFL and play with the QB style that all teams will be looking for. Besides the QB’s, both games feature very good teams that deserve to be competing for a shot to play in the Super Bowl. It looks to be an exciting weekend in the NFL!

Some things to watch for:

Patriots at Broncos
If you remember the first time they met this season, the Broncos jumped out to a big lead, and then the Patriots came roaring back to win in overtime. The game was a tale of two halves and of turnovers. New England could not hang onto the ball in the first half, and Denver took full advantage of their mistakes. The story totally flipped in the second half with Denver turning the ball over and the New England offense scoring at will. The AFC division title game, should feature a little more consistency by both teams.

New England has changed their identity a bit since the last meeting. New England has suffered many injuries to starters, but continues to find new players to fill in and continue their success. Many reporters have said this is Belichick’s best year of coaching, and it is difficult to argue this point. Yes, they still have their star QB in Tom Brady, but they have also really improved their running game. The Patriots bring a trio of backs and try to use their powerful back Blount to finish the game out. Brady has been very successful throwing short passes and then establishing play action off the run game. If the Patriots can continue their success running the ball, they will be very difficult to beat, as they will be able to keep the Denver offense off the field and eat up clock.

For Denver, last year was a year of getting comfortable with their new personnel. This year, there are no excuses. Anything less than the Super Bowl would be a disappointment for the Broncos. Their record-setting offense this year did not carry over to an underwhelming performance in the first playoff game against the San Diego Chargers, and they have their work cut out for them against the very talented Patriots. Denver has home field advantage and they will to make the most of this by trying to disrupt Brady and the Patriots offense, while at the same time keeping the pedal to the floor and continuing to score touchdowns. Denver’s defense has also been hurt by injuries this year, but do not look for them to point fingers. They will look to make New England try to earn each first down and shut the run game down for the Patriots.

49ers vs Seahawks
Anyone that followed this NFL season is excited for this game for many different reasons. This game features two talented teams with talented QB's, but inter-division teams that split on the season is what has people so excited. This game has truly become a rivalry from top to bottom, and while the players respect each other, it's fairly clear they do not like each other. The coaches also have a history dating back to their days at USC and Stanford. With each team winning when they faced each other at home this season, the playoff rematch is going to be high intensity, extremely emotional, and fun to watch!

The Seahawks have a distinct advantage playing at home, and only one team has been able to overcome that advantage in the last two years. Seattle is able to feed off the crowd and take advantage of the lack of communication they are able to create with a loud atmosphere. The Seahawks defense has been stifling at home and creates pressure that allows their talented defensive backfield to take advantage of poor decisions by opposing team QB's. Offensively, Seattle has been riding the shoulders of Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson. Wilson has struggled throwing the ball in the playoffs, but he has not panicked and is willing to punt and allow his defense to come out and play. Many times in a game, the opposing defense thinks they have Wilson sacked and he finds a way to escape and create a big play that makes the difference in the game. His composure is admirable and will help his team against the 49ers!

San Francisco took the Wild Card path to this point and won their first two games on the road at Green Bay and Carolina. The 49ers believe they are a different team than the team that lost in Seattle during the regular season. Michael Crabtree has returned and emerged as a reliable WR to compliment Anquan Boldin. Their TE Vernon Davis was injured and ineffective but has returned, plus their QB who struggled earlier in the season is now playing with the confidence that took the team to the Super Bowl in 2013. San Francisco also has a very talented defense. San Francisco will bring in one of the best LB groups ever assembled and a very aggressive defensive line.

This game will be a little different than most big games. Usually we say that the team that turns the ball over will have an uphill battle. In this game, it will not only be turnovers, but it could be as simple as which team even allows a big play. Field position will be critical, and if an offense takes great field position with a big play, this could be the difference in the game. Watch how the two defenses try to keep the QB's from having an opportunity to create big plays with their legs. This will lead to the teams throwing against man-to-man coverage and trying to take three yards and a cloud of dust with the run game.

Between the dynamics of the QB's, the talents of star players, and the rivalries between teams and coaches, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the Division Championship games! Enjoy this great weekend in the NFL!

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