What goes around comes around or perhaps is it poetic justice?
After benefiting from a penalty that was wiped out without explanation at a key juncture in their Wild Card win over Detroit the Dallas Cowboys were the victims of a controversial, though correct, officials’ review reversal in last week’s Divisional round loss at Green Bay.
With about 4 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing by 5, Dallas QB Tony Romo completed a pass to WR Dez Bryant who made a spectacular catch on fourth down.
Although it appeared Bryant had control of the football, secured in his left hand, as he reached for the goal line as he hit the ground the ball appeared to come loose and momentarily hit the ground as he rolled into the end zone. The ruling on the field was a catch with the ball to be spotted inside the 1.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy used his final challenge to contest the ruling of a completed pass and his challenge was upheld, turning the ball over to the Packers who were then able to gain a couple of first downs and run out the clock to advance to the NFC Championship game.
The ruling was correct. It is the rule that needs to be changed as to most observers Bryant should have been ruled to have made a catch with the ground causing the ball to hit the ground.
After all, the ground cannot cause a fumble. It was McCarthy’s first successful challenge of the season and it came at the most crucial time.
Pete Carroll was known for making some gutsy, unconventional decisions while coaching at USC. But his gutsiest call may have come during the months prior to the start of the 2012 season.
As coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Carroll had signed free agent QB Matt Flynn during the off season and then drafted, in the third round, QB Russell Wilson who had transferred from North Carolina State to finish his collegiate career at Wisconsin.
Carroll was so impressed by Wilson in the time leading up to training camp and during the preseason that he made Wilson the starter, relegating Flynn to an expensive backup.
Wilson has been phenomenal in his brief three season career, leading the Seahawks to the Playoffs as a rookie and to last season’s Super Bowl win as an NFL sophomore. Seeking to become the first Super Bowl champion to repeat in more than a decade, Wilson led Seattle to last week’s divisional win over Carolina.
Those results set up this Sunday’s NFC Championship game with Green Bay returning to Seattle for a rematch of the game that opened this season, on the same field, won by Seattle 36-16. It will mark the second time in three seasons that the top two NFC seeds will meet to determine who goes to the Super Bowl.
The high drama and shocker of the weekend were in the AFC.
The weekend began with New England rallying to overcome 14-0 and 28-14 deficits to defeat Baltimore to win their Divisional contest. In fact, it took a third comeback as the Ravens led 31-28 with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when QB Tom Brady completed his third touchdown pass of the day to give the Pats a 35-31 lead which the defense was able to protect the rest of the way.
Denver was as popular a betting choice as there has been in recent memory in its game against Indianapolis. Pretty much a solid 7 point favorite all week, in the hours leading up to kickoff the Broncos were bet up to -9.5, move of nearly a FG in a very short time.
After jumping to an early 7-0 lead the Broncos were outplayed for most of the game, losing 24-13. QB Peyton Manning showed both his age and the effect of nagging injuries as he was off target all day when throwing deep and resorted to the short-passing game even when trailing by 11 points for much of the fourth quarter.
Colts’ QB Andrew Luck showed he is rapidly ascending to elite status, if he is not there already, when he brilliantly led an eight minute, time consuming drive to all but wrap up the game with a FG after the Broncos had cut Indy’s lead to 21-13.
Instead of getting a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game in which Denver hosted and defeated New England, it will be upstart Indianapolis, the number 4 seed, visiting New England, the AFC’s top seed. It marks the seventh time in 10 seasons that at least one of the top two seeds did not make it to the AFC Championship game.
A look at Conference Championship games in the era since the Playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990 shows that the home teams do not fare as well in this round as compared to the previous two rounds. Still, home teams have won slightly more than 60 percent of Conference Championship games (29-19) but home teams are just 22-25-1 ATS (46.8 percent).
Favorites in this round are 33-15 SU (68.8 percent) and are also 25-22-1 ATS (53.2 percent).
Both of this season’s games involve home favorites of 7 or 7.5 points, depending on the Sports Book. The lines will likely fluctuate between 7 and possibly 8 right up until kickoff.
Since 1990 home favorites are 27-13 SU (67.5 percent) and 20-20 ATS (50.0 percent).
These past 24 seasons have produced 27 OVERS, 20 UNDERS and 1 push (57.4% OVER), highest percentage in any of the four playoff rounds.
The average score in the 48 Conference Championship games since 1990 has been roughly 28-16, producing a winning margin of around 12 points per game. There have been 23 of the 48 games decided by double digits with 15 by more than 14 points.
Here’s a preview of both games, the winners of which will meet two weeks later in Super Bowl 49 in Glendale, Arizona.
Green Bay +7 at Seattle (46.5): As was the case last week when Denver defeated Indianapolis, the season for either the Packers or Seahawks will end on the field where their seasons began. On the opening Thursday night this season Seattle soundly defeated Green Bay 36-16, outgaining the Packers 398-255 and easily covered as 4.5 point favorites.
In defeating Carolina last week Seattle became the first Super Bowl champion in a decade to win a playoff game the following season. In their 7 game winning streak the Seahawks have not allowed more than 17 points in a game, have held 5 of those 7 foes to 7 points or less and averaged 8.0 points allowed per game.
In contrast Green Bay has held just one of its last 7 foes to under 20 points and that was in a 20-3 win at offensively challenged Tampa Bay. At 168 yards per game the Seahawks have the best rushing game in the NFL. But at 120 ypg Green Bay is above average and rushed for 142 ypg over the second half of the season. Seattle has the better defense – No. 1 overall and against the pass, No. 3 vs. the run.
Green Bay led the NFL in scoring and was the only team to average more than 30 points per game (30.4). Seattle allowed the fewest points in the league, 15.9 per game.
Of course the health of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers’ calf is a major concern. The Packers are a very good football team, deserving of being here, Seattle is something special. SEATTLE.
Indy +7.5 at New England (54): If last week’s result marked the passing of the torch from one great QB (Peyton Manning) to the next great QB (Andrew Luck) this game may either accelerate the process or slow it down just a bit.
The Pats are 5-3 SU and 3-5 ATS in those prior eight games. And after winning and covering their first 3 AFC Title games the Patriots have dropped 2 in a row SU and 3 of the last five, going 0-5 ATS. Only one of the three losses came at home (two seasons ago to Baltimore) but two of the ATS losses were on this field.
Both teams were coming off Byes when they met in Indianapolis in Week 11. The Patriots never trailed in the game although they led just 14-10 at halftime en route to a 42-20 win. New England outgained the Colts 501-322 as their balanced offense rushed for 244 yards and passed for 251 while holding the Colts to just 19 rushing yards despite the game being competitive into the fourth quarter when the Pats scored a pair of touchdowns to extend their 28-20 lead.
That was the game in which unheralded Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards and scored four touchdowns. While the gap may be closing and Brady’s passing of the torch to Luck is in the near rather than the distant future for the here and now New England remains the clearly better team. NEW ENGLAND.
Last week: 3-1
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]