Who will advance to Super Bowl XLIX?
(Associated Press) NEW YORK – Very nice job, Colts. Sorry we are not more impressed.
Yes, Pro Picks has looked down on Indianapolis in these playoffs, twice picking against the Colts and looking foolish.
Have we smartened up as Andrew Luck takes the AFC South champions to Foxborough to meet the AFC East winners, the Patriots?
New England (No. 2 in AP Pro32) is a seven-point favorite over Indianapolis (No. 8 in AP Pro32), which seems a bit low. Not only did the Patriots rout the Colts in Indy this season, but other than the Ravens, hardly anyone puts a scare into them at Gillette Stadium.
But the oddsmakers have noticed several things about both teams:
— Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is playing at a very high level, perhaps the best of his three pro seasons — and that is saying plenty.
— Indy’s defense has shown up bigtime in the postseason, discovering a pass rush, blanketing receivers (cornerback Vontae Davis has been superb) and making big plays.
— The offensive line, considered a weak spot for most of 2014, appears to be coming together at just the right time.
— Joe Flacco often had his way with New England’s secondary last week.
— The Patriots showed plenty of gumption by rallying twice from 14-point holes. But they twice fell into 14-point holes.
— New England couldn’t run at all against Baltimore and stopped trying.
All of that said, we leave the final words on Sunday’s late game to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, not someone to care about point spreads.
“I don’t take anything for granted from anybody,” Belichick says. “It’s a one-game season. They have a lot of good players; they have a lot of good coaches. They’re working just as hard as we are. We have to find some way to outperform them. I think that’s the message for all of us.”
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 31-21
No. 3 Green Bay (plus 7) at No. 1 Seattle
The NFC finalists also met during the regular season and it was lopsided, too. Seattle romped 36-16 in the 2014 kickoff game.
Both sides went through some trials and tribulations the rest of the way, and not much emphasis should be placed on that opening result. Green Bay, in particular, is a different team, its defense more efficient with an improved pass rush, and its running game well-established after early struggles. Aaron Rodgers has gotten some diversity from his receiving group, especially with the emergence of Davante Adams and Andrew Quarless as a third and fourth target.
Most problematic, of course, is All-Pro Rodgers’ sore calf. He clearly was restricted in the second half against Dallas last weekend — and the Cowboys don’t come close to presenting the defensive challenge the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks bring.
Indeed, Seattle’s D is looking just as imposing now as it was a year ago.
We’re playing for each other, I think that’s the biggest thing,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman says. “Guys are playing selfless: There aren’t any egos, there aren’t any agendas, and guys just want to do whatever it takes to win. If that means making a tackle, then make the tackle; if that means catching the football, we’re going to catch the football. Guys are playing for one another, they don’t care about stats, nor do they care about anything else.”
They care about another trip to the big game, and they’ll get it.
2014 RECORD: Against spread: This week (2-2); Season (130-122-5). Straight up: This week (3-1); Season (174-88-1)
Best Bet: 7-12 against spread, 11-8 straight up.
Upset special: 9-9 against spread, 7-11 straight up.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www