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Fearless Rick's NFL Conference Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 18, 2015

All times Eastern - Click here for late game.

Sunday, January 18

NFC Championship

3:05 pm Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (-7, 46 1/2) - Against Carolina, Seattle appeared to be the same dominant team that captured last year's Super Bowl, so it came as no surprise that the Seahawks handled the Panthers by a two touchdown margin in their 31-17 win in the divisional round.

Seattle commanded the game by dictating the pace of the game. After the first quarter, which ended with a Seattle touchdown and a 7-0 lead, Carolina only had six drives, the first of which was their longest, an 8:12, 79-yard, touchdown-scoring masterpiece by Cam Newton. But, from there onward, Carolina's drives netted only a field goal, two punts and an interception prior to their second touchdown of the game, with 2:34 remaining. By then, the outcome had already been determined. Seattle had forged a 31-10 advantage with a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. The offense did their job, the defense stood pat and the Seahawks took another step closer to their second straight Super Bowl appearance, with only the Green Bay Packers standing in their way.

Green Bay may have been the luckiest team of the weekend, getting to their 26-21 win over Dallas by virtue of a questionable ruling on what turned out to be a Dez Bryant non-catch at the Packers one-yard line with just more than four minutes to play. Had the call gone the Cowboys' way, it might be Dallas heading to Seattle instead of the Packers. Instead, the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs to the Pack, and, nine plays later, all of Green Bay was celebrating.

Given that Dallas was still alive after getting a gift call from the refs in their win over Detroit the previous week, it might have been fate that the zebras ruled against them in their tussle with the Packers.

Needless to say, the Packers played this game pretty close to the vest, with a gimpy QB Aaron Rodgers and a come-form-behind win that kept the Packers undefeated at home this season (9-0). Rodgers engineered a pair of drives in the latter stage of the third quarter and early in the fourth to turn a 21-13 deficit into the 26-21 victory.

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Rodgers is still expected to be nursing a strained left calf when he takes the field in Seattle this Sunday, ad that is a worry for the Packers, beyond what usually keeps coaches up at night when facing the Seahawks.

The 17 points scored by Carolina last week were the most Seattle had allowed in any game over the course of the last six weeks of the regular season, and bear in mind, Carolina's final TD came when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt. Seattle's defense is as tough as it gets and Green Bay - even if Rodgers is close to 100% - doesn't appear to have the staying power for 60 minutes of crowd noise, jarring hits, blitzes, stunts and the general meat-grinding atmosphere that Seattle presents.

While Eddie Lacy, Green Bay's premier running back, is a bruiser, he'll need to carry the ball as many as 25 times if the Packers intend to win, because Rodgers simply is not going to have sufficient time to execute much of the passing game. Seattle's pass rush will be coming from the start and may put him out of the game.

On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson has already proven himself capable of carrying his team to a Super Bowl, so, even for this third-year pro, the task is not daunting. Seattle has home field, momentum, a shut-down defense and no fear.

The Packers will be fortunate to keep this one close for three quarters while the Seahawks forge their pathway to history.

Prediction: Seahawks 31 Packers 20

All times Eastern - Click here for late game

Copyright 2014, 2015, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.



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