NFL Q&A with Allen and The Ace is a weekly column featured on TJRsports.com. Allen and The Ace are big time NFL junkies and are Falcon and Packer fans, respectively. Each week the guys will ask questions and discuss the previous week’s games along with picking the Top 5 Games of the Week!

You can follow Allen on Twitter @Allen_Strk and The Ace @TheAce18

Ace: After an exciting Wild Card weekend, we were given the treat of a subpar Divisional weekend. I’m not sure how you felt, but I was incredibly let down with the play this past weekend. We saw Seattle dominate a mostly one sided contest until the final minutes when New Orleans got back in the game, recovered an onside kick, and Marques Colston forgot how to get out of bounds. The nightcap was a pretty close contest through the first half until Andrew Luck turned the ball over and LeGarrette Blount dominated the Colts defense. On Sunday we saw a fiery defensive battle in the first half until the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points and defeated the Panthers. The final game of the weekend showed the Denver Broncos go ahead and despite allowing the Chargers back in the game, their offense managed to run the clock out. I’ll be honest, after the play of the first three games and seeing Denver dominate early, I didn’t really bother with watching that final game of the weekend.

Allen: We went from seeing Baltimore-Denver and Seattle-Atlanta having instant classics last year to four mundane games this year in the divisional round. What a shame. You can’t say I told you so about Carolina and San Diego. How fitting is that I predicted the exact score for the San Francisco-Carolina game? Also how about my prediction of New Orleans keeping the game close with Seattle for the most part? I’ll stop bragging, because the games were pretty predictable. Most people are probably 7-1 picking the playoffs so far this year. The Ace isn’t because of his vendetta against San Francisco and his lack of faith in New Orleans. That is why I retained my title in our picks challenge. Let’s get on with the article, so I can stop bragging.

AFC Championship

Sunday, January 19th

#1 Denver Broncos (-5.5) vs. #2 New England Patriots

Allen: What New England has done this year with a lack of talent offensively and an injury-riddled defense has been remarkable. I’m not neglecting their accomplishments this year. It just seemed pretty obvious that they took advantage of Indianapolis’ flaws. They knew Indianapolis had the sixth worst run defense in the league and could pound them into submission. Even with someone as average as LeGarette Blount, New England had their way. Then you add in the offensive line woes for Indianapolis and that made it impossible for Andrew Luck to keep up.

They aren’t going to have the same success against Denver’s front seven. Their front seven won’t get pushed around and have athletic linebackers like Danny Trevathan that can tackle from sideline to sideline. That will put pressure on Tom Brady and their lack of receiver options. I’m sure that Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will make some big plays, but will it be enough for them to score over 27 points? That’s what it’ll take for them to beat Denver at minimum.

I’ve been saying for weeks that the AFC was set up perfectly for Peyton Manning to make the Super Bowl. Nobody is on Denver’s level, when trying to defend their high-powered offense. It’ll be an entertaining battle between Demaryius Thomas and Aqib Talib, where Thomas will have to earn every catch in traffic. Can Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard hang against the rest of Denver’s dynamic receiver core? Dennard was beat by LaVon Brazill pretty handily on a touchdown. Not to mention, New England has struggled covering tight ends all year long.

As long as Denver doesn’t turn the ball over, I can’t see how they lose this game. You won’t see Blount or Steven Ridley run wild. Jack Del Rio will make it an objective for the Patriots receivers to beat his defense. New England’s defense is going to have issues stopping Denver, especially if they can’t stop the run like in their last matchup. Some people are predicting this to be Peyton Manning’s letdown game? You’ll have to wait until the Super Bowl for that to potentially happen.

Allen’s Prediction: Denver 34, New England 24

Ace: I know that the hype of another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady matchup will be through the roof, but how can you dislike seeing these two go head to head again for a right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl? Despite the Patriots missing many key players due to injury, they have never used that as an excuse and both the Broncos and Patriots have been the two teams in the AFC. Both teams have remained consistent at the top of the conference throughout the season. I think both teams have a legitimate shot to knock off the other and this should be an exciting game.

On the Denver side of things, the Broncos will win this game this weekend by keeping an aerial attack throughout the game. Andrew Luck threw for 331 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against the Patriots. A lot of that was playing catch-up, but the Patriots can be thrown on. Peyton Manning has shown he’s the best in the business and has plenty of weapons to continue showing that.

New England proved last week that they don’t have to throw the ball to win games, but they have Tom Brady under center. We don’t know what Bill Belichick will have up his sleeve, the run worked last week but will he lean on it this weekend? The Broncos only home loss of the season was to the Chargers when they had a heavy dose of Ryan Mathews. He ran for 127 yards on 29 carries as San Diego controlled the clock. If Blount has similar success this weekend, New England will advance to the Super Bowl. I just think that this is Denver’s year to reach the Super Bowl and if Peyton Manning wins two more games we could very well be witnessing the end of his career.

Ace’s Prediction: Denver 34, New England 30

NFL Story of the Week

This past weekend we saw the return of the running back! Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 yards and 2 TD’s on 28 Carries. LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 yards and 4 TD’s on 24 Carries. Frank Gore and Knowshon Moreno both ran for over 80 yards in their wins as well. What’s your take on these final four teams relying on the running game and will we see that same dominance in the final three games?

Allen: The defensive coordinators and units of all four teams are too smart to let the running game dominate like that again. You look at teams like New England and Seattle that don’t have great receivers.  We could see San Francisco and Denver use more eight-man fronts, as crazy as that sounds. I’m not disputing Tom Brady or Russell Wilson; it’s the lack of threats at the wide receiver position that deserves to be criticized. Besides Juilian Edelman, who has been consistent this year for either team? Percy Harvin can’t stay on the field in order to be in that discussion.

Why not force those receivers to beat you rather than have your defense potentially run over and have your offense sit on the sidelines for long periods of time? San Francisco’s front seven is a tremendous unit, but Marshawn Lynch is the only running back in the past to be productive against them. They may consider putting Donte Whitner in the box for them to contain Lynch. As for Denver, they may not need to go to that extreme. LeGarrette Blount is still average at best, who benefited against a bewildered Colts front seven.

It was surprising to see how much New England leaned on the running game. Who can blame them, considering how awful Indianapolis’ defense is? You can gain yards on a consistent basis, while keeping Andrew Luck off the field for significant portions of the game. Of course, Bill Belichick wouldn’t pass up that opportunity. Everyone else didn’t surprise me, which even includes Denver. They know how good their offensive line is, so why not pound the ball down San Diego’s throats. I’m sure that the NFL will remain a passing league. That doesn’t change the fact that when teams see they can run the ball effectively on a consistent basis. They will do so for ball control and not having to worry about turning the ball over.

Ace: The four winning teams this weekend combined for a total of three passing touchdowns (Kaepernick 1, Manning 2). The last few years have seen passing number spike and records be shattered, but when it comes down to postseason success this season, the running game is back. I don’t believe that Marshawn Lynch or Frank Gore will have huge numbers days on Sunday in their matchup since both defenses are so good. If I were to go out on a limb and predict it, I would say Lynch would have a bigger game than Gore and the 49ers.

I do think the running game could impact the AFC Title Game dramatically. LeGarrette Blount is so versatile and we saw him explode in the final two games of the regular season (265 yards, 4 TD’s) and then again against the Colts in the Divisional game. As I mentioned above, if Blount goes for over 150 yards and 25 carries, I believe that the Patriots will be going to the Super Bowl. Denver has a solid running game with Knowshon Moreno and the emergence of Montee Ball but New England can use a power back like Blount, a quick between the tackles guy like Steven Ridley and their pass catching running back in Shane Vereen.

As odd as it sounds, the team that has the greatest chance to succeed with the running game in the playoffs is the New England Patriots. We saw them put up 40+ points last week with a good defense and running with Tom Brady failing to throw a touchdown pass. If most teams have their star quarterback not throw a single touchdown pass, they usually end up losing that game.

NFC Championship

Sunday, January 19th

#1 Seattle Seahawks (-3.5) vs. #5 San Francisco 49ers

Allen: As exciting as Brady-Manning 45 may be, this is the matchup I’m looking forward to the most. If you’ve been reading our column on a weekly basis, a defensive slugfest is my favorite style of game to watch. Even though San Francisco has been blown out for the past two years in Seattle, this is a different team now. The offensive line is playing much better in recent weeks and the secondary has improved from being an average unit last year. Not to mention, they didn’t have Michael Crabtree in the last meeting in Seattle.

This game will come down to the wire for sure and it should come down to who runs the ball better. Everyone knows San Francisco has one of the best run stopping units in the league, but Marshawn Lynch is the only running back to have any success against them in the past. Lynch never goes away and Seattle won’t back away from the run, even if it’s not leading to much success early on. Then you look on the other side, Seattle’s front seven has stepped up in recent weeks and has played much better against the run. Don’t expect Gore to duplicate his stat line from the last time these teams played, where he ran for 110 yards on just 17 carries.

That should be an intriguing test for both defenses and then obviously you have the two young quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick was very erratic on Sunday, while Russell Wilson was limited for the most part. Usually when two teams are so evenly matched, you like to say that whoever wins the turnover battle will win the game. The problem is both quarterbacks don’t turn the ball over very often. They tend to overthrow their receivers at times. Other than that, they make smart decisions with their arm and legs.

I’m picking San Francisco based on having more playmakers offensively. Michael Crabtree was the star on wild card weekend followed by Anquan Boldin in the divisional round. While I don’t think Vernon Davis is going to have a monster game, San Francisco has three star players to throw to. Seattle’s best option is Percy Harvin, who is struggling to stay on the field. The playmakers at their skill positions, along with their offensive line shutting down Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson last week gives me enough confidence to stick with them.

Allen’s Prediction: San Francisco 20 Seattle 16

Ace: The Seahawks and 49ers meet each other for the third time this season in what should be a physical dogfight to the very end. The two teams split their season series winning their home games. These two teams met week two where Seattle won 29-3 and again week ten where San Francisco won 19-17. Both teams are very evenly matched and it’s really going to come down to variables in this game.

When you look at head coaching there is no one more hard-nosed in the NFL than Jim Harbaugh. He will have his team ready to play on Sunday in a very hostile environment. These two teams will be chippy, which means both he and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll need to make sure their teams keep the cheap shots to a minimum. In a game that will be a defensive battle, a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct could be a huge difference!

I think Seattle will take this one. They blew San Francisco out at home and fought hard in a two-point loss. I just think San Francisco will lay an egg in a very tough environment. They went from the frigid cold in Green Bay, to a rough and tough game against the Panthers and now they face one of the best defenses and arguably the toughest stadium in the NFL for a road team to play in. Russell Wilson will be the difference, because I don’t see Marshawn Lynch having the week he had last week.

Ace’s Prediction: Seattle 24, San Francisco 20

Ace: I believe that the top four teams in the NFL are being represented in the championship games. We should have two excellent matchups on Sunday and we should have a very entertaining Super Bowl on tap. Taking a look at our ‘Elite Football Mind Challenge’, Allen is 60-31 and I am 57-34. Since Ace I’m not taking New England, we can crown Allen again. I thought out of spite, I could switch to New England, but that wouldn’t be fair and I believe Denver will win. Next week we will take a look back at the Championship games and look at our preseason predictions to see how well or how terrible they panned out. Be sure to check out last night’s Macho Men Radio as C-Mac and I handed out our end of the season awards and previewed Championship weekend! Three more NFL Games left in the season…enjoy them!

Allen: The four best teams are playing this upcoming weekend, as it should be. We don’t have any flukes like Baltimore or random teams getting hot like the Giants. Four of the most consistent teams in football are playing for the chance to play in the Super Bowl. I couldn’t be more excited, especially with the two storylines. I’m sticking with my San Francisco-Denver pick that I made three weeks ago. I’ll give a salute to those who picked San Francisco-Denver in August if both teams win.  It must have taken a lot for you not to getting suckered into the moves that Seattle and Atlanta made in the off-season. Enjoy the games.

You can follow Allen on Twitter @Allen_Strk and The Ace @TheAce18

You can hear The Ace on Macho Men Radio with C-Mac every Tuesday night on BlogTalkRadio at blogtalkradio.com/machomenradio