Conference heavyweights do battle with Super Bowl berths at stake. Who will punch their ticket to Miami? Bold predictions and an explanation for the Leno situation highlight this jumbo preview of the Conference Championships.
I wasn’t overly excited about the NFL’s Conference Championships when the matchups were determined last Sunday evening. Then I watched Terminator Salvation and decided things could be worse. I could be running from killer machines, living in a desolate world, and listening to Christian Bale’s over-the-top Batman voice on my transistor radio. Upon further review, the conference championships have enough to entertain. Here’s my simple checklist:
- A team to root for: Colts. Peyton needs another title to validate his legacy as greatest QB ever. I think he deserves it.
- A team to hate: The ‘Nawlins Saints. My most hated NFL team outside of the Birds’ NFC East foes.
- An underdog: Jets. Raise your hand if you had the J-E-T-S JETS! JETS! JETS! In the AFC Championship back in September. Now, for those of you that raised your hand, raise your hand again if you’re a liar.
- A coach to ridicule: Brad Childress. I’m too excited for his first boneheaded call.
- An outdoor stadium with temperatures below freezing: Oh, yeh. I forgot. We’ve got three soft teams in the final four. Bummer.
This isn’t the complete list, simply the essentials. Four out of five isn’t terrible. After all, watching the games won’t be as challenging (or confusing) as trying to save my dad … to send him back in time to my mom … so that I could be born. John Connor had it rough. Enough nonsense, onto the games…
Last Week: 2 – 2 – 0
Postseason: 2 – 6 – 0
Sunday, January 17
(5) Jets at (1) Colts (3:00PM ET)
The Jets are a scary team. Their fierce defense and physical ground game are enough to beat any opponent. Their mind games off the field aren’t bad either. Rex Ryan is a master at twisting opponent’s ordinary statements into insults. Ryan then uses the contrived insults to rally his team. Sounds lame but it’s actually brilliant. Ryan’s imposing his style on the opponent before either team has stepped onto the field. Beware what you say, Colts. The Jets are listening. (I can relate to the Colts here. The other night while watching The Bachelor, (crap, shouldn’t have admitted that) I mentioned that the guy (ok, I know his name is Jake) sent one of the more attractive girls home. “What?!” My wife said. “You think SHE’s attractive? … Awe man, I must be ugly.”) So yeah, the Colts better watch what they say this week.
I’ve picked against the Jets throughout the postseason. Naturally, I’m inclined to do so here as well. The talk this past week has focused on the Jets. The Jets know how to win; they hang around long enough to deliver the knockout blow; the Chargers were no match for New York…Blah blah blah. If the NFL’s most productive kicker over the past three seasons doesn’t have the worst game of his life, the Jets are on vacation right now. If Nate Kaeding makes even two of those kicks (I’ll excuse the 50+ yarder), we’d hear all about how the Jets played tough, but just weren’t good enough. So, a kicker chokes and the 2009 Jets go from not quite good enough to the greatest Jets team since Joe Namath led the green and white. You gotta love the playoffs. The Jets are a tough, solid team… that got LUCKY. That’s it. Did they block those kicks? No. Granted, they kept the offense out of the end zone, so they deserve credit for forcing the field goals. Regardless, I’m not jumping behind Rex Ryan’s sweater vest because the NFL’s best kicker thought the yellow goalposts meant “Caution, stay away.” I refuse.
Speaking of field goals, make sure to pay close attention when the Colts attempt their first field goal. If Matt Stover nails it through the uprights, there will be a riot on New York’s sideline. Confusion, anger, heartbreak; it will all be there. Opposing kickers are 0-5 against the Jets in the playoffs to this point. They’re arrogant enough to think they’ve earned the misses. Rex’s father, Buddy, may even punch an assistant coach (again).
Maybe Buddy could sock Peyton Manning for me too. After confidently predicting that Manning would excel in the playoffs, he’s performing his usually “unstoppable in the regular season, average QB in the postseason” routine. I thought we’d be past this, Peyton. Perhaps Eli got the clutch gene. I digress.
The Colts’ offense has more weapons than the Chargers’, including a deeper receiving corps. Additionally, the Indy defense was successful last week by containing Baltimore’s rushing attack, thus forcing an unproven quarterback to win the game. While the Jets’ ground game is superior to Baltimore’s, the key to winning remains the same for the Colts (stop the run). Indianapolis has the best defensive end duo in football (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis). If they’re able to tee-off on Mark Sanchez, he will struggle immensely.
As long as the Jets stay within in striking distance (two scores or less), they’ll continue to run the football. Peyton Manning will need to put up points early to help his defense. As we saw last week, the New York offensive line is too good for a defense to handle the entire game. Building a sizeable lead will force the Jets to abandon the run, letting the Colts’ pass rushers to force Sanchez into mistakes. Conversely, allowing the Jets to hang around could be disastrous. If you’re the Colts, “lucky” and “good” are two things you don’t want to mess with in the 4th quarter when a Super Bowl berth is up for grabs. The longer the game remains close, the more it favors New York. For Indianapolis, winning big early is the key to winning at all.
The past week has been full of upsets; Vienna received a rose on The Bachelor (shoot, I did it again), the Jets defeated the Chargers, Avatar ran away with the Golden Globe, and Massachusetts went Republican after a legendary Democrat passed away. This can’t continue, right? It has to end sometime. The new week will bring normalcy.
Jets fans can all thank me now. By confidently picking against them for the third consecutive time, I’ve guaranteed their place in Super Bowl XLIV. Congratulations, New York. COLTS
(2) Vikings at (1) Saints (6:40PM ET)
As a personal rule, I never back teams that intend to wear earplugs to combat crowd noise in an opponent’s stadium. No, I’m not making this up. The Minnesota Vikings have reportedly issued “custom-fitted earplugs” to players in preparation for Sunday’s game in the Superdome. Commence laughter now. Am I wrong here, or does this confirm that Minnesota is already intimidated? Hey, we’re kinda frightened by your home field advantage, so we’re gonna go with earplugs. Please refrain from trash talk as we’ll be unable to hear. Trash sign language is acceptable. Even for Brad Childress, this is embarrassing. I can’t, in good conscience, pick the Vikings now.
Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m still considering Minnesota. With the ferocious pass rush they demonstrated last week, the Vikings could slow down Drew Brees. Without time, Brees won’t have the luxury to hit his receivers deep downfield. Instead, New Orleans would need to adjust to a quicker passing game, one that favors Minnesota’s athletic linebackers and aggressive corners (don’t believe me? See the Cowboys’ failure last week). The Saints could also run the ball to offset Jared Allen and the Minnesota pass rush. However, I’m not expecting the same performance from Mr. Kardashian, and I’m not a true believer in the Saint’s overall ground game either.
Offensively, the Vikings must get Adrian Peterson going, especially if Brees is clicking. Eat the clock, control the line of scrimmage, and use the play-action to stretch the field. Favre’s performance last week makes me less confident in his play this week. He can’t pull that off two weeks in a row can he? Yeah, you’re right. Nothing that man does should surprise me anymore. I’ve never liked Favre more than when he performed “Pants on the ground” in the locker room after beating Dallas. THAT’S who I want leading my football team. Twelve year-olds can’t match his passion. It’s unbelievable.
Some extra insight for your time… If you can’t figure out why NBC sided with Leno over Conan, look at the Favre situation. The Packers wanted to progress with younger talent (Aaron Rodgers) and hoped the legend would retire. Favre retired but wanted back in at the expense of Rodgers. Green Bay chose the younger guy and sent Favre to a competing network, I mean team. Less than two years later, the Packers are at home with their young quarterback watching the legend and his new employer on the cusp of a Super Bowl berth. NBC applied the Favre situation to their quandary. As a result, NBC chose the “legend” and sent the young talent packing.
I’m telling you, “sports” permeate all aspects of life. Watch sports for a lifetime and you’ll have the answer to any situation thrown your way. (I use this “truth” to support my case when my wife tells me our kids won’t be permitted to watch football for 12 straight hours. She’s getting there.)
And back to the game… There’s a lot of support for the Vikings after last week’s demolition of the Cowboys. In my opinion, that support would swing the other way if the Vikings won on Saturday and the Saints blew out the Cardinals on Sunday. The Vikings won more recently. Therefore, they’ll receive the bulk of attention from the media and fans. I can’t prove this, it’s just my opinion.
Anyway, I want Minnesota to win because Favre’s a nice story, but more so because I’ll have to pluck out my eyes if Sean Payton hoists the George Halas Trophy. I also like the Vikings because of their defense. DeMarcus Ware gave Brees fits and I expect Jared Allen to do the same. Unfortunately, I can’t break my own rule. Resorting to ear plugs equals defeat. SAINTS
If I were Charles Barkley…
I’m considering dropping this portion of my weekly preview for the 2010 season. I haven’t been this embarrassed since riding to school in my older sister’s 1980 Chevy Citation. (We called it the “Brown Bomber.” I made my friend sit in the front seat. Seriously.)
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts (-8)
Minnesota Vikings (+4) at New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1 – 3 – 0
Postseason: 1 – 7 – 0
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts Over 39
Last Week: 0 – 1 – 0
Postseason: 1 – 1 – 0
(Lines as of 1/21, 5:44PM ET, from bodog)