Conference Championship Sunday

Okay, so I’ll never make it as a football prognosticator.  Last week, I somehow managed to get three out of four games wrong, properly selecting Minnesota to beat up on an over-rated Dallas team as my only victory.  And while 1-3 is nothing to brag about, it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Sure, the Colts beat the Ravens by a final score that made it look easy, but they in no way played particularly well or looked very much the part of a Superbowl team.  In fact, as I sat  watching the game, I could only think that if Baltimore had any skill position receivers at all outside of the geriatric shell of Derrick Mason, they’d be winning this game.  Indy has Peyton Manning, but his career playoff performances in big games have been far removed from his regular season brilliance, and last week’s showing, while not catastrophic, certainly wasn’t Hall of Fame-caliber.  And the Ravens didn’t stay with the run like they should have, forcing a clearly-less-than 100% Joe Flacco to throw way too much in what was basically a one-score game for much of the duration.  Don’t get me wrong, the Colts played an excellent defensive game, but they’re a small and quick defense, the kind that gets worn down with a strong running game.  Baltimore dropped the ball and they’re sitting home because of it.

What can I say about the Jets-Chargers game?  San Diego simply failed to show up.  The Jets played well on defense, but they weren’t dominating in the way Minnesota was against Dallas.  There is simply no excuse for the Chargers to play as poorly as they did, especially at home.  Phillip Rivers threw bad interceptions, Nate Keading missed three field goals, Antonio Gates looked like he was sleep-walking for stretches of the second half, LaDanian Tomlinson looked every bit the washed up running back that he has become, they had several horrible, bone-headed penalties and the onside kick decision at the end is, in my opinion, a worse mistake that Bill Belichek’s 4th down call earlier in the season.  If I was the Chargers owner or GM, I wouldn’t have been able to fire Norv Turner fast enough after watching this amazingly talented team come out and look completely unprepared to play.  But what did they do?  Norv just got a four-year contract extension!  In 2006, after a 14-2 season and losing their first playoff game at home, the Chargers couldn’t wait to give then-coach Marty Schottenheimer the ax for his playoff failures, replacing him with Turner.  They still haven’t reached the Superbowl, and this year they were 13-3 before losing their first playoff game at home.  Turner should be fired immediately.  What do you think someone like Bill Cowher could do with San Diego’s talent?  I also expect Marty took a little bit of pleasure watching his son Brian, the Jets offensive coordinator, celebrating the upset in San Diego on Sunday.

I still think the Jets are a fraud.  The way they played, San Diego should have been up two or three touchdowns by midway through the second quarter.  That being said, the Colts didn’t play much better than the Chargers against a similar team in the Ravens, without all the stupid mental mistakes, of course.  If they put in the same effort this week, the Jets could sneak out with another win.

The other game I lost was the Saints.  Do you think Cardinals’ coach Ken Wisenhunt misses last year’s defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast much?  Arizona gave up 35 points to Green Bay in the second half last week, and them promptly gave up 35 points to New Orleans in the first half this week.  That’s 70 points allowed in four quarters, giving up an amazing 10 touchdowns in 12 defensive possessions (not counting the Aaron Rodgers kneel down to end regulation).  And then Kurt Warner got hurt.  The Saints were much better than I had anticipated, but the Arizona defense was simply pathetic.  Minnesota, if the injuries don’t take too much out of them, will not be that kind of push over.

Just a side note on the Packers-Cardinals game.  When Aaron Rodgers badly missed a wide open Greg Jennings for what would have been a game-winning touchdown in overtime a couple plays before the game-losing fumble, the first thing that popped into my mind was, “there is no way Brett Favre misses that throw.”  In the past week or so, I’ve seen more than a few Packers fans blowing off that miss, while claiming that Rodgers throws a better deep ball than Favre.  Well, did you all happen to catch the 47 yard touchdown to Sidney Rice in the first quarter against the Cowboys?  I know they desperately want to move past the whole Favre drama, and stand behind their guy Rodgers, but let’s not be irrational.  Rodgers seems to be a very good to excellent quarterback, likely a Pro-Bowl caliber player for years to come, but he’s no Brett Favre.  He may develop into that kind of player someday, but it’s not today.  If Minnesota goes on to win the Superbowl, and in my mind at the moment, they are the favorite, the decision to run him out of town will never be justified until Rodgers wins one of his own, no matter how good his stats are.  Just live with it, already.

So, at the risk of further humiliating myself, here’s what I think will happen this weekend.

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts

Say what you want about the Colts, but I would be shocked beyond all reason if they come out and play as sloppy as San Diego did last week.  Still, they are on far more tenuous ground than most people believe.  I doubt the Jets will score more than 20 points.  The only question is whether Indy can get it together enough to top that.  The Colts don’t run the ball well, and if the Jets can get pressure on Manning, they can make something happen.  But, unlike Minnesota, the Jets have to blitz to get pressure and Manning can eat that up.  I think the Colts win this game by at least 10 points, but this won’t be one of those 45-17 games.  It’ll be 24-14 or something like that.  Still, I can see the Jets controlling the clock with the run, and the possibility that they can eek out another win is definitely there, at least for this week.  It all depends on the Colts staying grounded.  If Indy makes a ton of mistakes, a la San Diego,  they’ll lose.  But I don’t see that happening.

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints

Both of these teams won fairly easy games last week, but Minnesota was far more impressive in completely dismantling what was a hot Dallas team on both sides of the ball.  The Cardinals gave up 45 points the week before, so that marks a trendingly awful defense more than a great offensive effort from the Saints.  Minnesota has a lot of injury concerns, and they will be on the road, but I’m going to go with Brett Favre and his menagerie of offensive weapons.  Even if the defense slips, and New Orleans can score points in bunches, the Vikings can win a shootout.  The Saints have been a great story so far, but this season is all about Brett Favre.  Forty years old, 4200 yards passing, 33 touchdowns, 107.2 QB rating, only 7 interceptions, career highs in passer rating and completion percentage, career low in interceptions.  This, simply put, is one of the best seasons for a quarterback ever, certainly one of his best years and, remember, he was an obvious Hall of Famer who had broken nearly every quarterback record in the books before this season even started.  A Superbowl win, and Favre is staking a legitimate claim on the mythical best quarterback of all time crown.

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