Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Will Happen On Championship Sunday?

Five of my first six predictions about this year's NFL playoffs were correct but my percentage took a hit on Sunday when a pair of 13-3 favorites lost. It is interesting to see how close I came to getting those games right, too. This is what I wrote about Indianapolis and Dallas respectively: "The Chargers certainly have enough talent to pull off the upset but a late (Peyton) Manning-led drive will give the Colts a 31-28 victory"; "(Terrell) Owens will play, he will limp slightly and Dallas will win, 24-21." Of course, the Colts lost to San Diego 28-24 after a late Manning-led drive faltered, while the Cowboys fell to New York 21-17 after Tony Romo's potential game-winning touchdown pass was intercepted in the endzone. In other words, you could say that I came within perhaps two plays of not only correctly picking those games but getting the exact score right. However, as a former Cowboys coach is fond of saying, you are what your record says you are, so I am 5-3 so far.

As a reward for traveling halfway across the country and beating the defending Super Bowl champions on the road, the bruised and battered Chargers get to venture completely across the country to take on the unblemished, 17-0 New England Patriots. Teams with similar itineraries to the Chargers' generally perform poorly because of the mental/physical fatigue from the extra travel (and the extra game; New England had a first round bye). The Chargers are especially worn down because starting quarterback Philip Rivers and All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson each left the Indianapolis game with injuries and were not able to return. Tomlinson will likely play against New England, but Rivers' status is still uncertain. When the Chargers were at full strength in week two, the Patriots plastered them 38-14 but it is fair to say that San Diego is a much better team now--but not much better than New England. Whether Rivers or backup Billy Volek is under center, the Patriots' defense will be well prepared. The bottom line to beat New England is that you have to score at least 30 points because the Patriots rarely turn the ball over and when they don't turn the ball over they put points on the board.

Like Jacksonville, San Diego may keep things close for a half but New England will pull away and win easily, 37-17

The Dallas Cowboys had the best team in the NFC for most of the season, they beat Green Bay once and defeated the New York Giants twice but after Terrell Owens got hurt we found out just how vital he had been to the team's success. Dallas' offense ground to a complete halt during the six quarters that he missed. When Owens returned to action against the Giants last week, the offense showed some signs of life but breakdowns in pass protection, errant throws by Tony Romo and the fact that Owens clearly was still not 100% combined to doom the Cowboys. Even though Owens was back on the field weeks ahead of schedule, he was still enough of a threat that the Giants double-teamed him on the fateful last play of the game when Romo was intercepted; that illustrates not only how tough it is to cover even a hobbled Owens but also that teams simply do not fear the other Cowboys' players. None of this is meant to take anything away from the Giants, whose nine game road winning streak (including the playoffs) is very impressive. Eli Manning may have had the signature moment of his career versus the Cowboys, putting together some crucial TD drives and showing a lot of poise and composure. That said, it is difficult to believe that a Wild Card team is going to come into Lambeau Field and ruin the storybook season that Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers have put together; it looks like only the Patriots have the coaching, the depth and the focus to make the clock strike midnight for the Cheesehead Cinderallas but we'll talk more about that matchup if it in fact becomes reality. Green Bay could not have gotten off to a worse start against Seattle, with two fumbles leading to a quick 14-0 deficit, but the Packers still won in a blowout.

Green Bay will take an early lead, Eli Manning will throw an interception or two, and the rout will be on as the Packers roll to a 31-10 victory.

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