Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 22, 2010

Last week we had three blowouts and one very close game.  It tells you all you need to know about the NFL that the one close game was the one yours truly thought would be a blowout, and to boot it went the other way from my (and most people’s) selection.  I have to admit I thought there was a zero percent chance that the Jets would even stay close against the Chargers.  Maybe it’s time for me to give the Jets some credit, for I have really been slamming them the last two weeks for backing into the playoffs.  I also thought the Chargers were the clear choice for favorite in the AFC.  Maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think it’s more a reflection of how fantastic the NFL is and why it is the clear king among pro sports leagues.  As for the other games, we saw terrific performances from the three winning teams, and it shapes up for some great action on Sunday.  Now, on to the picks.

Last week: 2-2  Playoffs: 4-4

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts: I have to admit that perhaps I should be eating some crow regarding both of these teams.  I picked both to lose last week and in the Jets’ case I said they didn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs.  In the Colts’ case I thought they would suffer disastrous consequences from tanking the last two weeks of the season and voluntarily torching their perfect season.  Well, I was wrong in both cases, but it still doesn’t change the fact that one of the big reasons this is the AFC Championship Game matchup is because the Colts laid down in week 16, allowing the Jets to coast to a 29-15 win and thus allowing them to vault ahead of several other AFC contenders for tiebreakers.  If the Colts played to win, it stands to reason that the Jets would not have made the playoffs, and the Texans or Steelers or some other team would have made it instead.  We’ll of course never know how differently things might have unfolded, and thus here we are with a compelling AFC title game in Indy. 

Of course it is hard to read too much into the teams’ previous meeting in week 16, which the Colts treated like an August scrimmage and the Jets played all out to win, but there are some interesting numbers to crunch from that game:

– The Colts led just 9-3 at halftime, with their starters in for the entire half

– The Jets’ Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 200 yards (granted some of that in the second half came against some Colts backups).  The Colts got just 62 combined yards from Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. 

– Peyton Manning was 11-14 when throwing to someone other than Reggie Wayne.  He completed three passes to Wayne in seven attempts, with Wayne being shielded by Darrelle Revis a majority of the time.

– Mark Sanchez threw for just 106 yards, which is very typical of his numbers throughout the season.

– The Colts’ special teams allowed a 106 yard kickoff return TD to Brad Smith to open the second half. 

– The Colts’ received just 44 passing yards from backup quarterback Cutris Painter in the second half, along with one interception and one fumble lost. 

Now, again all of this is with the asterisk that the Colts were openly making no attempt whatsoever to win this game.  For all we know, the Colts’ offensive game plan may have been vanilla and could resemble nothing of what they plan to do on Sunday.  It is however interesting to note that even when the Colts’ starters were in, it wasn’t as if they were lighting up the scoreboard.  Truth is, that’s been typical of a number of Colts games this season.  Indianapolis hasn’t been put 30 points on the board every time, and in fact has won a number of tight, low scoring games with running and defense, along with precision mistake free passing by Manning.  One thing I think that Colts should be wary of in this game however is the Jets’ ability to run the ball.  That clearly has not been a fluke in the playoffs.  Last week the Jets ran the ball effectively and controlled the clock, keeping Philip Rivers and company on the sideline for much of the game.  No doubt they will try to do the same and keep Manning standing on the sideline Sunday instead of on the field. 

While the quote-unquote sexier matchup in this game will be Colts offense against the Jets defense, I think this game will be decided based on what happens with the Jets offense against the Indy defense.  The Colts’ defense has been extremely underrated all season, and last week they did an unbelieveable job shutting down a Baltimore running game that had absolutely shredded the Patriots the week before.  They put Joe Flacco in a position where he needed to beat them and he couldn’t do it.  The Jets offense is very similar in that they need the running game to be effective because they don’t want to put Mark Sanchez in a position where he has to win the game through the air on the road.  While Sanchez has proved to be an effective game manager and has made timely throws when necessary, the Jets aren’t about to want to rely on a pass heavy attack if they don’t have to.  So I think the key to the game is how well the Colts defense can stop the Jets’ running game.  If the Jets run the ball as effectively as they have for the past month, they will have a great chance to win.  If they can’t, and it becomes Sanchez’ game to win or lose, then I think the Jets are in big trouble.  I’m going to be watching the battles up front with the Jets’ offensive line and Colts’ defensive line.  That is where the game is going to be won or lost for either side.

As for Manning and the Colts passing game, it is foolish to think they aren’t going to be able to move the ball through the air.  We know that Revis is going to be on Wayne most of the time, but Manning is smart enough to know when to pick his spots to go there, and it’s not as if the Colts don’t have other targets to throw to.  Heck, I’m convinced that the Colts could pick a random fan from row 11, plug him in at receiver, and Manning could manage to find him for four or five receptions.  Manning also will be handle the Jets’ exotic blitzes because he is able to get rid of the ball so quickly and accurately.  In fact, Manning seems to thrive when teams try to blitz him. 

I think this could well be a lower scoring game than many people expect, but that has been the norm for both of these teams during the course of the season.  The Colts have the home field edge, and that over the years has proven to be a big deal late in the playoffs.  I think the Jets will be able to stay in this game, but in the end there is a reason the Colts started 13-0, and last week they emphatically proved they are not rusty.  Indianapolis 20 NY Jets 10

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints: I think this will be the game of the year (at least until we may see a really dynamic Super Bowl matchup).  Both teams looked extremely impressive last week in rolling through their divisional round matchups.  I think the Vikings, as I’ve said all season long, are the most talented team in the NFL when they are clicking on all cylinders, and they showed why last week.  They got four touchdown passes from Brett Favre, they made big plays offensively, they sacked Tony Romo six times, put pressure on him countless other times, and in short they completely dominated both sides of the ball.  In particular, they won the battles up front, which is absolutely necessary to win this time of year.  As for the Saints, they woke up from a December long slumber and looked like the team they were the first three months of the season.  Drew Brees and the passing game were making big plays, Reggie Bush had a flashback to 2005 at USC, the defense smothered Kurt Warner and blanketed the Cardinals’ receivers, and the Saints’ even overcame the 70-yard touchdown they allowed on the first play of the game.  All told they gave a complete effort, and now the city of New Orleans is giddy with excitement, as the Superdome will host the first NFC Championship Game in its existence.  This alone is a big edge for the Saints, being that the Superdome is one of the few remaining actual home field advantages in the NFL (and that’s because it’s not a new stadium with zillions of luxury suites, but that’s another topic). 

I don’t think there is much question that lots of points are going to be put on the scoreboard by both teams.  Drew Brees and Brett Favre combined to throw a staggering 67 touchdown passes this season, and that number doesn’t include the seven they combined to throw for last week in the divisional round.  Both teams feature a dynamic group of receivers that can make plays in space and gain boatloads of yards after the catch.  So be ready for lots of big plays in the passing game thanks to two of the great quarterbacks in the league.  I think on paper it seems like the Vikings would have an edge on the ground with Adrian Peterson, but his numbers have slipped significantly in the second half of the season, and he hasn’t had a 100-yard game on the ground since November.  That said, he still rushed for over 1,300 yards on the season with 18 touchdowns, and he’s still Adrian Peterson, so it’s not as if the Vikings are completely helpless in this area.  The Saints have a quietly effective running game with Pierre Thomas, and if Reggie Bush continues to make big plays out of the backfield, screen passes to him are just as effective as running the ball. 

While the offenses no doubt have the spotlight in this game, the onus will be on the defenses to make things happen, and the game could well hinge on which defense is more effective.  I think the Minnesota front seven is downright scary with Jared Allen leading the way.  The Vikings all year have been a brick wall against opposing running games, and their ability to rush the passer is unmatched by any front seven in the league.  It will be a challenge for them to contain all the weapons in the Saints’ offense, particularly if Bush is making plays and lining up everywhere.  Drew Brees also has a quick release, so it could be hard for the Vikings to actually get to him.  The key for Minnesota is they need to be able to put pressure on Brees and not allow him time to find open receivers in space.  As for the Saints, they have struggled big time against the run in the second half of the season, but it will be interesting to see how that matchup unfolds on Sunday given the Vikings’ struggles to run the ball in the second half.  If Minnesota is able to get Peterson going, that will make it a big challenge for the Saints’ secondary to cover the receivers as well as make it difficult for the pass rush to get to Favre.  If the Saints are successful in shutting down the run, than it could lend to Favre trying to force plays down the field.  Darren Sharper is known for making big plays in big games, so don’t think he won’t be looking to try to pick off an errant Favre pass. 

I think it’s very possible the Vikings could regret that they didn’t get home field advantage and that they won’t get the game at the Metrodome.  Minnesota was undefeated in front of their home fans this season but suffered all four of their defeats on the road, including December road losses to non-playoff teams in Carolina and Chicago.  The Vikings in many ways have looked like two different teams all year: a dominant one at home and a so-so product on the road.  Other than their November win at Green Bay, the Vikings have no significant road wins they can claim this season.  The Saints have obviously been extremely tough in the Superdome, although they did lose to Dallas and Tampa Bay at home in December.  Minnesota also has a rather dubious conference title game history to contend with, specifically a rather embarrassing 41-0 road loss to the Giants in 2000, and a home loss to the Falcons two years earlier in which the Vikings were clear favorites.  The Saints meanwhile lost their only NFC title game appearance in 2006 in Chicago, and should benefit from the emotion of the crowd for their first ever NFC title game at home.

A lot of the numbers do point to New Orleans here, especially the home field edge.  I think in the end this will be a highly entertaining game where lots of points will be scored, but I also suspect we’ll see a big defensive play or two.  I think it will hinge on which defense does a better job getting to the quarterback as well as how well Minnesota can run the ball.  I think it will also be interesting to see which Brett Favre we see: the one who’s had a great year, or will we see a repeat of Favre two years ago, when costly interceptions allowed the Giants to win the NFC title game at Lambeau en route to a stunning Super Bowl victory?  Will the Saints secondary lure him into picks, or will Favre make good decisions and find his open receivers? 

This game almost seems too close to call, and to be honest I’m a little surprised at how most people are picking the Saints without hesitation, many cases in a runaway.  I know the Vikings have struggled on the road, but over the years it’s been proven in the playoffs that regular season history is irrelevant, because this is one game, and what happened previously has no bearing, especially the deeper you go in the playoffs.  I have a sense that Favre is going to show up big, and Brees will too.  I do think in the end the Vikings have a better defense especially up front, and I think Peterson will find holes to run through late in the game.  Minnesota 31 New Orleans 28

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2 Responses to “Conference Championship Picks”

  1. TheCoach said

    The majority of people are taking the Colts to kill the Jets this
    week but you have to consider how well New York matches up against
    Indy. Indy has the worst running game in the league, and is ALL
    Peyton. The Jets have the #1 pass-defence and if they can put the
    clamps on Peyton early… it could very well be a Jets win. TheCoach
    isn’t calling a J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS win but they will cover the
    spread. I know Indy shut down Baltimore’s running game last week
    but the Jets strive on being quick and elusive.. something Ray Rice
    isn’t…

    Minnesota and New Orleans is going to be such a good game. I was
    hoping all season long these two would meet up in the NFC
    Championship and honestly.. either team could team this game. The
    Saints are -3.0 favourites and historically home team get given three
    points for the home-field advantage… so basically this game is a
    pick-em and there is ONE thing that I like about the Saints and its
    that home-field advantage. Last week Warner and Romo combined for 7
    sacks and 4 fumbles largely in part to not being able to communicate
    with their offence. The SuperDome is NUTS and I don’t care how much
    experience Favre has, the crowd can help a team and also hurt the
    other so much.

    Feel free to check out my picks with scores (and of course
    cheerleader pictures) @
    http://www.lionsdenu.com/category/sports/nfl-guide-2009-2010/

    Best of luck to all this week,
    Regards,
    TheCoach

  2. Doug Baker said

    Great analysis Reid. It does look like we will either both be right or both be wrong! We seem to be on the same page on our picks this week.

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