Saturday, January 21, 2006

NFL Conference championships: The Final Four

Statistics are like one of those skimpy bikinis occasionally seen on a woman:

They show a lot but they don’t show everything.

In the NFC divisional round, the Carolina Panthers allowed 21 points to the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field. We’re talking about the same Bears club that was also ranked #1 defensively most of the season.

In the other NFC match-up, the Seattle Seahawks lost running back (and NFL MVP) Shaun Alexander in the first quarter against the Washington Redskins.

If I were armed with those statistics prior to both contests, I would deduce a Redskins-Bears NFC title game match-up.

To quote ESPN’s resident obnoxious carnival barker, Chris Berman: “That is why they play the game.”

Carolina may have allowed 21 points to an ordinary Bears offense but they scorched one of the top NFL defenses for 434 yards and 29 points.

Meanwhile, Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck threw for a touchdown, ran for another in Seattle’s 20-10 win over the Redskins.

The AFC divisional round?

The reigning Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots, had five turnovers in Denver against the Broncos.

In the other AFC contest, the Pittsburgh Steelers were clinging to a 3 point lead with 17 seconds remaining. It came down to a 46-yard game-tying field goal attempt by Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt.

Again, if I were given those vital stats prior to game time, I’d say it would be a Steelers-Broncos AFC championship game.

As Knicks announcer Marv Albert would say: “YESSS!”

New England has had a phenomenal run, winning three Super Bowls in the past four seasons. But Denver, 8-0 at home in 2005, forced the Patriots to commit five turnovers in last weeks’ game. No surprise the Broncos went on to win 27-13.

I knew the Colts were doomed when it was left up to Vanderjagt to tie instead of Peyton Manning to win. I know Vanderjagt is one of the most accurate kickers in terms of field goal percentage. But when he’s under pressure in the playoffs? You need to look no further than his miss in overtime against the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 wildcard playoffs. I think the kick started in Miami’s stadium but ended up in Havana, Cuba. So there was almost this air of inevitablility lingering last Sunday when Vanderjagt missed the tying field goal attempt, having it again sail wide right in the Colts' 21-18 loss.

I guess Vanderjagt’s playoff accuracy is hindered when he has two hands wrapped around his throat.

Anyways, here are my picks against the point spread for this week’s Conference championships.

Again, these picks are strictly satirical and not to be used to place bets.

Steelers (+3) at Broncos: Were it not for a touchdown-saving tackle by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in last weeks game, Pittsburgh wouldn’t even be here. You saw the play. With just over a minute to go and the Steelers leading by 3, Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis fumbled at the Indianapolis 2-yard line. The ball was picked up by Colts cornerback Nick Harper, who looked to have a clear path to the end zone when he was tripped up by Roethlisberger. Yes that was the same Nick Harper who earlier that week was “accidentally” stabbed in the knee by his wife, Daniell, in a domestic dispute. If I had to guess, I’d say the Steelers were the first team in NFL history to award the game ball to an opposing players’ wife.

With their victory over the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos attained their first playoff victory since Super Bowl XXXIII. That was also John Elway’s final game! The Broncos are attempting to make their seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, while the Steelers are vying for their sixth berth.
Pick: Broncos

Panthers (+3 ½) at Seahawks: The Seattle Seahawks, in their 30th season of existence, will gain their first Super Bowl berth in franchise history with a win Sunday. The last (and only) time they were in a conference title game? Twenty two seasons ago when they were in the AFC. Curt Warner (not the former Rams QB) was the running back and Dave Krieg was their quarterback. Krieg was best known for attending school at Milton College in Wisconsin, a place that ceased to exist (Milton College, not Wisconsin) once he became an established NFL pro.

Compared to the Seahawks, the Carolina Panthers are an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the post season. In only eleven seasons in the NFL, this is the Panthers third title game appearance. Carolina head coach John Fox took over a team that had just finished 1-15 in 2001 and lead them to a Super Bowl two seasons later.
Pick: Seahawks

Last Week: 2-2-0

Overall: 68-60-6

Quote of the week:

"It was Pavarotti coughing in the middle of the Ave Maria."

-Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy on the Patriots' normally clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri missing a field goal in their 27-13 playoff loss to Denver.


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