The NFL’s version of the Final Four will take place this afternoon. I can’t think of a time where two conference title games were as tough to predict as these two.
By the way if you’re thinking of a place to enjoy the NFC game (which starts at 2:30), come on out to the Parlay Lounge at Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Red Wing. A few us will be there at a gathering hosted by “The Sports Leader”, AM 1130 KFAN.
Now, the predictions.
Saints (+2) at Bears: National sentiment (outside Chicago, that is) seems to be with the New Orleans Saints. After a 3-13 record and the harrowing remnants of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Saints are definitely the Cinderella story of 2006. An explosive offense led by quarterback Drew Brees doesn't hurt either. On the other hand, the Chicago Bears have been reeling the past month due to a suddenly vulnerable defense and a schizophrenic Rex Grossman at quarterback. For the first month of the '06 campaign we heard some rumblings of Grossman potentially becoming the next Favre. However, after a couple of “Blutarski” games (0.0 QB rating), that overzealousness was put to rest. Grossman did just enough to lead his team to victory over Seattle last week. This week, the Bears faithful will be clamoring for backup QB Brian Griese.
Pick: Saints 27 Bears 24
Patriots (+3) at Colts: The New England Patriots are 5-0 all-time in AFC Championship games. They have also served as the personal playoff tormentor of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. The Pats bested the Colts in the 2003 AFC title game and the 2004 divisional playoffs. However, Manning turned in two impressive performance in the 2005 and 2006 regular season contests, both victories in New England. It’s hard to ignore the 12-1 playoff record of Patriots QB Tom Brady. Of course, a few of those post season wins (including two Super Bowls) were won late thanks to the clutch field goals delivered by kicker Adam Vinatieri – now with the Colts. I have a feeling this game too will come down to a field goal. But it will be Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski who will have the honors this time around.
Pick: Patriots 24 Colts 23