Thursday, January 17, 2008

NFL Championship week: Haven't we met before?

In this week’s NFL conference championship games, both road teams are looking to avenge a Week 2 shellacking handed down by their respective opponents.

After an entire week of fielding questions about “Spygate”, the New England Patriots did their best to stay focused on their Week 2 battle with the San Diego Chargers. A resounding 38-14 victory proved the Patriots didn’t need no stinking cameras to dominate their opponent.

While the New York Giants will be traveling to Wisconsin on Sunday to take on the Green Bay Packers, they were the home team in their September 16 matchup. Including that 35-13 pounding at the hands of Green Bay, the Giants were merely 3-5 at home. However, they have been the consummate road warriors this season with a 9-1 record (including playoffs) away from Giants Stadium.

Despite the fact that the Chargers and Giants are vastly improved over the past four months, I don’t see either of them winning on Sunday.

QB note: Given their respective performances against my favorite NFL squad back in November, I would have thought it more likely for Hillary Clinton to be voted Miss Congeniality than to have QBs Philip Rivers and Eli Manning in the final four. In the Chargers’ 35-17 loss to the Vikings on November 4, Rivers was dreadful. In addition to throwing an interception and losing a fumble, he at one point threw eleven consecutive incomplete passes. Three weeks later, the Vikings trounced the Giants 41-17. In that game, Manning threw four interceptions (three of which were returned for touchdowns).

And now, my official predictions.

Chargers (+14) at Patriots: The key to San Diego’s upset over the Colts last week was their solid defense against Peyton Manning and Co. They forced three turnovers, including a huge Marvin Harrison fumble deep in their own territory. At that point, the Colts looked poised to go up by 14 points early. The problem here is that the Pats just don’t turn the ball over. In 17 games, New England has only given up 15 turnovers. And did you see quarterback Tom Brady’s performance last week? A ridiculous 92.8% completion rate, which is an NFL record! I’m thinking Brady was a surgeon in another life. Oh, and the Pats have discovered that they actually have a running game. RB Lawrence Maroney has averaged 107 yards per game over the past four contests. Add it all up and the Patriots move on to their fourth Super Bowl in seven years with a 38-21 win.

Giants (+7) at Packers: Despite three straight impressive performances, Giants QB Eli Manning will face by far his toughest test. However, I believe the Giants can effectively run the ball, thus keeping Brett Favre and Co. off the field. When faced with treacherous conditions in Buffalo last month, the “Thunder and Lightning” combo of 264-pound Brandon Jacobs and speedster Ahmad Bradshaw teamed up for 296 yards rushing against the Bills. And the Giants march into Lambeau Field with the swagger of having won nine consecutive road games. Alas, their defensive secondary is pretty banged up. CB Kevin Dockery is out with a bad hip, Sam Madison is questionable with a stomach muscle injury and rookie Aaron Ross left last week’s game against Dallas as a result of a bad shoulder. That means Favre should have plenty of opportunities in those five wide receiver sets. And he’ll need to take advantage as RB Ryan Grant may find the sledding tough against the NFL’s 8th ranked run defense. But in the end, Favre and the Lambeau mystique will win out. Packers win 27-24.

Overall postseason record

ATS: 3-4-1

Straight up: 5-3


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