Friday, January 16, 2009

NFL Conference Championships

OK so after going 6 for 8 so far in the NFL playoffs, I'm back today with my predictions on the two conference champsionship games this weekend, plus a thought about one of the most talented players in the league who is now entering the down side of his career.

In the AFC, the NFL's #2 defense in the Baltimore Ravens travel to the NFL's #1 defense with the Pittsburgh Steelers in what should be a classic battle that has already played out three times in the playoffs this decade. Both teams' defenses are absolutely stellar and this should make for a truly great game. 6 points is a large line for a game between two defensive teams, so big in fact that I don't see how anyone can feel particularly good about picking either side in this one -- and I would be wary of anyone who says he does. In the end, the Steelers have been the best defense in the league all season long -- even better than the Ravens this year -- and as great as Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are, I still think the Steelers' Troy Polamalu remains the best defensive player in the game. So the nod on defense goes to Pittsburgh by a nose. And on offense, there is no question the Steelers are much stronger. Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has performed excellently in becoming the first rookie to ever win his first two playoff games on the road, but Ben Roethlisberger is not only better in general, but he's played in many big games in his young career and has proven himself to be a step-up kind of a guy. The nod on offense also goes to the Steelers for sure. And to top it off the game is also in Pittsburgh which is a tough place for any road team to play. As I said, I like the line right where it is in this one, but my money goes (and will do) on the Steelers to cover in a tight one.

In the early game on Sunday, the fans of Philadelphia wait with baited breath as their second major sports franchise looks to make the finals of the league this season when the Eagles travel to Arizona to face off in the most unlikely NFC Championship game in memory. It's the first time a #4 and a #6 seed have ever played in the conference finals, and in fact it's the first time a #4 seed has ever hosted a conference championship game. When you think back a couple of months to when the Eagles had just tied the lowly Cincinatti Bungles and then gotten smushed by the Ravens while Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb got benched for the first time in his ten-year career, it is hard to believe that this team is where it is one win away from the superbowl this weekend. Even crazier to think is that the Bucs had to lose to the crappy Raiders, the Bears to the crappy Texans, and the Eagles had to beat the Cowboys all on the last day of the season for the Eagles to even sneak into the playoffs at all as the final seed in the NFC. And meanwhile, the Cardinals are playing in their first NFC Championship game since integration of the NFC and AFC more than thirty years ago, having ended the season 9-7 after clinching the NFL-worst NFC West shortly after the halfway mark in 2008.

So who's going to win this game? The Eagles are favored, as the #6 seed, on the road, by 4 points. That is patently ridiculous against the most high-powered passing offense in the NFL, with literally the two best receivers in the game along with Hall of Fame deserving Kurt Warner at quarterback. A lot of people will tell you the Eagles are going to kill the Cardinals like we did back on Thanksgiving night, but those people are bozos. This is going to be a good game, I just have that feeling. The Cardinals' running game and defense have both stepped it up in the playoffs, but after a season of not playing this way, I'm not expecting the Cardinals to generate 4 or 5 turnovers like they have averaged in their past couple of playoff games, including six last week at Carolina. In two playoff games the Cards have come up with five sacks, seven interceptions and two fumbles recovered on their way to running up the score against both the Falcons at home and then the Panthers on the road. My prediction is that the experience of the Eagles and their superior team defense all season long will eventually allow them to come out ahead in this one. But, there is a good chance that the Cardinals hold on to win the game outright at home against a lower-seeded opponent, and an even better chance that they lose by four points or less. My pick is the Cardinals plus the 4, which I rate at slightly over 50% chance of covering this Sunday at 3pm ET.

Lastly, I was listening to New York sports talk radio on Thursday night and the host of the show asked a very good NFL question: Is there any team that Terrell Owens has played for that he hasn't hurt? And come to think of it, there really isn't. It's sick, really. I mean, TO started off on the 49ers in 1996, just a year or two removed from those great San Fran teams of the early 90s, and the team quickly went down the tubes as TO got better, culminating in 2002 and 2003 with those videos we've all seen of TO bitching out the SF offensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. and the public spat between TO and then SF quarterback Jeff Garcia, where TO suggested that Garcia, who recently married a playboy model, is gay. Truth be told, the Niners haven't really been consistently good again since Terrell was there. All we ever heard out of TO in San Francisco was "Give me the ball" and "Let me play for a winner."

Then came the move to Philly, which has been well publicized as well, and which was TO's first chance to play for a team that was at the time a consistent winner. TO played great for a season in Philly, helping the team make its first Superbowl in more than 20 years in 2004, coming back from injury to play a great game against the Cheatriots but eventually falling short. Then TO was out there, openly questioning McNabb's play in the biggest game of either of their careers, and by the next season, TO had succeeded in ripping the team apart, so badly that coach and GM Andy Reid simply benched his ass for the entire season the following year.

And finally, TO's stop in Dallas. Like Philadelphia, this was TO's second shot at going to an already winning team with high expectations, and once again TO has failed to bring the team to the promised land. Despite things starting off smoothly just as in Philly, after three years in Dallas, with TO's skills clearly on the wane after a very strong career stat-wise, here once again is TO bitching about not getting the ball enough, questioning his quarterback at every turn, complaining that the quarterback and the tight end, who are roommates on the road, plan "secret plays" together that don't involve Owens, etc. He has consistently questioned his offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to the media as well over the past couple of failed seasons in Dallas, and generally speaking, much as he did with the Eagles, he has essentially led to a divided locker room and once again ripped that team apart.

TO. The man has had mad skillz during the entirety of his NFL playing career. But he has hurt every team he's ever played for more than he's helped them in the end. And he's never won shit along the way.

GOOOoooo E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Blogger lightning36 said...

TO is a zit that needs to be popped. But ... my Bears have the worst group of receivers in the league. As much as I hate to admit it, I'd want them to grab TO and let the other vets try to keep him in line.

3:26 AM  
Blogger Schaubs said...

Ummm I think you forgot about Andre Johnson?

Anyway, I like the reverse Jinx of picking the Cards. I'll actualyl be cheering for the Eagles in this one.


7:38 AM  

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