Friday, January 22, 2010

NFL Championship Weekend

Okay, I'm back. I guess that means I'm a masochist. Or maybe I want to improve my 3-5 record in predicting postseason games. Regardless, you're stuck with reading my analysis of Championship Weekend.

Hopefully this weekend will be better than the Wild Card and Divisional weekends. If not, this will probably be the worst NFL Playoffs ever. Unlike baseball, the football's playoffs are usually compelling even if your favorite team is out of it. This year, that hasn't been the case. The playoffs are also supposed to make it seem like Spring Training is tomorrow. Well, Spring Training starts in less than a month but that month seems like a fackin' eternity. Next week's Pro Bowl won't shorten it either. Anyway, here is my prediction of who will play in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIV:

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, 3PM EST, CBS: Last week at this time I would have been my house that the previous sentence would have read "San Diego Chargers @ Indianapolis Colts." Luckily I didn't and thus don't have to move back in with my parents.

This game features a rematch of Week 16. The week when the Colts stopped their pursuit of perfection and took out Peyton Manning and the rest of their offensive stars with 5:36 remaining in the 3rd Quarter. The week when the Colts let the Jets back into the playoff race.

The pressure is all on Peyton Manning, Jim Caldwell and the Colts. They need to win the Super Bowl to validate their lack of a perfect season. Hell, even winning the Super Bowl is considered a disappointment to some Indy fans. Imagine them losing the Super Bowl, or, God forbid, losing the AFC Championship? The Colts are already looking forward to the Super Bowl. According to star DE and Syracuse product Dwight Freeney, "Week 16 was in Week 16. This is the AFC Championship Game. If they want to use whatever happened in Week 16 to motivate them, so be it. For us, it's the AFC Championship Game now. One more game until the Super Bowl, and they are in our way, so we have to try to get something done."

Given that the Jets have reached this far with a rookie QB in Mark Sanchez, they are playing with house money. You know what they say about house money - there's nothing like it. Rex Ryan has remained as confident as ever this week. Ryan has stated that he would be "shocked" if Gang Green was not in the Super Bowl and that the Jets would have won the Week 16 matchup even if the Colts had not pulled out early.

How great would it be if the Jets bounced the Colts? Great for irony's sake and great for the Tri-State Region. Two ticker tape parades in a year would be awesome and help reestablish New York as the premier sports location in the United States. Will it happen? Not according to Vegas. Although I am not a Jets fan, I will be rooting for them.

How The Jets Can Win: Keep the pressure on Manning to foil the NFL's second-ranked passing attack and force them to rely on their 32nd ranked run offense. Limit Sanchez's pass attempts.

How the Colts Can Win: Stack the box against the Jets' #1 ranked run offense and force Sanchez to throw more than 20 times. Get the ball to Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie with regularity in order to avoid the Revis machine covering Reggie Wayne.
Prediction: The game is a defensive struggle. Manning throws for two scores while Thomas Jones runs two in for the J-E-T-S. The difference is a late 4th Quarter field goal by Matt Stover. The dual ticker tape parade will wait until next year with celebrations for the Yankees and Giants.

Colts: 20
Jets: 17

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 6:30 EST, Fox.

#1 vs. #2. Brees vs. Favre.

Will this game be a shootout? Last weekend, the Vikings scored 35 points in their win over Dallas. The Saints bested this effort by scoring 45 points. However, both teams also played stout defense, with the Vikings giving up 6 points and the Saints giving up 14.

Favre looks to join Kurt Warner as a QB to lead two different teams to Super Bowls. Brees looks to reach his first.

Injury News: Minnesota Defensive tackle Kevin Williams and defensive end Ray Edwards missed their second straight practice on Thursday because of knee trouble. Percy Harvin, the Vikings' young talented receiver, also missed practice with a migraine. Kevin Williams will be needed to stop Reggie Bush, who was pivotal in the Saints' win over the Cardinals in the Divisional round. Harvin adds a dimension to the Vikings that most teams have difficulty with. New Orleans ranked 25th in the NFL in overall defense during the regular season.

How the Vikings Can Win: Favre continues not to commit turnovers. Reggie Bush is stopped at the line of scrimmage and avoid giving up the long pass from Brees.

How the Saints Can Win: They are able to pound the ball on the ground like they did last week against the Cardinals. Get the ball to Devery Henderson and Jeremy Shockey. Blitz and force Favre turnovers. Shut down Adrian Peterson like he has been the past 2 months.
Prediction: Favre throws one TD to Sidney Rice and another to Visanthe Shiancoe. Kicker Ryan Lomgwell adds another 3 for the Vikes. However, backed by the raucous Cajuns in the first ever NFC Championship at the Superdome, the Saints advance to their first ever Super Bowl by virtue of 2 TDs from Brees and another from Pierre Thomas and a FG from Garrett Hartley. Favre throws 2 INTs.

Saints: 24
Vikings: 17

Friday Morning Link Party

This has been by far the slowest week of the offseason around these parts with a slow drip of news and a heavy dose of manual labor keeping me away from my computer. Things will get better soon as we will be dusting off our Countdown to Spring Training via uniform number starting tomorrow morning and running every day through February 16th. The Yanks hurlers and backstops report on the 17th, giving us 26 days and counting until Spring Training begins.

For now, here are some links to propel you towards the weekend.
Our buddy Jason lays out an exhaustive rubric you can use to determine whether you are "new school" or "old school" in your tastes as a baseball fan. I'm somewhere in the middle because I have the most respect for the great players who aren't demonstrative but understand that amount of money that guys are making has changed a lot of aspects of the game.

Javier Vazquez told a Spanish language newspaper in his native Puerto Rico that he doesn't know how much longer he wants to play and might be willing to go year to year with his contracts a la Andy Pettitte. Or at least that's what I'm told. Me Espanol es muy mal. And before you go off the deep end like this guy about it, remember that Pettitte doesn't seem to have lost any of his "desire" over the past couple of years.

Minor league guru John Sickels has some very nice things to say about Jesus Montero. He released them in the hopes that they might get you to buy his book but that doesn't make them any less true. I hope.

The Royals signed Rick Ankiel for $3.25M with a $6M mutual option for next year. Stop it. It's not funny. Okay, it's pretty funny.

If you were wondering why Jason Bay didn't re-sign with the Red Sox, here's why.

Bruce Markusen from the Hardball Times (and Bronx Banter) lists off some of today's best baseball nicknames and then goes back in history position but position to find the all-time greats.

Patrick Sullivan at Baseball Analysts demonstrates to Murray Chass how someone's opinion can matter even if they don't have a Hall of Fame vote.

Beyond the Box Score is continuing their effort to honor the best in statistically-slanted baseball writing with the BtB Sabermetric Awards. There are seven categories to vote on which are sure to contain excellent pieces of analytical baseball thinking that you were not aware of.

Larry from Wezen-Ball earned himself a radio interview as a result of his widely acclaimed Charlie Brown baseball posts. His plot to take over the world continued yesterday with the official release of his iPhone/Android app.

In case you were wondering, Hideki Irabu still retired. For real this time.

And finally a bit of fun non-baseball reading. Joe Posnanski picks apart a bunch of infomercials for your entertainment.
We'll be back with more before the day is done.