If you are 87% of NFL teams, you will be in the same position as me this weekend. You will be on the couch, watching those fortunate few remaining teams chase what every professional athlete chases, and its not a Kardashian. Championship Week might not have the glitz and glamor of the Super Bowl, and may not crown a champ, but an argument could easily be made that it is one of the best weeks of the entire season. Personally, I would rank it 4th behind the Divisional Round, Opening Week, and the Super Bowl. It shows us who we will be focused on for the next two weeks as story lines unfold and someone inevitably runs their mouth. Not to mention, if your team happens to be involved in one of the games, it is the gateway to every fan’s own little not-so-dirty (we hope) fantasy: the Super Bowl. I am fortunate to count myself among these fans who can remain hopeful, for a few more days at least, that my team could be lifting the Lombardi Trophy skyward. I have been spoiled as a football fan having already experienced one Super Bowl victory, the winningest team in any decade, and perhaps the greatest quarterback ever to grave the earth. yet I am not especially confident going in. I have been here before, I know the Colts are supposed to win, and I always feel like they are on the brink of letting me down. Any fan whose team has been on the verge and come up short knows the feeling. I can not speak from personal experience, but I think losing in heartbreaking fashion (Mike Vanderjagt vs. the Steelers comes to mind) is eons worse than going 5-11 for a fan. You were so close and now you are in the same boat as everyone else. But that is just the nature of the playoffs. Heartbreak, elevated stress levels, anger, and jubilation all rolled into a few weeks in January, and that is for the lucky ones. That is why playoff football is so different from regular season football and why the playoffs even have their own set of rules. Earlier in the week, I started laying out the all-new playoff rules, apart from the obvious like score more points than the opposition and play well. These are not in order by the way.
- Stay away from the sexy pick. Everyone’s sleeper who was red hot going in is not your ticket to the Super Bowl.
- No missed opportunities.
#2 was specifically in reference to Kaeding’s kicking, but brings us nicely to another point. In a close game, like playoff games tend to be (though you wouldn’t know it by this year’s games), Special Teams get even more important. You cannot consistently start with bad field position, give them good field position and expect to win the game. You might be able to get away with it against a creampuff in the regular season, but this is the playoffs. Rule #3: Win the Special Teams Battle.
Don’t worry, there are more to come, but let’s let it happen naturally by breaking down the weekend’s festivities and letting each rule breathe a little.
Jets vs. Colts
This one is going to be close, I guarantee it. Frankly, it is impossible to look at this game without thinking Super Bowl III. I actually see a lot of comparisons between Namath and Sanchez, which is not at all settling. The first is that neither is particularly good. You heard me, Broadway Joe was a schmo for most of his career, even though he was beloved.
Anyone care to guess what his career TD:INT ratio was? Anyone? Ok, how about his career passer rating? Anyone want to guess? Well the TD:INT was 173:220. Career passer rating? 65.5. Those are not bad numbers, those are the kinds of numbers that get you benched, not enshrined. I understand his importance tot he game of the football and his influence, but he was not really a good QB. This brings me to my point about Mark Sanchez. It actually scares me more that he is not very good at this point in his career because even though none of the players involved are the same, it has that feeling about it. Jets are big underdogs who believe in themselves, charismatic yet crappy QB, powerful running game, and all the momentum in the world. The defense is pretty good too. Revis on Wayne, and maybe even Clark, the kind of D the Colts usually struggle with, and not even having to respect the ground game, things look ripe for an upset.
One note on the earlier Jets-Colts game. In the first half, the Colts actually were able to run the ball exceptionally well,e specially for a team that generally does not run the ball. I would not be completely astonished to see the Colts come out and run the ball well, but I definitely wouldn’t bet on it. Just keep it in mind. One other thing to keep in mind is that the Colts faced a Ryan-esque defense last week with Baltimore and did pretty well in nickel and diming them down the field and generally dominating the game and the possession. Not a bad team to play the week before when preparing for the Jets.
So I don’t want to do this. I really have self-loathing issues for what im about to do. Remember how I picked the Ravens over the Colts last week. I am picking the Jets this week and feel awful about it. Jets 22, Colts 17.
And for the record, I do believe in the reverse jinx. If you didn’t follow this, either wait til next week for the explanation, or just think harder.
Vikings vs. Saints
You could not have asked for more dominating performances coming in, and now you get a matchup of two seemingly similar but very different teams. The Vikings used to be a run first team, but have since let Favre sling it to great effect. Their defense was outstanding last week and held the ground game in check while harassing Tony Romo into being Old
Tony Romo who would get flustered. They just destroyed the Cowboys. The Saints did the same thing to the Cardinals as far as score but did it far differently. They ran all over the Redbirds, were flying around on defense forcing turnovers and making big time plays, Reggie Bush looked like the USC Reggie (which is scary, highlight reel below) and Drew Brees killed the rest of the birds with one stone/football. The stereotype about the New Orleans offense is that it is Brees slinging it, but if you have watched Saints football lately, you will notice that their running game sets it all up. It reminds me of the Edgerrin James Colts where everyone thought it was just Manning beating people. but any Colts fan could tell you that it was the running game that set up 80% of the offense (runs, play-action, and keeping the safeties from dropping back), and the rest was Manning being Manning. The Saints are very similar. I wouldn’t call it 80%, but their ground game makes it possible for Brees to carve up poultry defenses like it’s Thanksgiving Day (bad pun, but I’m not sorry for it). It is their balance that makes them such a scary offense, not their explosiveness.
Minnesota is the one-sided offense here, and their former strength, the running game, is what they will need if they want to pull the upset. It has been said way too many times, but New Orleans loves their Saints, and going into the Superdome and just cruising to victory doesn’t happen. I really do not know who to pick. The Vikings are great in domes, and are just as hot, if not hotter, than the Saints, but this is no regular dome. This is the Superdome, home of the scariest team in the playoffs. They may not always execute at 100% this weekend, but when they turn it on they are like Kobe or LeBron. You cannot stop them, you just hope to contain them. I don’t know who to take, but I really REALLY do not want to hear about Brett Favre for the next two weeks. I mean regardless we will have to go through the will-he-won’t-he drama that happens every offseason, but better to limit it to just that than get that on top of the Favre in the Super Bowl talk. I am going Saints out of pure spite for Brett Favre wasting my time on TV. Saints 33, Vikings 28.
Before closing things up, I have a little poll question for people. The question came up who the best player I have ever seen in college was in my lifetime. I thought maybe Tebow, maybe Vince Young, but I have to say Reggie Bush. No one lit up a field faster, or in a more exciting fashion than Reggie Bush. There was some disagreement on this, with a few votes Young, a few votes Tebow, and a few votes for Colt Brennan (fools), so I figured I would ask your opinion. Who is the best player you have ever seen at the college level (during your lifetime)?
For the record, if those picks were my Prime Minister, and I was the Parliament, I would give them a vote of zero confidence. I am shaken by my horrible performance this playoffs and have no idea who will win. I guess that just means you will have to watch. Enjoy. Oh, and as promised, the Reggie Bush highlight reel to influence your vote.
Note, there is a Part 2 to this video linked here. He was sick, maybe he will recapture it.