Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conference Championships! Woo Hoo!

Colts vs. Jets:

The problem with trying to call this game is that the Jets have some sort of gypsy mojo going on that seems to carry about 1 team each year way too far. Last year Arizona spontaneously went from crap to gold in 3 weeks and Pittsburgh was able to duck a much better Tennessee team in the AFC Championship because the Titans had 146 turnovers in the divisional round. In 2008 it was the Giants and stuff like the ridiculous Tyree catch. In 2007, Indy inexplicably figured out how to defend the run after 10 years of not stopping anyone, and made a miraculous comeback against an exhausted Pats team in Indy's dome, which had been raised to 85 degrees (no, I'm not bitter about any of this--why do you ask?). The point here is that when you look up close, there's crazy stuff happening. But when you take a step back, crazy stuff ALWAYS happens and the surprise is what it is and who gets the breaks.

As I mentioned above, the Jets are riding the mojo train right now. They had a great break playing a shitty Bengal club and then pulling the upset of the Chargers largely on the back of 3 missed field goals. When you have the NFL's all-time most accurate kicker screw up 2 short field goals (I'll give a pass on the long one) and then get that preposterous Revis interception in the same game you win by 3 points, things are going your way.

Against Indy, I just have a hard time seeing them able to put up enough points to win. I think they'll keep it close, maybe a 3 or 6 point margin, but does anyone feel comfortable betting against Manning at home now? Granted, Manning has never been as good in the playoffs as in the regular season, as his career playoff record is 7-8. (Odd stat I just learned: In the Colts' 2007 Super Bowl run--their only successful postseason-- Manning actually had his worst set of playoff games, finishing with 3 TDs and 7 INTs. How 'bout that?) I have a great deal of respect for the Jet defense, and they're playing as well as any unit except potentially Minnesota.

I just have some concerns about the Jets putting points on the board. Can someone tell me how the Jets are going to do things differently from the Ravens did? They're basically running the same type of game, and despite winning 2 games, Mark Sanchez flat out isn't doing enough for them to beat Indy at home. They're going to need to get to 20 to win, and I can't see them getting there. On the running side, the Jets have a hell of a combo with Greene and Thomas. But so did the Ravens. The Jets can pound Indy inside, and they'll have to if they're going to have a chance. I'm guessing Indy stacks it up in the front and forces the Jets to force it to the outside, where their ends and undersized linebackers can run them down.

For Indy, they'll occasionally try some draws and their stretch play in the running game, but it's going to be 90% Manning. Manning has been traditionally been tough against the blitz because he's able to find the open man quick and get it out, even if it's only for a short gain. The key element is going to be the Indy blitz pick-up. If they can prevent the first rusher from getting in Manning's face, Indy wins it by 7-10 points. If the Jets can get to him and force bad throws, they might be able to pull the upset. I think Revis will slow Wayne, but the other wideouts will get just enough space to make a few catches when they need them. I don't see who is going to cover Clark, and I look for him to have a pretty good game--maybe 70 yards and a TD.

I'm guessing it's sort of a grinding type game with some long drives for both sides. Neither team has the big play type of offense and both have enough defensive speed to limit the other side down field. The Jets play a style that keeps these games close, but I'm thinking Manning makes just enough plays to get the win.

The Pick: Indy, 20-16.

Minnesota vs. New Orleans:

I look at this game and for whatever reason, I just see the Pats-Giants Super Bowl. I know there are some differences, but my guess is that it plays out somewhat the same. Right now the over/under is about 53, but I'm guessing it finishes about a little below that. While I think the Saints have the higher potential upside, my sense is that the matchups in this game favor the Vikings slightly. Not only that, I hear Prince has written a song for the Vikings, so that's worth about a TD or so.

Clearly, New Orleans' approach to every game is to score a lot of points early with the pass game, and then allow the defense to attack while the other team tries to come back. It's a pretty good system, but by the same token, if you can get up on them or just stay conservative, you can put points on the board. The top element of this game is the way that the Minnesota front 4 matches up with the Saint O-line. I don't care how good the QB is: If he's running for his life, he's not going to be effective. What makes the Vikes so tough is that they can bring big-time pressure without having to being extra men. The general rule is that against bad quarterbacks you blitz, and against good ones, play coverage. The Vikings don't have a Revis-level corner, and they need to maximize their coverage with extra guys back there. I love Jared Allen and Kevin Williams up front, and I think they make an enormous impact in forcing early throws.

I don't like the matchup for the Saint run game. They're basically a finesse line who get their yardage as a change-up from the pass game, and when teams play extra defensive backs. Since Minnesota won't likely change what they do, I don't foresee much success up front for the Saints. They'll get some yardage, but it won't be a major element of the game, maybe a total of 22 carries for 80 yards or something. Bush had a big game for them last week, but he's so inconsistent that it's hard to gauge what he'll do. He's playing for a new contract, but I have a hard time seeing him having an impact like he did last week against an abysmal Cardinals defense.

On the other side, the key for the Vikings is to slow the game down and pound Peterson as much as possible. It's a big Viking line that had their best game in a long time against a good Cowboy unit last week, and they should be able to get some push up front. The Saints are a smaller unit, similar to the Colts, and they'll probably need to commit more men up front to slow the run game. If the Vikes are effective running the ball, this should set up more play action for Favre. I was surprised at the success Favre had throwing the ball down field last week, considering how many of them were basically just thrown up in the air. That being said, the safety Sharper will make plays if given a chance, and Jabari Greer is pretty tough. Using the play action to hold Sharper for a second will give the Viking receivers a big help in getting open.

As for the Saint pass rush, the Vikes should be able to handle it if they commit the extra man on Will Smith. They should be able to use Kleinsasser to chip on him, and he doesn't have the size to get off of McKinnie once they get locked up.

Certainly the absence of Percy Harvin would be a big loss if the migraines keep him out. He gives Minnesota another big play option and a special teams presence that could bring some serious impact. But overall, this game should come down to two matchups: (1) the pass rush of the Minnesota front 4 vs. the Saint blockers; and (2) the Minnesota O-line in run blocking vs. New Orleans' front 7, allowing Peterson to get into the second level of defenders. Essentially, the other matchups are lop-sided, in that there's no way the Viking defensive backs can match up with the Saint passing game without pressure up front. No Way. Similarly, I don't see how the Saints can effectively run on a consistent basis against the Viking front 7. In the end, it ends up being close in what should be a well-played game.

The Pick: Vikings, 27-24.

1 comment:

  1. Can you write something about time travel? If not, let us know how you think Perry v. Schwarzenegger will shake out? Will this go to the Supreme Court? If so, how will they rule?