It's time for the hoopla. We are down to football's final four. The Rushmore of the NFL—the 4 teams who stacked up.
So far, ANDAPLAYERTOBENAMEDLATER has been 6-2 picking the playoff games. If I had actually bet these games, I'da been rich, but whatever. Let's take a look at the games.
Chargers at Patriots
I've been shocked more than anyone else at the Chargers beating of the Colts last week. Not only down LT and Rivers, but with a gimpy Gates....all the Chargers did was go out and paste one on a rested and revitalized Colts team. Now, San Diego has the insurmountable juggernaut known as the Patriots. No can win, right? Not so fast.
I admit. I've been sold on the Chargers. I thought they were beating up patsies (no pun intended) out in the AFC West. But a closer look revels something about how the Chargers beat Manning, Clark, Wayne and the Colts.
Namely, The Chargers have the best, most opportunistic pass defense in the NFL. With a unbelievable 30 interceptions during the regular season (8 more than the second place team), and a solid run defense, the Chargers are gonna make the Patriots work. Antonio Cromartie has shown the size and ability to be able to shut down an opponents big play wide receiver—something that will come in handy with Randy Moss, especially in the red zone. And nothing upsets the dashing Tom Brady more than a good pass rush, something that Mssrs. Merriman and Phillips can do.
The problem for the Chargers comes on offense. The Patriots are gonna tee off on Rivers, if he starts. Rivers was a revelation last week, going 14 for 19 and 264 yds. But with two gimpy knees, the Patriots are probably salivating as the go over different blitz schemes. San Diego has a very good run offense, and the Patriots have been deficient in that area (giving up a whopping 4.37 yds per carry), especially in the second half of the season, so expect the Chargers to try to establish that early. With L.T. gimpy himself, we might see Michael Turner used more than usual—his big, bruising running style can wear down an older team, like the Pats.
But over the long haul of the game, the Chargers are going to have to keep the Patriots honest. They must pass—they can't be one-dimensional and just run. (To that end, it is telling that the Chargers are 10-2 since they acquired Chris Chambers.) And in doing that they must, repeat, must, be mistake-free. The Patriots cannot be given turnovers deep in Charger territory. Anyway, in the pass game, my guess is the Chargers are going to try to use Vincent Jackson, all 6-5 of him, and create mismatches. Good luck, guys.
Another wild card are the special team of San Diego. Darren Sproles is a mighty mite of a kick/punt returner, and can be used as a weapon in the game plan as evidenced by his 56-yd TD reception last week against the Colts. Also, a big weapon is punter Mike Scifres, who single-handedly helped save the Charger season with an absolutely sick punt late in the game against the Colts which drove them back into their own territory. (He averaged 59 yards a punt against the Colts. Averaged).
On the whole, I'm not a brave enough man to predict the biggest upset since the Spanish Armada started taking on water. But I will say, I have a feeling it might not be the 14+ spread Las Vegas has the game at right now. If the Chargers remain mistake-free, get some big plays from their special teams, can put some pressure on Brady and can run the ball regularly, they have a shot. Lotsa luck guys; my pick is the Patriots.
Giants at Green Bay
All the headlines talk about -28F predicted for Lambeau at game time. If I were Eli, I'd be more worried about Aaron Kampman coming by to try to warm me up in a ferocious sack. Kareem McKenzie, after having a good year, only giving up four sacks, hasn't played well in the postseason. He needs to shape it up, because Eli needs time. What's more, the Packers good pass rush comes with them not blitzing often—only 3 other teams blitzed less than Green Bay. So the Giants can't afford to keep a TE or RB back just to protect Eli.
It's a dream game for old-time football fans. Both teams stuff the run brilliantly, and with Mr. Coldmeiser having his way on Sunday, both teams are gonna run the ball, early and often. As good as the Giants have been in this department during the playoffs, neither Bradshaw or Jacobs has dictated a game. Rian Grant has. He took a stout Seattle defense and lit them up for 201 yards and 3 TDs. Advantage Packers.
The Giants are hurting too, on defense. Aaron Ross, arguably the Giant no. 1 corner, left the Cowboy game in the 3rd quarter, though he claims to be fine. Their other corner Sam Madison missed the Cowboy game and is questionable for the Packers. Add to that, the Giants don't have much in the way of corner depth (Kevin Dockery?). If Green Bay gives Farve the green light, watch out. The Giants were 17th in the league defending the pass (7.01 ypa), and most of that number came from their good pass rush. On top of that, the Giants were abysmal in the red zone. Not good when facing Farve and Ryan "Don't wake me" Grant.
The Giants have surprised in these playoffs, mostly because of Manning's composure. But now he's facing a insanely cold day and Charles Woodson and Al Harris, both of who have playoff experience and can tie up Plaxico and Amani. (What better names WR names are their in football?) Which would leave Eli to check down. Can Kevin Boss beat the Packers? Can the Giant RBs win the game from the flat? I think Eli's going to have a tough day Sunday. Pick: Packers.
It's a sequel, folks. Super Bowl XXXI, which had the Packers beat the Pats 35-21. Well, that didn't settle it. Because on Feb 3rd, they are gonna meet up and settle it once and for all.