As football fans, could we ask for a better pair of games on championship Sunday?
In the AFC, we have the ultimate offense vs. defense matchup with the New York Jets bringing their ferocious defense and smash mouth running game into Indianapolis to play Peyton Manning and the great Colts offense.
In the NFC, another great storyline. The ageless Brett Favre and the stout Minnesota Vikings defense going into New Orleans to play the juggernaut Saints offense, and a team that is not only playing for themselves, but for a fan base and city that have suffered through unthinkable amounts of torment in the past few years due to Hurricane Katrina.
While many of us, myself included, are disappointed that our teams are not playing this week, we cant help but be intrigued by these matchups.
I'll begin with the AFC.
I have become a huge fan of the Jets ever since the Rex Ryan hiring. Perhaps it's because I'm an Eagles' fan, and it's the "Ryan factor." Perhaps it's the fact that I love watching teams who pound you to death with a dominating running game, or that I enjoy watching a team play great defense. Especially one that terrorizes opposing QB's.
The "other" team from North Jersey has become the talk of the town. And even though I'm not a true Jets fan, I have high hopes for this team in the coming decade. The foundation is there, and this team will only get better in the coming years. They have exceeded my expectations already this season.
I have my doubts again this week that Mark Sanchez can truly step up and do something that no rookie has ever done, or that they are ready to take the next step and beat Manning on the road in a championship game. Am I wrong again? As much as I'd like to say a resounding YES, I just dont think so.
I think the Jets will make the Colts miserable all day long. Much like the Baltimore Ravens did for most of last week's game, the Jets will make every yard the Colts gain be a war.
The Jets will attempt to punish the Colts defense with their running game, keeping Peyton on the sidelines, and run their way to another upset. However, I just don't see them being able to impose their will running the ball quite as effectively against the Colts as they did vs. the Bengals and Chargers.
The Colts run defense has been under a lot of scrutiny for a long time. Not many thought they would be able to shut down Ray Rice and company last week, but the Colts proved all of their detractors wrong. Some may say it was the three weeks of rest coming into the game, I believe it was them stepping up and playing to their true abilities.
Will the Colts totally shut down the Jets running game? Absolutely not. But I think Peyton and company do just enough to pull this one out. Sorry Jets fans, but for now anyway, Mark Sanchez vs. Peyton Manning in what should be a close game down the stretch, I gotta go with Manning.
Colts in a very close one. 20-16.
Now, the NFC.
Brett Favre continues to amaze us all with his fantastic play, well into his 40s. The Vikings defensive line is tossing people around like rag dolls. Just ask the Cowboys how good that line is. Romo spent most of the second half running for his life. And that was a pretty darn good Dallas offensive line. And, the Favre to Sidney Rice combo has to be reminding many Viking fans of Culpepper to Moss.
Meanwhile, Sean Payton and the Saints offense look like they are running on all cylinders. They even found a way to have Reggie Bush run effectively between the tackles. The Saints may not have many WR's whose names jump out at you, but they find new ways each week to demoralize opposing defenses. Whether it's Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachum, Jeremy Shockey, Lance Moore, etc. Someone always seems to step up and make plays.
The Saints also surprised a lot of people last week with how they handled the equally-as-talented Arizona Cardinals' offense. Their defense, much like their offense, may not have the big names, but collectively, they get the job done.
However, the Dallas game aside, which coincidentally was their first loss, the Saints have not seen a defense like the Vikings will bring to the Superdome on Sunday. They will get after Brees like no one else has. They will bring a balanced offense as well.
Will it be enough for the Vikings to overcome the fact that they are not only playing against the Saints, but in a stadium that will be insanely loud and obnoxious, and also, in essence be playing against a whole city, which wants and needs this game like no fan base ever has?
I have to say, no. I'm not going to pick the Saints for sentimental reasons. As much it would be a great story, sentimental reasons don't win football games. I like what the Vikings bring to the table, and if this game were in Minnesota, I'd be predicting them to win.
Sean Payton has shown in the past few years that he has the ability to adjust. When you find a way to take away one portion of their offense, they beat you somewhere else. I think their numerous weapons will be just enough to get them over the hump, and their defense and the Superdome crowd in "Who 'Dat" nation will put enough pressure on Favre to force a few mistakes, and pull out a close one.
Should be a fun weekend for fans of all four teams, and football fans in general. Personally, I cant wait to sit back and enjoy these two great matchups.