Tony Donohue Previews This Weekend's NFL Conference Title Games
Colts, Jets, Vikings, Saints. One of those teams, as we all know, will be crowned Super Bowl champion.
The final four of the NFL, if you will, is set to do battle this Sunday. The Vikes, Saints, and Colts are no surprise, but the young, surging Jets—like the Cardinals of last season—have got hot at the right time down the stretch. Let's start with their AFC title game.
J-E-T-S, Jets Jets Jets. Led by first-year head coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets were predicted to finish third in their division. After losing Brett Favre to Minnesota, it was uncertain how Sanchez would handle the pressure of New York.
In stepped Ryan's defense and running backs. The defense of the Jets is tops in the league, giving up 252.3 yards a game and holding teams to a 153 yard average through the air. The key to the Jets winning is shutting down the big-play receivers and keeping Peyton Manning, who averages 253 passing yards a game, in check.
On the other side of the ball, The Jets' rushing attack is what has gotten them points on offense. Thomas Jones is the league's third-leading rusher with 1,402 yards. He and rookie running back Shonn Greene have combined to average 174 rushing yards per game. If the Jets' rushing attack can carry the load to take pressure off Sanchez, they may pull of the upset, but these are the same Jets that lost at home to the Falcons, Jaguars, Bills, and Dolphins, mind you.
The Colts blew the Week 16 matchup against the Jets. They took the foot off the pedal and any other metaphor you have for it. Get it over it; it doesn't matter now.
The Colts are the better team. Period.
Manning has one too many weapons more than Darrelle Revis can handle. Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon are the targets to Peyton's gun, and the Colts' passing game will come out blazing.
It is tough to run against the Jets, so the Colts will go to the passing game and get it done. Look for Peyton to run the hurry-up and keep the Jet D on its toes, and don't be surprised if Manning takes a few shots down field on first down.
The key on the defensive side is simple—stop the run. Make Sanchez beat you. The rushing game has got them this far for the Jets, not Sanchez's 63.0 quarterback rating. He threw just 12 touchdowns against 20 interceptions during the regular season. Put pressure on him early and often. The Colts had 34 sacks and 16 picks heading into the playoffs. The Oil Can in Indy will be rockin' on Sunday, as I see the Cols heading to their second Super Bowl in four years.
Take the Colts, 34-17.
The NFC side of the card has the Vikings heading to the Superdome to battle the Saints. If this doesn't get you excited, please seek medical attention. Both teams play excellent football on both sides of the ball.
The Saints have arguably the best offense in the league. Drew Brees loves to air it out, but the Saints can also run on you. Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are two of the most explosive running backs in the league. The Saints can beat you in so many ways—the long ball, power running, or on defense.
If the Saints D, lead by Pro Bowler Darren Sharper, can stop Favre's big-play capability, they will have a good shot at winning. Here's my concern, though: What Saints team will show up? The one that last week knocked the high-powered Cardinals offense out by a 45-14 blowout, or the Saints team that squeaked out wins at Washington and St. Louis and lost at home to Tampa Bay?
The Vikings, with the ageless Favre at the helm, are flying high. They blew out the Cowboys last week, holding the 'Boys to a field goal. Minnesota and Indianapolis have a lot in common—an arsenal of weapons on offense and a hard hitting D.
Favre can hit Sidney Rice, who had three scores last week, Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian. And oh yeah, I almost forgot, they have one of the top rushers in Adrian Peterson, who is complemented in the backfield by veteran Chester Taylor.
The D is too much for the Saints, who will rely too heavily on the deep ball to beat you. The Vikes will bring the rush, and have Drew Brees scrambling to make big plays down field that will not come.
I'll take the Vikings, 38-27.
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