Well, here we are. It’s been a long NFL season and we’re officially only a day away from planning Super Bowl parties, calling Vegas and stacking up on tortilla chips. It’s kind of sad to see the season dwindle down but I’ll save that story for another day. 5-3 on my postseason picks so far and although most of the games have been routes, this weekend has to be, better be and needs to be competitive. I’ll make my selections with caution because both games are far from locks.
The Jets will be everyone’s Cinderella for Sunday but they’re well-equipped to topple the Colts. The Vikings have proven over their last two games how strong they are, but they’re weak on the road and New Orleans plays above and beyond at home. Should be (better be) an incredible weekend and if the regular season is proof of a preview, the Vikings/Saints game will be insane. In a good way of course.
New York Jets (11-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts (15-2) 3 p.m.
It may not be the matchup that most viewers wanted but it’s certainly what they’ll get. The New York Jets will travel to Indianapolis to take on the top-seeded Colts in the always marketable battle of David vs. Goliath. The Jets, fresh off their upset victory over the second-seeded San Diego Chargers, defeated the Colts 29-15 in a week 16 meeting during the regular season but Indianapolis rested several of their starters after halftime of that game while New York was fighting for a playoff berth.
New York first year quarterback Mark Sanchez will make the third time in the last five seasons that a rookie quarterback has started in the AFC’s Conference Championship game.
The Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco made his appearance last year while the Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger started as a rookie in the 2004 title game. Sanchez will be hoping for a better outcome as both Flacco and Roethlisberger lost their championship starts.
Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning will be making his fourth AFC title game appearance but 2009’s MVP will face a difficult task against defensive guru Rex Ryan. The Jets head coach has transformed New York’s defense into an aggressive blitz-heavy group, the kind of defense that Manning has struggled with in past playoff appearances.
The Jets defense is led by third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis, widely regarded as the best cornerback in the league. You absolutely don’t talk Jets without talking Revis and the corner’s play this season has been one of the headliners in the Jets’ success. His ability to handle marquee receivers one-on-one has been widely acknowledged across the league and it’s grown into a foregone conclusion he’ll shut down whoever he’s assigned to.
Revis will likely matchup with Manning’s top target Reggie Wayne and that battle will be critical towards the game’s outcome. Manning and Wayne have made a living of exposing secondaries this season but Revis’ presence could influence Manning to look elsewhere with the football.
While the Colts will be heavily favored, the Jets actually matchup extremely well with Indianapolis. The play of Revis and the Jets secondary could neutralize Manning and the Colts’ explosive passing attack while New York’s league-leading ground game could be problematic for an Indy team that notoriously struggles to stop the run.
On paper, the Colts should probably lose this game but the same could’ve been said last week when New York squared off against San Diego. The games aren’t played on paper and Manning will probably kick himself for the rest of his career if a quarterback of his stature loses to a rookie signal caller, regardless of how strong the opposing defense may be. Colts 20-10
Minnesota Vikings (13-4) vs. New Orleans Saints (14-3) 6:40 p.m.
The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints have been the two best teams in the NFC all season so it’s only fitting that they meet in conference’s title game to settle things out. The Vikings have been dominant at home but vulnerable on the road, where their only losses of the season have come in embarrassing fashion at times.
The Saints started the year as a dominant home team before a couple of late season losses lightened up their mystique. Their 45-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals last week restored that mystique somewhat but Arizona was missing a slew of key players.
The Vikings will be mostly healthy and will make a strong push on the road to get All-Pro quarterback Brett Favre, 40, one last shot at a Super Bowl. The challenge will be daunting for the Vikings who will be up against a raucous Saints crowd hungry for the club’s first Super Bowl appearance.
Including their 34-3 over the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Vikings have outscored their last two opponents 78-10 and appear to be on the right track after a late season slide. Minnesota has all the ingredients needed to advance including a strong running game, smothering defense and experienced quarterback. The same ingredients the Cowboys used to cook up an upset victory of the Saints at the Superdome earlier in the season.
But when focused, New Orleans has been dominant at times this season and will undoubtedly be tuned in for their biggest game of the season so far. Their three-headed ground attack featuring Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas helped churn out a 171-yard performance against a pretty strong Arizona run defense. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical against the Vikings dominant pass rush.
Minnesota thrives on getting to the passer with just four rushers and the protection of Brees will be critical in the outcome. The Vikings secondary has been chop suey at times this year and if Brees has time, well, let’s just say that wouldn’t be good for Minnesota. But New Orleans defense isn’t the best and Minnesota can put up some points as well so a shootout could be in the making.
It will be the third meeting between Favre and Saints quarterback Drew Brees with their personal series tied at 1-1. It will also be Favre’s second NFC title game appearance in the last three seasons. The experience and the pressure for one last Super Bowl run before he calls it quits will weigh heavily in Favre’s corner. This is what he came back for and he’s only a game away from the ultimate goal. Regardless of how good the Saints have been this year, Minnesota is stocked full of talent and riding off in the sunset is a motion picture just waiting on Favre to sign off on and he won’t let New Orleans turn off his Swan song. Vikings 30-28
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