Ravens fans, remember how we felt this time last year, when our Baltimore Ravens were getting ready to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Title Game? After two straight upsets on the road with a rookie QB at the helm and a rookie head coach on the sidelines, all of Baltimore was abuzz in purple passion as we wanted to show the league that we couldn't possibly lose to the same team three times in once season, after coming oh so close in the previous two. But alas, it was not to be, as we looked to be four minutes away from a Super Bowl berth before Steelers safety Troy Polamalu ended our hopes and our season with a interception for the game sealing TD.
Now we see four other teams, including one with a rookie QB and head coach and two road playoff wins, aiming to make history today with so many story lines. Let's take a look at the games and make our picks and pans, starting with the AFC and finishing with the NFC after the 'Jump.'
Colts over Jets: Sure, everyone said the exact same thing 40 years ago, when both teams were playing in different states. Now the Colts play in Indiana and the Jets play in New Jersey, but it was the same storyline, although the point spread is not quite as big and the guy practically guaranteeing victory this time is a bit fatter and coaches on the sidelines, not taking the snaps under center.
These two teams met in week 16 and it would be ironic that if the team that laid down that week to allow the Jets into the playoffs ends up losing to allow them to go to Miami. However, with the AFC Championship on the line, something tells me there is no way that Colts QB Peyton Manning lets his teammates and fans down with so much at stake at home. Manning was in the midst of efficiently carving the Jets up last time before he was pulled with a 15-10 lead and he, along with the entire team looked rested and in sync in their 20-3 victory last week against our Ravens. The Jets gameplan is pretty much the same as Baltimore's, run the ball, coddle the young QB and play solid defense. This didn't work for the Ravens last week and I don't see it working for the Jets this week either. While everyone talks about the top rated New York defense, people forget that the Colts defense was very stingy in the category that I see as the most important defensive category of all and that is points allowed. While the Jets surrendered a league best 14.8 points/game, the Colts only gave up 19.2 points/game (the Ravens gave up a league 3rd best 16.3 pts./game). The Jets' defense is well known and hard hitting, but the Colts is also very fast, athletic and always rises to the occasion in the playoffs. I cannot see the Jets running the ball effectively not to put rookie QB Mark Sanchez on the line and with the pass rush that the Colts have, I see Sanchez throwing picks that end up costing New York the game. Besides, when you have Peyton Manning prepared for a team he knows quite well and receiving options other than Reggie Wayne if he is blanketed as expected by the Jets Darrell Revis, you don't particularly care if your running game is virtually non-existent. Colts: 24-13
Vikings over Saints: While I really don't care which team in this game makes the Super Bowl, either one will bring great stories with them to the Big Game and today is no different with the old man in purple trying to get a ring in what could once again be his last NFL season (or not), vs. a team playing for a city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina only a few short years ago. Both teams boast prolific offenses with the Saints leading the league in points scored and Vikings not far (Favre) behind. However, I personally see Minnesota as the most balanced team on both sides of the ball of the remaining playoff teams in both conferences. Regardless of the fact that Adrian Peterson hasn't had a 100 yard performance in a while, he is still as dangerous as any player in the league once he gets the ball in his hands. If he can break off a few decent runs early in the game, the Saints defense will have to stop sitting back to stop Favre's passing and creep up closer to the line of scrimmage to slow down Peterson and then you just know what will happen. While New Orleans run game is not that bad, it doesn't compare to Minnesota's and the Saints run defense is nowhere near as strong as the Vikings. However, Saints QB Drew Brees has the skills and receivers to overlook that problem and still put points on the board with so many different quality receiving options, which should challenge the Vikings secondary all day. The thing that Minnesota has in its favor to counteract that is their non-stop pass rush, which totally unsettled Dallas QB Tony Romo last week and made his life miserable in their 34-3 drubbing. The Saints have as loud as a crowd as any team and that will help them stay in the game as the 12th man. Unfortunately, I see the balance of the Vikings outscoring and creating enough of a challenge to come out of New Orleans with a tough, close and exciting victory to face the Colts in the Super Bowl in what should be a great matchup for the Big Game. Vikings: 30-24