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AFC + NFC TITLE GAMES
A look at the AFC and NFC Championship games, over the course of history, shows us that quite a few of these contests are one sides blowouts. As a matter of fact, since 1970, there have been 74 title games, with 38 of them being decided by 14 points or more. That's more than half folks. 48 of those games were decided by 11 points or more.
It makes sense I guess. You have to figure that the very best team from each conference is going to find there way to this game more often than not. But their opponents aren't always the 2nd best teams. Often times surprise teams find their way here. Or, there is just that much of a gap between the best and the runners up. Whatever the case may be, there's always a good chance in this round that the cream rises to the top and we see a one sided game.
What seems to be missing this year though, and what could open the door for the underdogs, is DEFENSE! Throughout these playoffs this year, there has been a lack of a dominating defensive effort we're so accustomed to seeing in January. Even last year, we had the Colts, who lacked defensively all year long, suddenly find a defense in the playoffs. Their opponent, the Bears, led the league defensively all year.
Over the course of history, you won't find too many teams that made it this far and on to the Super Bowl, on the backs of their offense alone. But in watching this years playoffs, you didn't see that dominating defense. Ironically, of the four remaining teams, it's the New York Giants, a team that entered the playoffs as the only playoff team with a negative turnover ratio, who might be playing the best defense!
You certainly didn't get the impression watching the Patriots that they were going to pitch a shut out anytime soon. The Jags moved the ball with relative ease. Are the Pats that good offensively that is doesn't matter? Perhaps. But that certainly would seem to open the door for backdoor covers against the Giants, Packers or even a healthy Chargers team. We shall see. On to the games...................
CHARGERS AT PATRIOTS
3 PM EST
Over the Summer last year, when looking ahead to the NFL season, I circled week 2 on the NFL schedule. Specifically, the Chargers visiting the Patriots. The year before, the 14-2 Chargers lost to the Patriots 24-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs, after having the Pats on the ropes. The Pats threw salt in the wound with their post game celebration on the field, pissing off several Chargers including LaDainian Tomlinson. Week two represented a classic next season revenge game for the Chargers who had a score to settle. There was a slight problem though. The week before, the Jets blew the whistle on the Patriots and pointed out their signal stealing tactics. The Patriots were about to go on a tear through their NFL schedule blowing out anyone who got in their way. The Chargers were victim number one, and lost in week 2, 38-14.
Now, one can certainly make a case this time around, for another shot at revenge here. How sweet it would be to knock the Perfect Pats from the playoffs. Now that would be some big time revenge!
We can't sell these Chargers short either. Since a November 18th loss at Jacksonville, 24-17, the Chargers have gone 8-0 and have covered every single one of those games. In those regular season games, you won't find any of the NFL elite, but then hey, they did go into Indy last week and upset the Colts in their own building and they did so without their Starting QB and star running back for much of the game.
The deck would seem to be stacked against the Chargers for sure. Rivers is still questionable and Tomlinson will probably go, but neither will be 100%. Considering the history of the title games, and the Patriots season in general this year, it would certainly seem that if one of these title games this weekend was going to stay true to form, it would be this one here with a blow out win by the Pats.
The Jags, as the media and everyone else suggested, were probably the team best built to give the Pats a battle. But while they gave up some yards and appeared to show some weakness defensively, The Pats offense could not be stopped and we simply don't see that changing. Not this week. Not in the AFC Title game. Not by a Chargers team playing at less than 100%.
The Chargers on the road this year were a .500 team. Last weeks playoff win in Indy makes them 5-4 on the road this year. They outscored opponents on the road 24-22 with yards per point numbers of 14 on offense and 16 on defense for a +2. The Patriots were 9-0 at home this year outscoring their opponents 34-14 with YPP numbers of 12 on offense and 21 on defense for a +9.
The Patriots are the better team. Is the line inflated here? Yes. For sure. It's inflated because, well, this is the AFC title game and the lines on just about all title games are inflated due to the history of blowouts. It's also inflated because of the health of this Charger team.
If there figures to be a game where the Patriots play to form, to the level they played at for 80% of the 2007-2008 season, this would have to be the one. The offense is clicking and simply can't be stopped. The Chargers are banged up and Belichick will take away whatever strength is left. The Chargers have the advantage of being able to play with a nothing to lose approach, but lose they will. Only the margin is in doubt here and all indications are that the margin will be more than two touchdowns, despite the Patriots failure to cover big numbers down the stretch and the Bolts covering their last 8 games.
3* PATRIOTS -13.5
NEW YORK GIANTS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS
6:30 PM EST
Right off the bat here we'll tell you that we see a potential major problem for the New York Giants in this game.......Quarterback. Hey, Eli Manning has had a great post season and not all of the inconsistent play this year can be blamed on Eli alone. Giant receivers have dropped their share of passes this year and the offense has not always had the help of the defense. Football is still a team sport. Put Eli Manning behind center in New England, with all the time in the world to throw, and receivers that rarely drop passes and always seem to find seams, and you probably have people talking about Eli in the same breath as Peyton.
But the cold weather forecast for Green Bay this weekend could be a problem. Manning didn't perform well in a few games down the stretch where weather was obviously a factor. Manning himself admitted the weather caused some problems. It's not that Manning isn't used to playing in cold weather with windy conditions. Giants Stadium winds are among the most difficult conditions to play under in the entire NFL and it can get pretty cold in North Jersey. But, Manning doesn't have an outstanding record of success under those conditions. So, yes, he plays under rough conditions at times, but he doesn't play well.
His opponent however, Mr Favre, is quite the opposite. He's been playing in Green Bay for 16 years and we all know what the Green Bay weather is like in December and January. Unlike Eli, Favre has a damn good record under these conditions. How about 43-5 when the temperature is 34 degrees are less. Not bad huh?
So we have a proven cold weather winner going up against a QB who has not played well in bad weather. Plus, the obvious experience edge in a game like this. Favre has been there and done that. For Eli, this is new territory. You can't underestimate the Quarterback position in big games. For every Trent Dilfer that makes it at this level (title games), there's 5 or 6 Marino's, Elway's, Favres, Montana's and so on. Great Quarterbacks win big games.
You can't ignore the story line here either. Can you imagine Favre going to the Super Bowl to end his career? Can you imagine Favre winning the Super Bowl? Talk about a storybook ending! Everyone wrote the guy off last year and said he should retire. Simply amazing. Give credit where credit is due. The man is a winner.
So, does this game rest on Eli Manning's shoulders? Are the hopes of the New York Giants riding on the back of a QB who led the league in interceptions? A QB who this year, threw the most incomplete passes in a single game in 40 years? A QB who fumbled the ball 5 times against the Bills and threw 3 picks against the Vikings that went the other way for TD's????
The answer is no.
Manning is just a piece of the puzzle. Credit not just Manning in the playoffs, but the Giant coaching staff for not putting Manning in position to throw games away. Credit the Giants for utilizing other areas of strength on the team and taking pressure off Manning. Credit the running game. Credit the defense. Credit the play calling utilizing short, high percentage passing plays mixed in with a solid running game. That's why Manning has thrown just one pick along with 8 TD passes in his last 3 games and that's exactly what the Giants need to do this week in Green Bay.
Don't write the Giants off just yet. They are built for a game like this. The Giants field one of the best running games in the NFL. 4th overall actually, and 1st among the remaining playoff teams. They have a unique back tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs is 6-4 and 265 pounds while Bradshaw is one of the smaller backs in the NFL. Jacobs will run through you while Bradshaw will run by you.
This game, like so many others, will come down to big plays and turnovers. Where the Giants will be gambling, is on defense. They'll blitz Favre and get after him as they did all year long leading the NFL in sacks. But going after Favre leaves the banged up and suspect Giants secondary even more vulnerable.
For the Giants to win, they need to run the ball, short passes, keep the game out of Eli's hands, on offense. On defense, they need to continue to gamble, get after Favre and hope that creates a couple of key turnovers.
For the Packers to win, Favre needs to burn that Giant secondary and create a couple of big plays along the way. Defensively they need to stop the run and the short passes and make Eli beat them. If they force Eli to go downfield and get away from the game plan, there's a high probability that we could see the return of the interception king.
So what's it gonna be?
The Giants have put forth one of the best road performances in NFL history this year. 9-1 Overall including 2 playoff games, last week shutting down one of the most explosive teams in the NFL this year in their own building, the Cowboys, and the week before that scoring 24 points on one of the most highly regarded defensive teams. They have road yards per point numbers of 14 on offense and 18 on defense for a +4 overall. Their only road loss came in week one at Dallas. So, it's been 9 straight road wins for the Giants and let's not forget that the G-men play in the NFC East. Skins twice. Cowboys twice. Eagles twice.
The Packers are equally impressive at home. 8-1 with yards per points numbers of 13 on offense and 19 on defense for a +6. But the Packers dance card has some big wins over some teams that weren't so good this year. Such as the Raiders, Lions, Chiefs, Panthers, Broncos and Rams. When a couple of NFC East teams came to town to play the Pack, we saw some close games. 16-13 over the Eagles. 17-14 over the Skins. The Chargers came in and lost by a touchdown. The Bears beat the Packers outright 27-20. So, to sum up, with the Packers, we see blow out wins against bad teams. Against good teams, we see games decided by 7 or less, and against the NFC East, against teams the Giants see most often, we see field goal games.
When these two met in New York in September, the score was 14-13 after 3 quarters. Green Bay scored 3 unanswered touchdowns in the 4th quarter. The Giants averaged almost 6 yards per rush compared to the Packers 3. Favre outperformed Eli., but the Giants have come a long way since then. This weeks game has the potential to be a good one. All the ingredients are there for a good, close, NFC Title game. It doesn't look like a blow out scenario. So, with that in mind, we are going to grab +7.5 with the Giants here. This game has a better than average chance of being decided in the final 5 minutes, in which case, we like our chances here with the balanced Giants, playing well and making big plays on both sides of the ball.
4* GIANTS +7.5
Playoff games rated from a low of 1* to a high of 7*
Playoff Record 9-3 OVERALL
1* winners includes a +130 money line play