Prior to the Snap, Championship Weekend: Yeah, It’s Kind of a Misnomer

Who cares about Bob Dylan when there’s football to be played? In New Orleans Town! I made the case last week that the Divisional Playoff round is the sport’s best weekend, Championship Sunday is its best day (until a fortnight from now, when I say the same thing about the Super Bowl, obvs). With two intriguing games and a lot of suffering fan bases with some karmic reparations due, it should be fun.

#2 Minnesota Vikings at #1 New Orleans Saints

Remember when everyone thought this was inevitable? Oh yeah.

And remember when you said it wasn’t? Me? When would I say such a thing?

And remember when you made fun of the Vikings for signing Brett Favre? I am insulted. Is this a preview post or a witch hunt?

And anyway, I stand by it! If Tarvaris Jackson quarterbacked Minnesota all season, the only difference is that this game would be in the Metrodome!

Come on: 37 TDs and 7 INTs? Who saw that coming? Brett Favre is football’s version of Brady Anderson or Bret Boone right now, except less subtle.

Right, because that comparison doesn’t in any way ignore that Brett Favre was a three-time MVP and Brady Anderson and Bret Boone sucked: Exactly.

So, does the rejuvenation continue? It’s an interesting game, no doubt. I mean, both of these teams looked pretty poor at the end of the regular season and absolutely lights-out last week. I put more stock in Minnesota’s win because it came against a better Dallas team that had been playing well. At the same time, I was impressed with New Orleans’ corners in limiting the Cardinals’ wideouts, Darren Sharper owns Brett Favre, and the game is in the Superdome.

What’s that home-field going to be like? While the Saints have lost two games this season at home, it’s going to be awfully loud in that place. I mean, really really loud. Like really loud. This is easily the biggest game in franchise history.

Something that maybe should be mentioned but hasn’t been: The Vikings were horrendous in punt coverage last year. While better this year, they’re still not great.

Reggie Bush can return punts very well. And the Vikings know this.

P.S. It has been mentioned.

Will Bernard Berrian’s personal hex on New Orleans carry over? That is true: The Saints are 0-1 in NFC Championship games against Bernard Berrian’s team. I’d rank this the 17th-biggest subplot of the game.

And the other 16? Don’t.

How about some legit analysis? Tempted to say “Don’t” again, but here goes: The key for New Orleans is going to be its ability to remain somewhat balanced. If the Saints abandon the run early, that will allow Jared Allen and Ray Edwards to pin their ears back and go after Brees—which as we’ve seen is the only way to contain that passing attack. On the other hand, if NO can mix in enough of Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and yes, Reggie Bush—and this integration can be through draws and screen passes, as well—that helps to negate the advantage Minnesota has with its tremendous front four. Look for the Saints to try to get Bush on the Vikings’ linebackers; since the loss of E.J. Henderson, that’s been the weakness in their defense.

Going the other way, Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson can’t turn the ball over. The Vikings have to win the turnover battle; you simply can’t give the Saints extra possessions. Everyone knows Darren Sharper will be lurking in the secondary, but that hasn’t stopped him from picking off nine passes this season. AD should be able to find more running room than Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower did (first play from scrimmage excepted), but I doubt he can get the eighth man in the box on a consistent basis (although can’t you kind of see Peterson go off for one of those 200-yard games he hasn’t had all year? And Favre getting to the Super Bowl without having to be the star?).

Playoff History: The Vikings have twice dispatched the Saints, 44-10 in a 1987 Wild Card game and 34-16 in a 2000 Divisional Playoff. Both were in Minneapolis.

Conference Championship History: The Saints have only been there once before, losing to Berrian’s Bears 39-14 in 2006. I feel like the game was closer than that score, though.

Minnesota, on the other hand, won its first four trips to football’s semifinals, only to lose its last four. Vikings fans certainly don’t want to be reminded of what happened in their last two trips to this round: that agonizing 30-27 home loss to the Falcons in 1998, and that awesome 41-0 loss to the Giants in 2000.

Did you say awesome? Well, for some of us.

The Verdict: I don’t think Minnesota gets the same number of big plays against the Saints’ secondary that it did against Dallas’. I do think New Orleans gets a few biggies from Brees, Bush, and its wideouts. The Vikings’ issues as an offensive line have been at the tackle position, and that’s the one most susceptible to the noise in the Superdome. I can see some false starts, I can see some pressure on Favre, I can see a ball thrown down the field and up for grabs.

I also see a close game, but again, when it’s close, you look at the more reliable QB, the better coach, and the home-field. All three point to a fleur-de-lis. Saints 31, Vikings 27.

#5 New York Jets at #1 Indianapolis Colts

So: Yep.

Josh is enjoying this: ‘Bout time. I’ve been waiting for that treatment for weeks.

He was patient: Yeah, he could have written a post like that in Week 3. Now he has a lot more ammo.

But: Bit of a jinx, am I right?

What do you think about the points he made? I think as much as you want to move Revis around to confuse Manning, you want to have him on Reggie Wayne about 75% of the time. I don’t care how much the Jets throw on first or second down; the Colts are gonna have eight in the box. The screen game could definitely work, as could a pass with Smith—so long as he’s shown in practice he can throw it. I shouldn’t need to remind Jets fans what happened  in the 1997 season finale when Parcells let Ray Lucas and Leon Johnson throw the ball. And yeah, if Matt Stover misses four field goals (decent kicker Shayne Graham missed two, good kicker Nate Kaeding missed three, great kicker Matt Stover will miss four), I think the Jets got a shot.

And if he only misses three…? The Jets have a shot regardless of the number of Matt Stover missed field goals.

With whom does karma reside in this one? The Colts as we all know rested their stars in the second half against the Jets to essentially allow New York to make the playoffs. So, do the Jets reciprocate by sitting out their stars as a thanks, or do they beat the Colts for disrespecting them and the game by not trying?

Tough call for Rex: When we look back, though, we’ll realize what an amazing ploy this was by Caldwell and Polian. They knew that the only team that could beat them was San Diego, and that the only team that could beat San Diego was New York, and the only way New York could get to that game was if the Colts rested their stars in the second half. Those guys are always looking one step ahead (like a carpenter…making stairs).

Is that a joke from The Office? Shhhh! Don’t tell John S!

Let’s talk strategy: Let’s.

Can the Jets run on the Colts? Yes.

Can the Colts run on the Jets? Probably not.

Can the Jets pass on the Colts? No.

Can the Colts pass on the Jets? Yes.

It’s a toss-up! Well, it’s all about degrees. For all the talk about how great the Jets’ running game is, it didn’t do much to move the ball against a mediocre defense in San Diego. Gang Green got one big run from Shonn Greene and a fourth-down conversion from Thomas Jones. Of course, if Green breaks a big TD run for the third straight week, that’s gonna be important, but overall, there’s no chance the Jets’ success on the ground matches the Colts’ success through the air.

Having said that, if New York can control the clock (35 minutes in ToP), convert third downs by using short passes from Sanchez to Edwards and Keller, and finish drives—you don’t win on the road in AFC Championships* with field goals (just ask the ’07 Chargers)—it’s going to be in the game the whole time. Much like the game last week in San Diego, New York has to avoid falling behind by two scores: They won’t be able to play the same conservative style. The longer the Jets stick around, though, the more pressure there is on Peyton Manning, who let’s face it, doesn’t have a whole lot on the “Pro” side of the ledger when he’s under a lot of pressure. He’s lost a lot of playoff games as a favorite, he’s lost a few playoff games at home. Sure, he won the Super Bowl as a heavy favorite, but his play was nothing above mediocre in that game. If it’s the fourth quarter and the Jets get a lead, watch out.

*But you can win NFC Championships on the road with field goals. Cue Matt Bahr!

Are you gonna do it? Are you gonna pick the Jets? Whoa. Keep your pants on, we’ve got some other stuff to cover.

Fine, Playoff History: The Jets are 2-0 against the Colts in the playoffs. Most people remember the 41-0 shellacking they laid on Peyton and Co. in the 2002 playoffs at the Meadowlands, but their victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III—the first for an AFL team—was actually more significant.

Wouldn’t it be kind of ironic and a nice historical homage if this year’s Colts inexplicably decided to bench their amazing starting quarterback and play the backup instead, just like those Colts did with Unitas and Morrall? What, you mean, a second time this season?

That’s right: The Jets’ history is marked with huge victories over the Colts sparked by inexplicable quarterback benchings.

How ironic would it be if Peyton Manning actually got hurt in this game? I don’t think you’re using “ironic” properly. What would have been ironic is if Manning had gotten hurt during his one series in Buffalo in Week 17.

Conference Championship History: The Jets have been here three times, beating the Raiders (27-23) in 1968, losing in 1982 to Miami (14-0) and again in 1998 to Denver (23-10).

The Colts are making their eighth trip, with a 3-4 record coming in. That mark is 1-2 since they moved to Indianapolis, and two of those three games (’95 @ Pitt, ’06 v. NE) were absolute classics.

The Verdict, or: Really? The Jets? Of course not. Remember, I’m pot-committed!

I do think there are some tense moments at Lucas Oil Stadium, and that Darrelle Revis tops himself with an even better interception this week (by, I don’t know, intercepting a pass intended for a wide-open Dallas Clark in the end zone even though Revis was on the other side of the field covering Reggie Wayne)(and then returning it 110 yards for a touchdown).

The Jets are going to have to do more to win this game than just hope the Colts lose it. In order to do that, they need to force a few turnovers, break a few big runs, and yes, throw the ball down the field and pray Braylon Edwards catches one. That’s a lot of things you have to bank on when you’re on the road for a playoff game.

I see Indianapolis grabbing a 10-0 lead, seeing it sliced to 10-3 at halftime and 13-10 somewhere in the third before the Colts start putting their foot down and pull away. Colts 23, Jets 13.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ned on January 22, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Are you nuts? the J E T S yes, the Jets will , yea, WILL win this game. A defensive score, you’re right , Revis 110 yard return. A special teams score and 13 points by the offense. Yes, it will be close and hard fought, But the Colts will somehow make mistakes. 27-21 JETS JETS JETS

    Reply

  2. Posted by Dan on January 22, 2010 at 7:49 PM

    Tim, what is the advantage of making a quarter by quarter prediction? It just seems like a lose/lose … unless you win …

    Reply

    • Posted by Tim on February 4, 2010 at 12:57 AM

      That’s true of any prediction. It’s a loss, unless you win. (And why such specifics? Because no one expects you to get them right. For instance, I predicted the Patriots would beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on a last-second 49-yard FG by Adam Vinatieri. The fact that they won on a last-second 48-yard FG by Vinatieri made my prediction that much more impressive.)

      Reply

  3. funny stuff.

    GEAUX SAINTS!

    Reply

  4. […] For “Getting Lost,” the new series in which John S takes a look at the most salient questions from last night’s episode of Lost, he’s borrowing Tim’s interlocutor style: […]

    Reply

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