Saturday, January 19, 2008

Championship Sunday preview

By Rick Morris

The inescapable conclusion after last Sunday is that the stunning upsets we witnessed are preventing us from witnessing what could have been a much better Championship Sunday (the thought of this saddens me greatly – it’s one of my favorite days of the year and I love to have my friends over for a daylong feast of gridiron). Indy and New England clearly have established the greatest intra-conference rivalry of the decade, joining the Dallas/San Francisco battles of the ‘90s, the San Francisco/Washington/New York Giants triad of the ‘80s and the Pittsburgh/Oakland struggle of the ‘70s in the pantheon of great back-and-forth struggles. Likewise, Dallas and Green Bay have established a tremendous history both separately and in epic games against each other and both clearly appeared to be on a clear path to the NFC title game. The games we are left with seem to be lacking compared to what might have been.

AFC Championship Game: The Patriots delivered a huge 38-14 beatdown back in September, at least momentarily taking the air out of the sails of a Charger franchise itching for a legitimate rivalry with the Team of the Decade after last year’s crushing playoff loss. In fairness, the Chargers were still adjusting to a new system after massive coaching changes coming into 2007 and were not ready to be pronounced as brutal failures under Norv Turner, as I and so many others did. Nevertheless, they still don’t stack up as well against the Pats as the Colts, who probably also would have lost but probably would have kept it closer. San Diego is banged up, with key injuries at QB, RB and TE – while all of their big-name players will probably participate in some role, the team will suffer mightily for them not being 100%. The Hoodie will be prepared for either Philip Rivers or Billy Volek; don’t be surprised if there is some shuffling between these quarterbacks in a vain attempt to gain a matchup edge of some sort. Ironically, Charger castoffs Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau have been playing very well this year and pose two significant obstacles for their old team. On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville has taken an unfair “20/20 hindsight” rap this week for not pressuring Tom Brady more; frankly, what they accomplished was to avoid a string of humiliating big plays with him decimating their blitz. The cold, hard reality is that it takes more than 11 defenders to shut down the New England offense this year, period. As far as I can tell, the league is granting San Diego no special dispensation Sunday and they will have to get by with the standard 11! The only hope for the Chargers, and it is a very remote one, is for playmaking corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer to account for at least three turnovers and for the offense to convert almost every conversion. It won’t happen. New England wins, 38-17.

NFC Championship Game: Call it heresy given the copious amounts of respect coming their way, but I’m still not very impressed with the Giants. The alpha and omega of their defense is a pass rush; that’s it. Giant discard Ryan Grant is the real deal, a legitimate superstar who had his first career-defining game last week in the massacre of Seattle. He has provided the impressive Packer offense with the balance it lacked for the first half of the year and he figures to run all over the New York D. While the fearsome pursuit the Giants can bring will result in a few sacks and knockdowns of Brett Favre, he will nonetheless pick apart the secondary with precision most of the time. Meanwhile, Eli Manning’s recent hot streak should not end with a sudden thud in this game. The Giants should be able to use their rotation to establish the power running game in the snow and keep the Green Bay defense honest. I do look for one or two key interceptions, including a late one to seal the first Packer Super Bowl berth in a decade. Green Bay wins, 27-16.

No comments: