Through two weekends of the playoffs, I’ve managed to go 1-1 on every day thus far. Which means I’ll probably go 1-1 on Sunday’s picks as well. If you’re using my picks to gamble (and if you are, really? Why?) then be prepared for another split.
Jets (+8) at Colts
We have a matchup of the dominant team from the regular season against a team that was lucky to just make the playoffs. A quarterback matchup featuring the NFL’s biggest star against a rookie who most Jets fans have been praying that he doesn’t mess anything up.
As far as who the national news media will be pulling for, I’m going to say that most would prefer the Jets. Sure, if the Colts win, you get Peyton Manning in the big game. But they would have been a much bigger story had they not rested their starters and been undefeated heading in. And there might be too much of a “been there, done that” feeling about the Colts, since they’ve been contenders for about a decade now, and won the Super Bowl three years ago. On the other hand, with the Colts, you get a “superstar” QB matchup against either Brett Favre or Drew Brees.
As for the Jets, if they win, then you’ll have a New York team in the Super Bowl (so it’s sure to be overhyped), a boisterous coach in Rex Ryan, and most importantly, since the Jets would be huge underdogs, there would be a lot of “Shades of Super Bowl III” stories.
As far as talent goes, the easy answer is to say the Colts are overwhelmingly better. After all, they were undefeated for most of the season, and have the great QB. But if you look at the Colts’ wins, many of them were close, and in quite a few, they had to come from behind. They rarely blew teams out, and often relied on some fortunate breaks. Like last week, when the Ravens could have gotten right back in the game with Ed Reed’s interception, only he fumbled the ball right back, pretty much killing their chances. Of course, there’s something to be said about being able to win close games. Some teams don’t have the ability to do so. Look at the Patriots two years ago. They blew everyone away in the regular season, and were rarely tested. In the Super Bowl, they weren’t necessarily ready to make the clutch plays it takes to win a close game.
The Jets have won two playoff games by using a strong running game and a few key plays by QB Mark Sanchez. In addition, the defense has been outstanding, highlighted by cornerback Darelle Revis, who might be the best defensive player in the NFL. He has shown the ability to shut down any receiver. There’s a good chance that he’ll be matched up against star Colts WR Reggie Wayne, and force the Colts other, less heralded weapons to beat them.
This will be a close game. And I think that the Jets have a chance, but will ultimately fall short. It’s very difficult to win three straight road games in the NFL. It’s almost impossible to win three straight playoff games (only been done once). I think the Colts have the experience, the talent, and also the home field advantage (their defense plays very well at home) that will pull it out.
Final Score: Colts 20, Jets 16
Vikings (+4) at Saints
Here’s another game where the national media gets a winner either way. If the Saints win, they get to go with the whole “The Rebirth of New Orleans is Complete!” angle, as well as promoting a new star in QB Drew Brees. On the other hand, the Vikings have Brett Favre. And the media loves Brett Favre. I think if the Vikings win, John Madden might have to be brought out of retirement just to commentate the game. He doesn’t have to call any of the game action, he can just talk about Favre the entire game. This is essentially all he did when covering Favre’s games anyway, so it won’t be too much of a change for him.
I guess my theory from last week about the Saints offense starting slow was a bit off. They looked as dominant as they did in the early part of the regular season when they were putting up big numbers against everybody. Of course, last week they faced the Cardinals, whose defense proved to be not so great. The Vikings should be a much tougher opponent for them. On the other side of the ball, the Saints defense didn’t look quite as good (for instance, it isn’t a good thing to give up a TD on the first play of the game), but as they showed throughout the regular season, they play very well with a lead. If the Saints can get ahead, I don’t see the Vikings able to make a comeback.
As for the Vikings, last week, the Cowboys were a very popular pick to pull the upset. Some of that might have been the Cowboys being overrated after two big wins over the fraud Eagles. But I think a lot of people underestimated the Vikings, especially at home. When playing in the right conditions, the Vikings defense can put a lot of pressure on an opposing QB, and they were in Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s face all day last week. Combined with an excellent game from Brett Favre, this resulted in a rather easy win for the Vikings.
So both teams have powerful offenses and defenses that can make big plays when called upon. So who has the advantage? The Saints based on home field advantage and superior coaching. I think that playing at home last week was a huge lift for the Vikings. While they still get to play in a dome, the crowd noise in the New Orleans Superdome will negatively affect them. Last week, with the crowd in their favor, the defense was able to get a huge jump on the Cowboys. That won’t be happening nearly as much in the championship game, and without strong pressure, the Saints offense can carve just about anybody up.
As for coaching, one by one, the shaky coaches in the playoffs have lost. Andy Reid? Gone. Wade Phillips? Gone. Norv Turner? Gone. And this week, Vikings coach Brad Childress will join them. Childress is largely responsible for the Vikings offense, and matched against highly regarded Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, this looks to be a huge advantage for the Saints. Childress is bound to make a crucial time management decision, or refuse to adjust his offense if it isn’t clicking. I think that is the decisive factor.
So I’m predicting a Saints vs. Colts Super Bowl, which would be the first matchup of #1 seeds since Cowboys vs. Bills in 1994. Should be a good game.
Final Score: Saints 35, Vikings 20