Thursday, January 06, 2005

Playoff Preview

It's that time of the year as the NFL playoffs approach. In just over a month a new champion will be crowned, which means that Sping Training is just around the corner. Anyway, here's my second-rate analysis of how the playoffs should shape out.

First Round
Jets at Chargers: It's always tough to pick a game when a team you root for is involved, but I can be objective. The Jets defeated the Chargers in week two, but that game may as well have taken place in a completely different season. Chad Pennington has managed to regress as a quarterback, thanks in part to the awful playcalling of offensive (and you can stress the opening syllable whichever way you think appropriate) playcalling of Coordinator Paul Hackett. Meanwhile, Drew Brees - named today as the NFL comeback player of the year - has had a pro-bowl season for the Chargers. Both teams feature stellar running backs. The Jets' Curtis Martin led the league in rushing, and the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson may very well be the best back in the league. Whichever offensive line establishes control of the game could very well determine the winner of this game. But given how well the Chargers have been playing, and conversely how shaky the Jets have been in recent weeks, my pick is the Chargers.

Broncos at Colts: This is a rematch of a game of just one week ago, which the Broncos won to earn this playoff shot. But the Colts rested everyone, so the game was not indicitive at all of how this game should play out. More telling was the Colts' absolutely dominant performance of a year ago in the opening round against the Broncos, a game in which the Colts scored on their first five possessions. Since then, Peyton Manning has compiled the greatest season of any quarterback in the history of the game. The Colts feature three 1,000+ yard receivers, and oh-by-the-way a running back named Edgerrin James. Jake Plummer, meanwhile, continues to be one of the NFL's biggest enigmas. One week he shows flashes of being a superstar qb, the next week he displays the decision-making capabilties of John Kerry. But that is irrelevant, because no matter how well he plays this week, this is the easiest pick of the playoffs: Colts.

Second Round
Chargers at Steelers: The Steelers won more games than any other AFC team since the adoption of the 16-game schedule (The Dolphins undefeated season came in the era of the 14-game schedule). They have won 14 straight games, and managed to pull out a victory last week against a surging Bills team on the road with their backups. Easy pick, right? Well, not exactly. Despite the fact that offensive rookie of the year Ben Roethlisberger is undefeated as a pro, he is still a rookie making his first ever postseason start. He has been solid but unspectacular, and still shows signs of being just a rookie. But the Steelers' line is completely dominant, and their defense should shut down the Chargers. Pick: Steelers.

Colts at Patriots: The game that very well could determine the Super Bowl champion. The Colts should have won at Gillette Stadium on opening night, but came up short. If anyone is capable of picking apart a vulnerable Patriots secondary, it is Peyton Manning. Manning was not spectacular in a losing effort in the AFC championship game a year ago, but he is simply performing on a different plane this year. On the other hand, the Patriots are playing at home, and there are still a lot of question marks about the Colts playing outdoors in the cold. How the weather will be in New England in the middle of January could very well determine the winner of this game. And before we forget, the Pats are the defending champs, and are still the most balanced team in the sport. On top of that, Bill Bellichicken, err, Bellicheck will have an extra week to prepare for this game. This game could be a classic, and could go either way, but I'll go with the Patriots.

AFC Championship
Patriots at Steelers: No matter who plays in this game, it will be an intense showdown. This would be a repeat of a game in which the Steelers won convincingly earlier in the season. But this is a different game altogether, and it's not exactly like the Steelers haven't lost at home in the championship game before. How to pick against a team that would have won 15 straight games at this point? Well, the Steelers beat the Pats, who had an even bigger win streak at the time, and maybe it's time for a little revenge. Really, again this game could go either way, but the Patriots are still the best team in the league, and I cannot see a rookie quarterback, no matter how good, winning a Super Bowl. I'm going with the Patriots to repeat.

And that's that. New England gets another sports championship, but we'll have to deal with it.

I feel like I am forgetting something. Now what could that be?

Oh yeah, the NFC. Do I care? Does anyone really care about the NFC? It's the Eagles and a bunch of other teams. With or without TO the Eagles should waltz to the Super Bowl, though there is the force of three straight championship game losses weighing on them. No matter. Eagles finally get to the big game. And then get dismissed in Jacksonville.

Have fun watching the games.


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