The best of the best have advanced to Championship Sunday. Who will advance and represent each conference in the Super Bowl in 2 weeks? Analysis and predictions are below…
New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts
The sole fact that the Jets have made it to the AFC Championship game makes this game intriguing. Add in the fact that there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs if it weren’t for the Colts laying down in week 16, and this rematch becomes even more interesting. I can just about guarantee that the Colts never thought they’d be seeing the Jets after their first meeting.
As has been the case with both of their previous contests, New York will be looking to slow down the pace of this game as much as possible by running the football and controlling the clock. It’s simple math, really: the less amount of time that Peyton Manning and the Colts has the ball, the better your odds are. Simply put, they will have to find a way to consistently run the ball if they want to have a shot at winning this contest. Ideally, the Jets would like to have rookie QB Mark Sanchez throwing the ball as few times as possible. He only had 15 pass attempts against the Bengals, and followed that up with a still-low 23 attempts last week vs. San Diego. By running the ball and minimizing the chances of a rookie mistake, the Jets should, at the very least, keep the game close into the 4th quarter.
On defense, the Jets will need to be physical at the line of scrimmage with the Colts’ wide receivers and tight ends. Peyton gets rid of the ball so quickly that disrupting his timing in any way possible will be a key for Lito Sheppard, who will be targeted often on the other side of Darrelle Revis. Dallas Clark is going to have a monster game. The Jets have really struggled to cover the tight end position this season, as it appears that their linebackers are not very well suited at dropping back into coverage. Antonio Gates had a big day last week, and I expect Clark to have one too.
The Jets are playing very solid team football, but they’re about to run up against what I feel is the best team in the NFL. It starts and ends with #18 for the Colts, but as long as Manning is behind center, the Colts offense is a well-oiled machine. The Jets have to get a great team rushing performance to help Sanchez, but I think their great run will finally run out of gas. This game might very well stay close into the final quarter, but the Jets won’t be able to keep the scoring down all game, and the Colts will prevail in front of their home crowd to punch a ticket to the Super Bowl.
Colts – 24
Jets – 13
Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints
This is going to be a very fun, entertaining game. These two teams have been on a collision course virtually all season, and now we all get to watch the two best teams in the NFC lay it all on the line. This has all the makings of being one of the best games that the NFL has to offer this season. The legend of Brett Favre continues to grow by the week, and no matter what you thought about his off-season drama, the guy has proved that he’s still got plenty of gas left in the tank as he closes out an incredible career. The Saints will have their hands full on defense in this one; while Adrian Peterson has not topped 100 rushing yards in 8 straight games, he is still capable of taking the ball to the house on any given play. However, Dallas did a great job of bottling him up last week, and Favre sprayed the ball all over the field to Sidney Rice to the tune of 4 TD passes and a 134.4. rating. As has been the case most of the season, I think Minnesota will let Favre try to take them to the Super Bowl. They pinned their championship hopes to him in the off-season, and there is certainly no reason to stop now. I think he’ll throw more than his 24 passes last week, as this game figures to be somewhat of a shootout. The Saints pass rush will really need to step up to prevent Favre from having a huge game. Aside from Darren Sharper, the Saints secondary seems rather pedestrian. Rookie Percy Harvin could have several big plays coming out of the slot, and don’t forget about his kick return abilities, either.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints passing game with Drew Brees is obviously a giant play waiting to happen. With the coziness of the Superdome in New Orleans, both teams might end up throwing the ball 40 times in this one. How well Minnesota does in pressuring Brees and tackling after the catch may be the two biggest keys in this game. Reggie Bush proved to be very elusive last week, and the Saints are going to need him to be effective out of the backfield again this week. How well the Saints protect Brees will also play a big role. Last week, Jared Allen and the Vikings front seven kept Tony Romo either on his back, or scrambling for his life. In the passing game, the Saints will probably try to use the run to set up the pass early in the game, as they’ll probably try to take some shots at Antoine Winfield.
Personally, I can’t wait to watch this game. The storylines are endless, and the QB play for both teams has been off the charts this season. The Saints have never been to a Super Bowl, and the Vikings haven’t been there since 1976. In the end, I just think that the Saints have been a little more consistent throughout the season. How the Vikings defense plays against the Saints offense will tell the story, but the Saints will use their raucous home crowd to pull out an epic victory in the closing minutes.
Saints – 30
Vikings – 27