NFL Playoffs - Conference Championship Picks

Well folks, I’ve been missing doing NFL picks threads for a while. Been too busy to even read the good 'ole SDMB lately, but I’m nursing a hangover at work today and I figured, what the hell. Hope there’s still a few diehards left who’ll participate here. On with it…

Its going to be a big day in the state of Pennsylvania on Sunday. This looks like it could be a afternoon of football watching for the ages. The Sports Guy is calling them the greatest title games ever. Without too much analysis, I’m inclined to agree. Might be a interesting top 10 list to debate. Anyways, if you haven’t heard yet, the forecast for both cities is 3-6 inches of snow, temps just below freezing. That should definately have an impact, though I can’t say that it favors any one team too much. The breakdown:

NFC Championship - Sunday, 3:00 PM ET on FOX

Atlanta at Philidelphia (Eagles by 5)

It seems that the Boston self-loathing mojo has been passed on to Philly nowadays. I don’t think this factor has been considered by most. Everyone is talking about how big a choke job it would be if the Iggles lost and the fans and TV personalities are hyping it up alot, but it doesn’t seem to me that people are considering all the pressure that will put on the Iggles players. It almost completely negates the home field advantage in my books. If things even go slightly awry, expect the boo-birds to come out and sap the resiliency of this squad. Its a big factor, especially for a young hungry defense like the Falcons have.

Another key factor is McNabb’s size. He’s not the wrecking ball that Culpepper is, nor does he have the cat-like quickness of Vick. However, the Atlanta D is fast but small. This isn’t a major negative most of the time, however when it comes to taking down a strong guy like McNabb it can be the difference between converting 3rd downs or not. McNabb hasn’t been the opportunistic runner he was in years past, and when you have a target like TO (who can get open when he hangs in the pocket for an extra step) that might be a plus, but now that the WRs can’t be relied upon to get open after 3 seconds those chances to run an move the chains will be more valuable than looking downfield.

Also, everyone is falling all over themselves to say how great and game changing Westbrook is. He’s certainly a excellent back, but he’s not vintage Marshall Faulk. He won’t win a game single handedly against a good D like the Falcons have. And if the Falcons were able to blanket the Rams backs and receivers, they’ll have no trouble containing the TO-less Eagles.

I’m a little concerned about Vick’s response to the snow. He won’t be able to make those ridiculous cuts that he does, but neither will the defenders. Raw speed running downhill is a huge advantage in the snow because the defenders can’t make the cut to get persuit. If Vick breaks decisively, he’ll be productive, if he dances it could be trouble. The cold probably won’t be a problem, we all remember that day in Green Bay, but I can’t say I remember Vick playing when footing was a issue.

What’s the key matchup? Eagles O vs the Atlanta D? Probably an equal number of question marks on both sides. Eagles D vs Falcons O? Pretty well matched, especially when you consider the likelyhood of snow. Actually, the biggest matchup is the Falcons Special Teams vs the Eagles Special Teams. I’ll take the Falcons here every time.

The pick? Atlanta. Take the points folks, the Falcons will run the ball relentlessly. People talk about rushing winning championships. It’s not that simple, lots of teams are dedicated to the run. The key is rushing for a high average per attempt. Thats the winning factor. When you can average more that 5 yards a carry, it’s every bit as productive as a stong passing game. And less risky. the Eagles D matches up pretty well. Lots of speed to neutralize Vick, but their strength is the secondary and pass D. Thats unfortunate when the Falcons hardly put any emphasis on throwing. Vick need to unleash that cannon for an arm one a quater deep downfield to keep the D honest. complete or incomplete, it doesn’t matter. But if they show that threat, expect them to score plenty.

Final Score: Falcons 27 - Eagles 23
AFC Championship - Sunday, 6:30 PM ET on CBS

New England at Pittsburgh (Pats by 3)

I’ll join the crowd in saying, “huh?!?!” Yeah, I know the Pats are the defending champs and they dismantled the Colts last week. But calling the 16-1 Steelers a 3 point dog at home (which is effectively saying the Pats are a touchdown better on a neutral field, 9 points in Foxboro) is just silly. I’m not going to confidently say the Steelers will win, but sight unseen I’m putting money on the home team, and #1 seed remember, getting points everytime. Oh yeah, one last thing, the Steelers crushed the Pats in this very stadium earlier this year.

Its important to not put too much stock in last weeks whipping of the Colts here. Yes this is a very good D and Belichick is one hell of a coach, but this matchup couldn’t be more opposite. Last weeks results aren’t any indicator for this week, plus the fact that the Pats will have to scheme completely different could cost them valuable preparation.

The weather here probably in the Steelers favor. If visibility is hindered at all or if things get slippery the Pats dink-and-dunk could be just bunk. The Steelers downhill running shouldn’t be hindered at all. But then again, neither will Dillon’s.

Pittsburgh probably has a pretty big homefield advantage here. Really good, loud fans and confidence. Plus the inexplicably difficult kicking at the Ketchup should work to the well practiced Steelers advantage.

I like the fact that the Steelers have Tommy Maddox there as a back up. If you’re putting money on a team, you like to know that an injury isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

I don’t put any stock in Cowhers AFC Championship record. Those losses weren’t ever choke jobs of the Schottenheimer type, and Kordell Stewart was prominently involved. Cowher isn’t going to be called a genius any time soon, but he doesn’t beat himself either.

All this said, the Patriots are the defending champs. They will play good D. They will find a way to move the ball. They will probably capitalize on a turnover or two. But in the end, I think Pittsburgh holds them to field goals. The Steelers D will step up and make life tough for Dillon. Big Ben is clearly the X-factor, but I’m hoping he’ll do just enough to let the defense win it for him. Don’t bet heavily on a rookie QB against Belichick but…

Final Score: Steelers 21 - Patriots 20.

I’m going to go with the Falcons and the points and the Patriots to win by 3.

Just a feeling, no real insight.

Patriots 17 - Steelers 10
Falcons 13 - Eagles 7

Bless both of you. I’m not even trying to make any actual predictions about the NFC championship, because I’ve got a ridiculous level of emotional involvement with the Falcons.

AFC? Yes, I hear they’re playing too.

I’m sorry to hear that.

20-6, Eagles. They’ll make Vick throw, and he can’t do it.

I’ll take the Patriots, too. Pittsburgh looked beatable against the Jets, and that’s all I needed to see.

my thoughts:

snow and some seriously cold weather is huge most of the time.

However, for Atlanta to win, it’s going to be up to their running backs. If it’s up to Vick in the ground or in the air, Philly will eat them up. Philly’s defense is a wonderfully aggressive and quick. I am very concerned that J. Trotter will have a huge game. I’m voting for Atlanta, but think Philly will stuff the run and win by 7. McNabb is on a mission. (btw: i’m a cowboy’s fan, so I really hope Philly loses the NFC championship again)

AFC: cold weather and snow is just not going to matter to the Pats. Look at where they play. Brady just doesn’t have a bad game in the playoffs. The question for me is whether or not the Pats can contain Duce and the bus. I think the Pats win due to the best coach in the NFL. Pats win by 10.

As for the best conference championships, I’m a little biased, but I loved the cowboys/SF, SF/GB, and GB/Cowboys matchups in the early 90s. Those games were incredible.

I have a lot of trouble seeing Atlanta win this game. Philly has just the defense to shut down Vick. And Philly should be able to put some points up against the Falcons (even though I really respect the Falcons’ D when all are healthy). Dunn will not have the game against Philly that he had against St. Louis, whose defense just sucked. This game is Philly’s to lose (which is a distinct possibility, given the past three years). I say it’s their year.

Eagles 27-10
The other game is a lot tougher to call. If Pittsburgh plays anything like they did last week, particularly their QB, then Patriots win hands down. But I don’t really expect that. Nor do I expect this to be a replay of their earlier game. I like the Patriots here, given they have the experience, but not by much.

Patriots 21-20.

i wholeheartedly agree. the steelers showed some chinks in their armor. the patriots are going to have to deal with an actual defense and some physical play with the steelers, though. but after that ass-whupping that my boys got last week, i can’t see the patriots lose to anybody. i see the patriots really leaning on rothlisberger. they won’t shut the running game down, but they’re not going to let it beat them. it’s all on ben.

atlanta just seems like a gimmick to me. if you can handle vick, what is there to worry about? i don’t see a close game there.

You’d be surprised.

I agree with the OP that the Eagles will be feeling the pressure. And that they won’t handle it well.

Falcons 20-14 over the Eagles

And over in the AFC, I’m ging with the home team:

Steelers 23-20 over the Pats

Hmm. Looks like I’ve picked two upsets. Eh. What the hell.

I’m going to go with my biased opinion and offer a few reasonable counter-points:

For some player insights, check www.philadelphiaeagles.com. There are extensive player interview transcripts plus numerous locker room insight from Dave Spadaro (editor-webmaster guy). The overall feeling being reported is calm, cool, and confident. Even the stoic Andy Reid was making jokes at a press conference. :eek:

Culpepper: 6-4, 264. McNabb: 6-2, 240. Not exactly the same, but similar. As for taking McNabb down, I refer you to the 14 second play earlier in the year.

Westbrook won’t take over a game because he doesn’t need to. that’s Donnie’s job. The Eagles have played (and beaten) Ds better than Atlanta’s, namely WAS, BAL, & NYG. Granted those offenses are suspect, but a win is a win, isn’t it?

I also remember a cold day in 2002 when Vick played in Philly, and lost.

Interesting choice. A few quick stats withthe team holding the advantage listed:
Kickoff yards: PHI (64.9 to 63.6)
Punt yards: PHI (37.1 to 36.9)
Kickoff return yards: ATL (21.8 to 21.7)
Punt return yards: ATL (12.4 to 9.2)
Kickoff return yards allowed: ATL (19.9 to 23.2)
Punt return yard allowed: not found
Total FG %: PHI (84.4 27-32 to 78.3 18-23)
FG beyond 30 yds: PHI (82% 23-28 to 66% 10-15)
Atlanta may have a slight edge in the return game but Philly has a clear advantage when is comes down to field goals.

Just wanted to clarify that that comment was intended to consider both championship games in the given year. Over the yars there certainly have been alot of really great matchups in this round, but more often than not the other conference is an afterthought.

For example, those years the AFC fielded teams which included Kansas City, Indianapolis, San Diego and Pittsburgh KE*. Names like Schottenheimer, Humphries, Harbaugh, Brister, and O’Donell were prominently involved. Not what you’d call instant classics.

[sub]* - KE: Kordell Era[/sub]

Is it supposed to snow at game time? Nothing like championship football in the snow.

By what? He didn’t complete 20 passes once this season. He only passed for over 200 yards three times. Take out the Denver game, which was admittedly an impressive performance, and Vick didn’t have a single game in which he attempted 20 passes and wasn’t intercepted.

Atlanta just doesn’t have a quality NFL passing game, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to beat the Eagles without that. If they can force Vick to make reads from the pocket, in my opinion, he’s just as likely to turn the ball over as he is to put points on the board. We saw the same thing the first time these teams played in the playoffs – Vick had to throw 30 times against good coverage, and he couldn’t do so effectively. They lost that game, and I don’t think very much has changed.

I also agree with Frank #2 regarding special teams. The Rams’ coverage teams are not a very good barometer to use in evaluating return teams; they’re the worst in the league, as far as I’m concerned. Both Atlanta and the Eagles are good to very good in coverage. I’d give the Falcons a little bit of an edge in the punt game, but J.R. Reed’s a better kick returner than Rossum is. Most importantly, Akers is way more dangerous than Jay Feely, which more than offsets a couple yards of field position here and there.

Sorry, spoke-, didn’t see that last question. It’s supposed to snow all day the day before the game, and I think there’s a chance it’ll snow through kickoff.

Bear in mind that he’s learning a new offense this season. Don’t underestimate his passing skills. He has a rifle arm, and a nice big target in Algie Crumpler.

But I grant you that the Falcons’ success has been built on the ground game. And Vick is not the only weapon. Dunn is a 1000-yard rusher, and Duckett is a bull. The Falcons can move the ball without putting it in the air.

As for using the game two years ago as a predictor, well, you may recall that the closeness of the game was not reflected in the final score. Vick scored a potential go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes that was called back, and then Philly tacked on a final touchdown at the end.

Besides which, that was then, and this is now. Vick has more experience, and an uncanny ability to will his team to victory. I think he’ll do that again on Sunday.

Gotcha. Yea, i’d have to agree with you. This is the best in a long time. However, I don’t give the NFC much of a chance in the 'bowl unless Philly wins and TO is back at 100%.

Atlanta, IMO, cannot beat Pitt or the chowdaheads.

Honestly, you could equally claim that they doth protest too much…but, its one of those things that is pure speculation on both sides until sunday.

I wasn’t critiquing McNabb there, I was saying he’s big (just not as big as Culpepper) and thats a big advantage against a smallish Falcon D. So basically, yeah.

I’m not saying he’s unbeatable in the cold, just that he won’t fold like a cheap Manning-chair.

I think the key isn’t so much average and numbers, most of the league is bunched pretty closely when you look at the statistics over the balance of the season. Field position and game situations play too big a role to get a clear picture. I think its more explosiveness. The Falcons just seem to be a bigger threat to break the game open, and they’ve been consistent and relatively error free. Philly has had alot of different guys catching kicks, might not mean anything, but I like a team with consistency there.
Its certainly not a landslide in favor of atlanta on the game, but I’d be afraid to bet aganst Vick under any circumstance, especially against a team that hasn’t really played well in over a month.

They didn’t have a passing game under the old system either. Besides, this new system is the one he’s got to run on Sunday, no? At any rate, it’s hard to argue that Vick has any kind of track record beating good teams with his passing.

Sure, they can move the ball. But can they score it? The Eagles have pretty well mastered the art of surrendering 200+ rushing yards – to better backs than Warrick Dunn – and winning handily, which is why I say you have to beat them through the air.

It would have tied the score, for what it’s worth, not put them ahead. Plus, the Eagles didn’t have Westbrook, Kearse, or Trotter. Like I said, things have changed, but not, I don’t think, the fact that the Eagles are capable of putting Vick in situations where he has to throw to win.

I find it exceedingly interesting that all the debate seems to center around the NFC game, which most people conceed is likely to produce the Super Bowl loser regardless of who it is.

The AFC game is the marquee matchup and the more evenly squared battle it seems. You’d expect it to be the one with all the banter. I suppose the Vick/McNabb star power could be a bigger factor than one might think. Either that or everyone is just sick of talking about Boston teams, esp. the Pats.

Well, you have the resident Eagles and Falcons fans in this thread. If Airman Doors and the lone SDMB Patriots fan were in here, I’m sure it would be all about the AFC game.

With regards to the best pair of Conference Championships, the Raiders screwed the pooch for me, in that 1990 had the greatest Championship game ever played, Giants over 49ers 15-13. However, the Raiders got their shit pushed in big time by the Bills, 51-3, so that year doesn’t qualify. Unless you’re a Bills fan, of course.

Exactly. I agree word for word. Which is odd, considering that we so rarely agree in football threads. One of these days we will really have to have a proper debate, instead of piecemeal debates in various threads. I haven’t yet had the energy or motivation to create the thread yet, and I suspect you feel the same. Someday we will. However, you posted:

I also agree wholeheartedly with this, as I’m sure you could have guessed. I admit I was a bit surprised to see you post that.

My prediction: If McNabb stays in the pocket, even if he gets sacked 6 times, the Eagles win. If McNabb runs for more than 20 yards, the Eagles lose. Nothing the Falcons do can affect the outcome, because Vick simply can’t pass. Why? Because he’s never tried. That’s one of the many reasons why scrambling is bad.

Okay, now I have to reply to that Steelers thread, because I just can’t let your last response go unanswered any longer. Don’t worry, I’ll make it short and sweet.

I am a life-long Steelers fan, so I may not be entirely objective, but my take on the AFC Championship is this:

The weather is going to be bad. The forecast right now puts it at about 13 degrees at kickoff, with a 50% chance of snow. I doubt that either team will be able to do anything through the air, so it’s going to come down to each team’s running game versus the other’s defense. I give the Steelers a slight edge in both categories.

There has been a lot of talk about Bill Belichick’s defensive genius, but people seem to forget that Pittsburgh had the #1 defense in the NFL this year.

Ben Roethlisberger looked like a rookie in his first playoff game last week. He shouldn’t have that problem this time. Plus, he probably won’t be called on to do much more than hand the ball off to Duce and the Bus.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes down to a late field goal to win the game, which considering the apparent voodoo curse on opposing kickers at Heinz Field, is bad news for the Patriots.

Final score: **Pittsburgh 17, New England 13 **
I have absolutely no interest in the NFC game.