Eric’s NFL Conference Championship Game Picks

LAST WEEK: 1-3 (4-4 overall)

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#5 NEW YORK JETS +7.5 @ #1 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (over/under 39 points)
-Safe to say the Colts won’t “tank” this re-match while Jets players should hug every Colts player prior to kick-off for this opportunity to play for a shot at the Super Bowl. The Christmas Gift was delivered December 27th when, with a 14-0 record, home-field secured for the playoffs and a 15-10 lead over the Jets, who needed to win to keep post-season hopes alive, Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulled all his starters in the third quarter. Jets jumped at the opportunity scoring 19 unanswered points for a 29-15 win.

Don’t be fooled. The Jets belong. They’ve won seven of their last eight including the two playoff wins thanks to the league’s best defense and top running game anchored by that monster offensive line. Over the last eight games only the Colts have scored more than 14 on New York. Rookie Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan has his team playing patient football, evident in last week’s division win over high-powered San Diego. Aided by some Chargers missed field goals, New York’s defense surrendered just seven points through three quarters frustrating the Bolts. Meanwhile, on offense, the Jets rookie tandem of Sanchez and RB Shonn Greene “broke” through a worn-out Chargers defense scoring 17 straight on their way to a 17-14 win. In the two playoff wins, Greene’s carried the rock 44 times for 263 yards and two touchdowns while Sanchez has completed 24 of 38 passes for 282 yards, two scores and a pick.

QB and MVP “St. Peyton Manning” and the Colts are 3-0 in the post-season against Rex Ryan defenses beating the Baltimore Ravens the previous two post-seasons with Ryan as their defensive coordinator. Ironically, the Colts beat Baltimore, 20-3 last week to get to the title game against Ryan’s Jets and will be much more patient against the New York’s “D“ than the Chargers. Looking at stats, the Colts should be the logical under-dog in this one ranking last in the league in rushing, 7th overall offensively, and 24th against the run, 8th overall defensively. A little deceiving because those stats are reflective of what happens between the 20’s. The Colts rely on the pass to get to the end zone but once they get inside the “Red Zone”, they can punch it in with RB Joseph Addai who ran for 10 scores during the season tying him for sixth overall. Obviously, Manning’s Golden Arm and speedy receivers are thee “WMD‘s” for the Indy Offense. Jets all-pro DB Darrelle Revis can only cover one guy per play. Colts defense can play the run when it has to. They only gave up 87 rushing yards to the Ravens last week, after Baltimore ran all over New England the week before, and 307 total points during the season, 7th fewest in the league. They have to stop New York’s ground game and make Sanchez beat them. Colts have one of the top pairs of all-pro defensive ends in Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks) and Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks). Jets better be able to run or Sanchez will be in trouble.

Anyway, did you know this is the first time a conference championship game features a Super Bowl Re-Match? Yup. Before the AFL-NFL merger in 1971, the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts represented the NFL losing to Joe Nammath’s AFL Jets, 16-7 in Super Bowl III in Miami. In another ironic twist, the winner of Sunday’s AFC Title Game earns a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV. Did you, also, know Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has as many playoff wins as Nammath did his entire career (2.…Nammath’s Super Bowl win‘s counted as a Championship game win). Sanchez will have to wait and win at least two, if not three, more playoff games to have a shot at a Super Bowl.
COLTS, 16-7 (just for fun).

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#2 MINNESOTA VIKINGS +3.5 @ #1 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (O/U 52.5 pts)
-THE BIG EASY’S GONNA BE ROCKIN’!!! The season’s two highest scoring teams going at it for a berth in the Super Bowl.

Vikings QB Brett Favre became the first 40 year old QB to win a playoff game in Minnesota’s 34-3 win over Dallas last week. Here’s what’s even more incredible. In his storied 19 year hall-of-fame career, that was the first time Favre threw four touchdown passes in a playoff game. He’s loving life because he’s got so many offensive weapons. Favre throws to Sidney Rice, who caught three of those four TD’s last week, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Percy Harvin (barring a migraine) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe who caught 11 TD’s during the season. Oh! I forgot. Favre can also hand it off to 1,000 yard rusher Adrian Peterson who tallied a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns this season. He’s the difference to me because Peterson can take pressure off Favre’s shoulders by taking off against the league’s 25th ranked overall defense. That’ll open up the passing game.

Defensively, the Vikings are maliciously quick and fast. DE’s Jared Allen and Ray Edwards combined to sack Cowboys QB Tony Romo six times last week and were in his face for 25 of his 42 pass attempts. The Vikings led the league with 48 sacks during the season with Allen topping the league with 14.5. That’s key.

Saints QB Drew Brees also has some incredibly potent weapons. WR’s Marques Colston and Robert Meachem both scored nine TD’s during the season. He’s also got TE Jeremy Shockey from THE U. He’s got running backs Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas who all scored at least five TD’s as well during the season. Brees is going to have to pass quickly to these guys to avoid the Vikings pass rush. Bush had a stellar game in last week’s 45-14 win over Arizona. But that was against a Cardinals defense that became the first team in playoff history to allow 45 points in consecutive post-season games. Vikings “D” is a different story.

As for the Saints “D”, they were able to disrupt immobile Cardinals QB Kurt Warner last week with a bull rush because he’s a “stay at home pocket passer”. Not Favre. He creates on the run and can kill you in or out of the pocket…even at 40 (BTW, if I were Favre, I‘d picked up the option on the second year of his contract and come back next year. I say, let him play as long as he can and has fun). If Saints DT Sedric Ellis can stop Peterson and force Favre to make bad throws, which he’s done before, then the Saints secondary, led by Favre’s ex-Packers teammate Darren Sharper (also a former Viking) can take over. 11 different Saints secondary defenders combined for 26 interceptions during the season. I see Adrian Peterson having a huge day opening up the Vikes “O”. But, the Saints are at home in the SuperDome, so they’re going to be able to work some quick passes for big gains.

Anyway, Brett Favre won his only Super Bowl ring in the SuperDome leading Green Bay to a Super Bowl XXXI win over New England. The “Big Easy’s” hosted nine Super Bowls. But, this will be the first time it’s hosted the NFC Championship game. This will be the Saints second NFC Title Game appearance in four years having lost to the Bears in Chicago in 2006. Sticking to my NFC pick and score.
VIKINGS, 30-27 in OT.

That means it’ll be INDIANAPOLIS against MINNESOTA in the Super Bowl February 7th. But, wouldn’t be too surprised if the JETS and/or the SAINTS were headed to Miami. I’ll just stick with the VIKINGS and COLTS.

MISSED PLAYOFFS: LOS ANGELES*
*15 years, 20 weeks and counting. Expect a big announcement the week after the Super Bowl about Los Angeles returning to the NFL as early as next season.

Remember, use my picks to wager $$$ at your own risk. If you lose, I had nothing to do with it. If you win beaucoup $$$, a 10% tip would be cool. But, I’m realistic. This is just for your entertainment…or not, and for me to keep my sports “mojo” going until “I’m back in the saddle”. Remember the league’s unofficial motto…“ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, MONDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY OR SATURDAY“…………

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