Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who's Going to the Super Bowl?

I think most people are probably pulling for Brett Favre and Peyton Manning today.

And I guess I can live with that, but, personally, I'm pulling for their opponents.

Keep in mind, I didn't say that neither Favre nor Manning would advance to the Super Bowl. They may both win today.

One thing seems to be sure. Win or lose, both will wind up in the Hall of Fame eventually. What is unknown, at least at this stage, is whether either or both will be in Miami in two weeks.
  • New York Jets (11–7) at Indianapolis Colts (15–2) — As I have pointed out before, the Jets won at Indianapolis on Dec. 27, giving the Colts their first loss of 2009 and preserving the uniqueness of the 1972 Miami Dolphins' perfect season. That was the first time the teams had met since 2006, when the Jets lost a close one at home. They haven't met in the playoffs since January 2003, when New York whipped the visiting Colts in the wild–card round, 41–0. That game, however, was played in the Meadowlands. This one will be played in Indianapolis. Clearly, the home crowd will be a factor in the game, and, even though I don't expect the fans to have to face bone–chilling weather outside the stadium, I expect lots of noise once they take their seats. But that is only part of the story. It seems to me that the greatest challenge the Colts will face is trying to stop the Jets' ground game. The Jets have one of the NFL's best rushing attacks, and I'm inclined to think the Colts will need to force the Jets into numerous third–and–long situations to shut them down. The key for the Jets? Contain Manning. He has some talent around him, but when he isn't clicking, the Colts can be stopped. I'm not sure which team will be better off today because Manning didn't play on the day the Jets handed the Colts their first loss of the season. Of the three teams that received a bye and then won their first playoff games, the Colts seemed the least polished on offense. Perhaps that was due to the Ravens' defense. Maybe it was indicative of some weakness that most of the Colts' foes did not exploit sufficiently. Indy won a lot of close games this year. My advice to the Jets would be to remain level–headed, no matter what the score may be. I'd really like to see the Jets go to the Super Bowl, but I have a feeling that the Colts will instead.

  • Minnesota Vikings (13–4) at New Orleans Saints (14–3) — The last time Minnesota played in New Orleans was Monday, Oct. 6, 2008. The Vikings rallied for a 30–27 win. In fact, you have to go back to Oct. 7, 2001, to find the Saints' last win over the Vikings in New Orleans. But you may need to look no further than your TV this evening to see New Orleans' next home triumph over Minnesota. I'm sure the folks in the Big Easy are eager to see the Saints advance to the Super Bowl. That would be a first for them, and that would be their reward for winning today's game. But it's been more than 30 years since the Vikings were in a Super Bowl. They've come close a couple of times, but they haven't played in the NFL's showcase game since January 1977. Whoever wins today's game will be an unfamiliar Super Bowl entrant for most people, to be sure. As the road team in today's NFC championship game, I think a key to Minnesota's success may not necessarily be Favre's arm. He's had a remarkable season for a 40–year–old man, and I doubt that anyone would quibble with his reputation as one of the great quarterbacks of his era. But I think that the most effective weapon a visiting team can have in the playoffs, especially when the home crowd is likely to be as boisterous as the one in the Superdome this afternoon, is a strong running game. It may not always have been clear to observers this year because the offensive spotlight hasn't been on Adrian Peterson in every game, but he remains one of the most potent running backs in pro football. If the Vikings keep the ball in his hands — and save the passing game until it is needed — they can wear down the Saints' defense, which is better against the pass than the run, and they can take the crowd out of the contest. The Saints have a good running game, too, with Reggie Bush in the backfield, but their quick–strike potential can do more than put points on the board. It can whip the fans into a frenzy, and it can demoralize Minnesota's defense — which, it should be pointed out, was one of the league's best. The Vikings may be able to neutralize New Orleans' passing game if they can get to Drew Brees and sack him early, perhaps forcing him to play more tentatively. If that happens, the Saints will have a solid ground game to rely on, but I see the passing game as being what keeps the fans in the Superdome involved in the contest this afternoon. Anyway, those are the keys to this game, in my view — the Minnesota ground game and the New Orleans air attack. The outcome may be as close as it was when the teams faced each other during the 2008 season, but I'll pick the Saints to win this time.
Last week: 2–2.

Playoffs: 3–5.

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