Conference Final Watchlist
Only two games this weekend – weird I know! This is it folks – the winners will represent their respective Conferences in the Super Bowl in Miami. One matchup is as expected, while the other one lacks some luster.
Still, there are some interesting story lines that I will be watching with keen interest.
1. How will the plethora of rookies deal with the pressures of a Conference Final?
Head Coach Jim Caldwell – Indianapolis - Caldwell has the benefit of a seasoned playoff team to guide into this weekend’s game. He has a veteran coaching staff and Peyton Manning to guide his team. Caldwell will be all right. He has the personnel around him.
Head Coach Rex Ryan – NY Jets – Ryan has a much tougher task for sure. He has a rookie Quarterback and a rookie running back to coach in the biggest game of all of their careers. Ryan appeared to out coach Norv Turner last week, and looked comfortable doing so. No matter the outcome of this game, Ryan’s stock has certainly risen.
Mark Sanchez – NY Jets - If everything is going right for the Jets, then Sanchez won’t be asked to do much. If the Jets get down in this game, it will force Sanchez to take some chances – a scary thought if you are a Jets fan.
Shonne Greene – NY Jets – He has supplanted Thomas Jones as the unquestioned lead Running Back in New York – and rightfully so. Greene is a huge man that is one of the fastest backs in the league. Greene is a special talent and is guaranteed to break a play or two during this game.
2. Will the two unbalanced Offenses suffer because of their one-dimensional play?
Indianapolis Colts - Let’s face it folks, the Colts have to throw the ball to be successful. Although OK, Joseph Addai and Mike Brown do not possess the skill sets to make a difference in any game. The passing is the Colts meal ticket, and will live or die by it.
NY Jets - The Jets are strictly a running team – Sanchez RARELY passes for more than 150 yards. If the game goes the Jets way, this pattern will continue. Even if they get down, the Jets offense will, like the Colts, remain one dimensional.
3. How much scoring can we expect from this weekend’s action?
Indianapolis – The Colts are a team that gets a lot of yardage but for some reason, doesn’t light up the scoreboard. The Jets have a good defense and will have a chance to slow the Colts down. Indianapolis figures to finish with 24 or so point in this game – typical for this Offense.
NY Jets - The Jets are not going to light up the scoreboard either. This is a game that will be dominated by long drives that eat up chunks of the clock. Scoring will happen, but if you’re expecting fireworks, you will likely be disappointed.
New Orleans – Going to be fun isn’t it? I know the Vikings shut down the Hot Cowboys last week, but this week is likely to be different. New Orleans is a well balanced scoring machine and should be able to rack it up on home turf.
Minnesota – No choice for the Vikings – they are going to have to score a lot, or get left in the dust. The Vikings are a confident bunch right now, and have an experienced Brett Favre to lead them. They will score, but will they be able to score enough?
4. Will a team’s ability to generate a strong pass rush determine the outcome of this weekend’s games?
Indy - Pass rush won’t be a huge factor as the front four will have to concentrate on stopping the run rather than harassing the QB.
Jets - Needless to say, the Jets have to find a way to disrupt Peyton Manning. If they don’t, Manning will pick them apart. Pass rush is absolutely essential.
Saints - The Saints will do themselves a huge favor if they can get in the face of Brett Favre. Favre is known to make mistakes if pressured and it’s likely that a mistake will be the difference between winning and losing Sunday.
5. How will the Offensive lines respond to the pressure that their opposition is sure to bring?
Colts – They have been doing it for years – no reason to think anything will change for Indianapolis. Besides the Colts have this dude named Peyton Manning who has succeeded in every situation during his career.
Jets – The Jets run the ball more than 50% of the time – proof of their confidence in their line. The Jets will have their hands full with the Indy Defensive ends however.
Saints – If they can do a half decent job, Drew Brees and the Saints running game should be OK
Vikes – The Vikings Offensive line is critical. Favre is not the most mobile of QBS and is mistake prone. If they don’t protect, turnovers could be game changing.
6. How much will the teams that rested their players down the stretch benefit from letting their guys have an extra week off?
Indianapolis – One thing that you rarely hear at this point of an NFL season? A team is healthy, and that’s what Indianapolis is. Health trumps all.
New Orleans - It is obvious that the Saints needed to refocus and heal. The focus is back and so is the health (except for Jeremy Shockey of course). Rest week and a bye week has done the Saints right.
So there it is folks, the Divisional Playoff Watchlist.
Now for the predictions
AFC Championship Pick - I think that experience will be a huge factor in this game and obviously, Indianapolis has the edge in that department. The Jets likely won’t be able to outscore the Colts, making the choice easy.
Indianapolis Colts 24-13
NFC Championship Pick – This game will likely be determined by turnovers. Whoever wins that battle will likely win the game. Adrian Peterson has fumblitis, and Favre has been known to throw the odd interception.
My pick is the New Orleans Saints 31-23
Lots of info. Folks – I hope it helps.