Friday, January 20, 2006

NFL Picks: Championship Sunday

Championship Sunday is upon us this weekend, and who would have thought that heading into it, Denver, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Carolina would be the only teams left standing? Anyone? Bueller? Ok, let's move on.

Pesky things like "day jobs" have sidelined much of our crew this week. Kevin and I barely managed to get our picks in, while Andy and Nathan remain "questionable" for the panel. We'll add their picks if they have a chance to weigh in.

Here's how the panel has performed in the playoffs to date.

Alex: 3-5 (1-3 last week)
Kevin: 7-1 (3-1 last week)
Nathan: 6-2 (2-2 last week)
Andy: 4-4 (1-3 last week)

The Clairvoyant Kevin Kimmis was a Nick Harper cut to the sidelines away from running the table through 2 rounds, while I've just Hopefully I'll do better through the final two rounds.

Now, onto the games.

AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

Alex Abboud

Who saw this one coming? Not me, that's for sure. Despite their best efforts to give the game away, the Steelers emerged victorious over top-seeded Indianapolis last week. Meanwhile, the Broncos looked impressive and rolled over the defending champs. I should note that from here on in, there will be no more songs or attempts at humor. Apparently Grabia fashions himself as the funny one in the group, and as his rant last week showed, didn't take it well when others tried to inject some humor into their picks. I believe there was an episode of Friends where Chandler had a similar problem. Anyhow, I'm sure he'll come up with some sort of witty retort to this, but I'm just going to focus on the important thing here: football.

I don't know how the fan bases of these teams feel, but as an observer, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on both of these teams. The Steelers certainly benefited from Carson Palmer's freak injury on the second play of the wild card game, both because having him out of the game slowed down the Bengals offense, but also because of the emotional letdown it caused. With a healthy Palmer, there's a good chance they don't win that game. In Indy last week, they called a great game defensively, and kept the Colts offense out of rhythm. The offense started fast, built up a lead, then cooled off after 20 minutes and only a couple of key Colt blunders in the final minutes kept this game from going to Overtime – and I think even Steeler fans would admit that had it gone to OT, it was as good as over for them.

As for the Broncos, they did well in sticking to their gameplan (running and defense) against the Pats, benefited from a couple of questionable calls and bad plays from the Pats, and coasted to a win. Their historically shaky Quarterback, Jake Plummer, was never tested. If he is forced to take the game into his own hands, I'm not sure how he'll do. Is he the beneficiary of a great system and team, or is he a late-bloomer, a Jim Plunkett for the 21st Century? I think we'll see this week.

The Steelers front 7 will do well against Mike Anderson, so it will be up to Tatum Bell to make some big plays on the ground. The Broncos have a good enough defense, and the Champ Bailey vs. Hines Ward matchup will be key. They also have depth on the defensive line, so they should be able to rotate and stay fresh against the Parker and Bettis tandem.

I see the Steelers keeping it close, as the Broncos struggle to establish a running game. Jake will make a couple of big plays and Big Ben will make a couple of big mistakes as the Broncos open up a lead in the 4th and run out the clock.

Prediction: Broncos 24-10

Kevin Kimmis

As the writers at Deadspin point out, suggesting a team led by Jake Plummer could play in the Super Bowl is destroying fans of his days with the Arizona Cardinals. But it is only possible because the Broncos' nasty O-line and potent running-back duo keep the ball out of Jake's hands. Factor in a defensive front-seven who may be as good or better than Indy's, the home crowd, and a mix of speed and experience in the secondary, and this will be a difficult game for the Steelers.

It used to be I'd say the same thing about Ben Roethlisberger that I would say about Jake the Snake. Not anymore. It's not that Ben will throw any more passes than Plummer; it's that Roethlisberger's poise and precision was what got Pittsburgh out to a big lead against the Colts. He may well be the difference in this game, especially against a Denver team that blitzes as much as Pittsburgh does -- that, and Pitt's ability to contain Plummer and the Denver run game.

Last week, I picked against the only team I care about who's still playing ... and lost. Not this time.

Pick: Steelers

NFC Championship Game: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Alex Abboud

Carolina's looked impressive in winning two straight on the road to get here; they made the vaunted Bears defense looked like a practice squad team last week. As for the Seahawks, they withstood the early loss of rushing champ Shaun Alexander and cruised to victory over the Washington Redskins, albeit one in which they did not look impressive at all.

Now, Carolina storms the Pacific Northwest looking for a third straight road win and a second Super Bowl appearance in three years. If they're going to win, they're going to have to do it without Running Back DeShaun Foster, lost with a broken ankle, and potentially without star Defensive End Julius Peppers, who's listed as Questionable right now. Odds are that he'll play, but how much and how effective he'll be remain up in the air.

I think the injury to Peppers will have more of an effect. Nick Goings carried the load down the stretch last week, and looked good enough doing it. Additionally, after Foster and Stephen Davis were hurt last year, he was the primary back throughout the Panthers' 7 game winning streak down the stretch. So they'll be good. The D-line, already missing Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins, becomes much less effective with an ailing or absent Peppers. On the Seahawks end, Alexander should be starting, and Right Tackle Sean Locklear, arrested after a domestic dispute will be back in the lineup – it might be worth watching if this story lingers over the weekend and affects the team at all.

Oh yeah! The game. Carolina's on a roll, while Seattle looked good enough, but did not impress against a beat-up 'Skins team. Even if he's in the lineup, I have a hard time believing that Alexander won't be impaired by his concussion suffered last week. Both defenses have playmakers, but I'm not certain if anyone on Seattle can stop Steve Smith. The Panthers secondary should match up well with the 'Hawks, which will make things all the more difficult if Alexander or Maurice Morris can't establish a successful running game. Del Homme will make some plays for Carolina, and Nick Goings will put it a workhorse effort (close to 30 carries) to help Carolina control the game.

Prediction: 17-3 Carolina, setting up the much-anticipated Jake vs. Jake Super Bowl. With this development, the strong showing by Brokeback Mountain, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, at the Golden Globes, and the return of the ABC sitcom Jake In Progress, this is shaping up as the month of the Jake. And with the Super Bowl airing on ABC, the possibilities for Del Homme and Plummer to do cross-promotions with John Stamos will be off the charts. Good times indeed.

Kevin Kimmis

I love the Panthers, and not just because of their meteoric rise in 2003 and near-defeat of the Pats in the Janet Jackson Boobie Bowl. I also love them because they're fun to watch, on offense (Delhomme, Smith), defense (Peppers, Morgan, and the entire secondary) and special teams (Smith and He Hate Me). And the fact that DeShaun Foster isn't playing is not a problem; Nick Goings proved last year he is a more-than-able replacement, albeit a slower, less-explosive back.

But Carolina has a lot of injured players; Seattle has only two of note (three, if one could equate injuries with assault charges). The Seahawks won without Sean Alexander last week, and if their defense finds a way to contain Steve Smith, they could do so again. More importantly, with Julius Peppers at less than one hundred per cent, Seattle's offensive line looks to be able to protect Matt Hasslebeck and allow him to produce more points than last week's 20.

My heart says "Go with Carolina", but today I'm listening to my head. I may yet regret this.

Pick: Seahawks

Update: Muhly picks the Colts and Bears to make the Super Bowl.

Enjoy the games everyone!


At 6:56 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Broncos over Steelers in the QB Beard Bowl.

Carolina over Seattle in the QB Hyper Bowl.

My favorite news of the week? The Rams signing another "offensive guru" as head coach. It worked so well the last time.

At 9:40 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Well, as long as he doesn't have the Martz game management skills and pathological desire to prove he's an offensive genius, they should be alright. But I really hope he makes the Martz face. I miss it already.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Kevin Kimmis said...

When they hired Linehan over someone like Rivera, I was very unhappy. I don't see a good season ahead for St. Louis.

What's worse is their ownership and management is all being done long-distance -- both the owner and president of the team live full-time in Los Angeles, and the final interviews were done in Arizona because that's where Frontiere lives.

It's hard to be a Rams fan.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Kevin Kimmis said...

Whoops. That last line of the second paragraph should read: "... because that's where Frontiere was." She lives in LA (winters in Arizona?). Either way, not good.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Nathan Muhly said...

So you ARE a Rams fan.

P.S. Go Broncos


Post a Comment

<< Home