Championship Sunday in the NFL has always been a rather breathless day, even if the 49ers haven't been prominently involved. It's really the last pure day of the NFL Season, before the idiotic week bye week before the overblown spectacle that is the Super Bowl. Some of the most memorable moments in NFL History have come on Championship Sunday, you can look here for a brief recap of some particulars.
This weekend's games should be a treat. No, it's not going to be quite as good as the frenetic New England/Indianapolis game last year, but then, Indianapolis should have muscled up and beaten San Diego. They didn't, and they're not here, so...
...Sunday, at 3PM, we have the San Diego Chargers against the New England Patriots.
This is probably the day's biggest mismatch. San Diego gallantly came away with an epic upset last Sunday in Indianapolis because they were able to move the ball at will against Indy's defense, and their own defense rose to the occasion, came up with key turnovers, shut down Indy's running game and pressured Peyton Manning into making mistakes.
This particular recipe for success is not, in any way, shape or form, exclusive.
On the other side, the juggernaut that is the New England Patriots just continues to roll on. As I mentioned on Monday, Jacksonville pretty much played what was for them, as perfect a game as they could play. But they couldn't keep up with the Patriots, couldn't slow down Maroney, and couldn't lay a finger on Tom Brady. Brady cooly dissected the Jaguars defense relying on short, quick passes, rather than throwing to the double-covered Randy Moss, and the resulting 26 for 28 performance only adds to his legend. Plus, look at that picture. He's so dreamy!
As an unrelated point, Tom Brady is beginning to resemble, more and more, Thom Yorke of Radiohead. They could be dead ringers for each other if Thom Yorke weren't so obviously un-athletic. But the similarities seem to go deeper than just appearance. Both are currently performing at the top of their respective games (consider that a strong endorsement of Radiohead's new album), and have done so for an extended period of time, and even their lulls could be considered excellent for a lesser individual.
But I digress.
In order to continue their drive towards a perfect 19-0 season, the Patriots just have to stick with what got them this far. As time has passed, they have begun to rely more and more on the power running of Lawrence Maroney. I've maintained that any assertion that the Patriots might have had a weak running game was likely false; Belichick has proven himself a master of deception time and again and perhaps he was playing possum with his running game for some time, allowing Brady to just sling the ball at will. This was proven last week with Maroney's strong effort against a Jacksonville defense tough on the run. And if the Chargers try to play the Jags strategy of taking away Moss, Brady has too many other weapons (Stallworth, Welker, Watson) to look to, moreso than the Chargers defense might be able to handle. Yes, the Chargers are better at LB than Jacksonville, but perhaps weaker at Corner. Besides Antonio Cromartie, who will certainly be locked on Moss, they have Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence, neither of whom are close to spectacular.
On the other side, I don't think anybody has any idea how effective Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson or Antonio Gates can be. They were all banged up but good after the Indianapolis game (or in the Tennessee game in the case of Gates). Billy Volek and Michael Turner might have been good enough to finish out the Indianapolis game. But they won't cut it in New England. The weather is going to be cold, they're going to be tight, and it's going to be tough for them to win. They might keep it respectable, but I think the only chance they have to beat New England is if LaDainian Tomlinson calls up the Real LT, and has him send some hookers to Tom Brady and Randy Moss' houses on Saturday night, while they sit in their hotel rooms and smoke crack.
My pick: New England 38, San Diego 16.
Sunday, sometime after 6pm, is the NFC Championship, featuring the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers, LIVE, from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where the capacity of the Stadium is actually larger than the population of the town the Stadium is in.
Although it appears as though much of America seems to be rallying behind Brett Favre and the Packers, the ageless Quarterback resurrecting his career for one last hurrah, leading a band of young and hungry players to the cusp of the Super Bowl, I'm picking the Giants to win.
Here are several reasons why:
Yes, they're going to be on the road, in frigid and hostile Green Bay. But this fact hasn't seemed to bother the Giants at all over the course of the season. They won 7 of their 8 road games in the regular season (including the last 7), and then two more in the Playoffs. That's 9 road wins in a row in one season. That doesn't happen very often. We have seen the Giants mesh as a team as the season drew on, and perhaps this is why they have been able to have such success on the road.
Remember what I said before about the Chargers' strategy in beating the Colts? Well, the Giants did that in the second half of their victory in Dallas last weekend. After Marion Barber carved them up in the first half, the Giants defense held firm and rose up in the second half, keeping Barber under wraps and forcing Tony Romo to beat them. And when they were able to wear down Green Bay's offensive line and pressure Romo, Romo got frustrated and made mistakes. Well, I think they can do that to Green Bay, too. Although Ryan Grant has had a spectacular season, the Green Bay offense is so delicately balanced on Grant being able to run the ball with success. Otherwise, the game is solely in Brett Favre's hands. Now, this isn't a knock on Favre, but let's face it, Favre has always been susceptible to being pressured into making mistakes. He's a master at improvising, yes, but it's easy to overlook just how often his improvising can backfire on him (see: 2001 Divisional Playoff, Packers at Rams). Favre can also throw up that flutterball right into the opposing Safety's hands with the best of them. Favre was never pressured last weekend by a Seahawks defense that could stop neither the run, or the pass. The Giants defense has the capability of stopping the run, and they boast an excellent Pass rush. The question lies in the secondary, and if Aaron Ross is able to play. The secondary is good, but right now a patchwork unit because of injuries. But this didn't stop them last week in Dallas.
Then, there's this: If the Packers win, and go on to face the Patriots, the Media will very likely have a giant, collective, simultaneous orgasm. We will be bombarded, simply bombarded with stupid puff pieces about Brett Favre. True, if the Giants win, we'll hear the same stupid stuff about Eli Manning and Peyton, but you know that if Favre is involved, it's going to go to new heights of insanity. We'll hear from his chiropractor. We'll hear from the doctor that prescribed the painkillers he got addicted to. We'll hear from the guy who dug his father's grave. We'll probably get to see a live interview with the Bog that Favre grew up in in Mississippi. It's going to be absolutely and totally insane. I don't even want to think about the ridiculous questions that he'll be asked at Media day. Between that, the undefeated Patriots, and the Bill Simmons "Prince Favre vs. the Cobra Kai Yankees" theory, it's just a recipe for turning off your TV and throwing it out the window.
It is absolutely imperative that the Giants win this game on Sunday, despite the crowd, and the Favre, and the temperature that is going to range from 3 to -7°F in Green Bay. The sanity of us all depends on it.
My Pick: Giants 27, Packers 23.