After having gone 0-4 for the Divisional Playoffs, I more or less didn't even want to bother predicting games for the Conference Championship round. But I wasn't the only one who went 0-4 and stunk up the joint as bad as Eli Manning did last Sunday. In fact, people much more notable than me did just as bad. The point: Well, there is no point. But I put it off and put it off just like I did with my picks for the first two rounds, and now it's Sunday Morning and I have to make some sort of picks, right?
Well, I suppose I don't have to...
But I will anyway.
I'll start out by saying that I really just don't like 3 of these 4 teams at all. And perhaps it was my general dislike for these teams that made me pick against them last weekend. Unfortunately, one of them will end up in the Super Bowl and I can assure you that I'll be picking against them when the game is played after the two weeks of lather jobs and crotch-grabbing. I know it's poor form to pick against a team simply because you don't like them, but isn't that what sports is all about? Nevertheless...
Philadelphia Eagles (11-6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (11-7)
For the first time since the 1979 season, there will be a Super Bowl team that won only 9 games in the regular season. It was Ray Malavasi's Los Angeles Rams that pulled off this feat a generation ago, beating an upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers team 9-0 in a painful Championship game before falling to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, though they did put up a spirited effort against Pittsburgh.
So, 29 years later, we have a matchup of 2 teams that only managed to muster 9 wins in the regular season for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. What a crock. I really don't like either of these teams much, though I did pick Arizona to beat Atlanta two weeks ago. I don't think anybody thought this game possible at the beginning of the season, or even last week. Nobody thought Arizona was going to beat Carolina, and certainly not the way they did, and Philadelphia got here by beating up a pair of bad teams and then catching the Giants at their absolute worst. The prevailing thought that I keep hearing is that this is going to be a high-scoring shootout and the Eagles will win. There are a large number of people that are just adamant, that the Eagles will win! E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES! On the other side, the best support I've heard for the Cardinals is that they have Kurt Warner, and a Pakistani Bill Simmons reader purports that Warner's wife said the family could get a puppy if they won the Super Bowl, and we all know that Warner is the NFL's most adamant Jesus freak, and so "you can't pick against God and Puppies." That's not a compelling argument. There's also this residual bitterness I have for Warner going back to his Rams days. He killed the Niners then, and he's still killing them with Arizona. I don't care about the humanitarian efforts, or the rags-to-riches story, or the Chunky Soup, I hate him. This will not change. And the thought of 2 weeks of listening to him pontificate and the godawful human interest crap we're going to hear about him bagging groceries is nauseating.
But I hate Philly more. You don't even need to ask why, and it's not even close.
My pick: Cardinals 34, Eagles 28
Baltimore Ravens (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4)
A much more compelling matchup as far as quality of teams go, that's for sure. These are two teams that had good seasons, play solid, smashmouth football and don't like each other. The game itself may as well be a tossup because these teams appear to simply mirror each other at every avenue. Young, talented QB, Streaky, slashing backs, rangy WRs and punishing defenses. In a game like this, it's going to come down to some odd variable that nobody thinks of that will end up being the difference. It's not going to be all about who gets more turnovers, or whose running back breaks through, or who can control the ball longer, or who was the hotter team coming in. Both teams have been playing well for several weeks now. In fact, this game is a rematch of one of the more spirited games of the late regular season. Both these teams have a lot of players who have been here before. Baltimore seems to have a similar recipe that they had in 2000, when they won a Super Bowl. Pittsburgh still has much of their recent Super Bowl team intact as well. When it's this even, I think you have to step back and examine what you thought of these teams during the season. Baltimore never impressed me, and they rarely do. Two years ago, they stormed into the Divisional round with a bye and a 13-3 record and promptly got whacked by Indy. I've been thinking Pittsburgh was a Super Bowl team since Halloween. That hasn't changed.
My pick: Steelers 16, Ravens 7
I've got to get at least one of these correct, right?