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Tuesday, August 14 2018

NFL Predictions 2009: Championship Games

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I can already tell I am going to be in trouble this week. During the first two weekends of the playoffs I got it done on Saturday only to watch Sunday go by the wayside. It is too late for the NFL to move the games though, so maybe I should just pick the opposite teams to win. Last week I went an unexciting 2-2 straight up (179-85 overall) 2-2 against the spread (135-137-3 overall) and, you guessed it, 2-2 on the over/under (129-130-5 overall). The most exciting part of Championship Sunday is going to be finding out which title game losers bail on the Pro Bowl by choice after the winners opt out by necessity. I kid because there is still an outside chance JaMarcus Russell starts for the AFC right?

NY Jets (11-7) @ Indianapolis (15-2): Before the 2009 draft I told Michael Abromowitz the Jets might select Sanchez and he might be the second coming of Namath if they did. I wish I had a tape recorder running on that conversation. Ironically, the brash rookie now faces the very opponent Namath was made famous by defeating and in the most similar situation possible because both teams of course now reside in the AFC. When head coach Rex Ryan declared his teams the “favorites” he was clearly pumping up his players, but as has been repeated numerous times any team with a solid defense and running game has a chance. They waited patiently for Rivers to throw his killer interceptions and Kaeding to attempt field goals like the mafia had his family hidden in a basement.

 

The first thing I noticed when breaking down the schedules was a disparity when it came to facing elite competition. The Jets have taken on 6 division champions including the playoffs. Even if the Colts and Bengals had limited effort over the final two weeks it should still be noted New York is now 5-1 against AFC division champs. They lost 24-10 at New Orleans when Sanchez threw 3 interceptions and the only other blemish was a 31-14 whipping at New England in a revenge game for the Patriots. Obviously Indy won their division and had less opportunities, but they were a mere 2-0 against NFL division winners having won at  Arizona 31-10 way back in week 3 and with a little help from Belichick near midseason they stunned New England 35-34. I dug deeper though and find an advantage. Through 15 weeks of the season they were a staggering 12-0 against teams with (when discounting losses to them) were otherwise 7-8 or better. Yeah, those opponents were mediocre, but they were not awful by any stretch. Over the same time frame the Jets were just 4-6.

 

For me this game comes down to Manning being smarter, and more patient than Rivers. Last week we saw Rivers pressing way too much as young quarterbacks itching for a big playoff win often do. Manning’s struggles against the 3-4 defensive front are overblown. He just completed a ridiculous 68% of his 44 passes against the Ravens, who are basically a mirror image of the Jets. When the offense failed to run the ball, as has pretty much happened all season, Manning used a quartet of receivers including his stud tight end Dallas Clark to walk down the field for crucial scoring drives. He is not going to pass for 400 yards this week and the Colts will not score 45 points. Revis shutting down one side of the field, or more specifically leading receiver Reggie Wayne will prevent that kind of production. He will, however, take small yardage when he has it and otherwise punt the football.

 

The star will be the Indianapolis defense. They put the clamps on Baltimore’s rushing offense. It goes largely overlooked that the Colts gave up only 10 rushing touchdowns all season. Call it 8 in 15 games they were trying, including last week. If this game falls on Sanchez going to work against book end Pro Bowl pass rushers it is going to be ugly. Because Mathis and Freeney can be so disruptive outside, the Colts can spy the runs between the tackles. I love the powerful offensive line with three Pro Bowlers for the Jets, but at some point Sanchez is going to make a mistake or two. Last week at San Diego was a totally different environment than this dome with a Super Bowl on the line. When he fades, he fades. To wit, 17 of his 24 turnovers came in just 4 games out of the 17 he has played. A lot of his success over the past four weeks has been the product of his running game dominating. He threw a grand total of 73 passes. There is no chance they come into this stadium and watch him go 12/19 for 106 yards again, as he did in the scrimmage on December 27, for a victory. Manning leads touchdown drives and Sanchez falls short: Indianapolis 21, NY Jets 16 (NYJ +9/under 40)

 

Minnesota (13-4) @ New Orleans (14-3): I tend to look for the odd facts when figuring out which team is going to win. Last week’s losers are sitting at home pretty bummed because they can each stake a claim to beating the team they might have faced, and did so late in the season. Arizona smacked the Vikings 30-17 in week 13 and two weeks later Dallas handed the Saints their first loss 24-17. Those are the breaks right? Of note, I doubt the Cardinals would have repeated their win on the road considering how they melted at the Superdome. Back to the teams actually playing though, and here we have the two superpowers. If not for both of them fading down the stretch this would likely be reminiscent of another “dome vs. dome” showdown for the NFC title. Just over a decade ago the 16-1 Vikings were outlasted in overtime by the 15-2 Falcons. These teams are pretty similar. In fact, the visitors are riding a veteran quarterback. Okay, this might be the only time Chris Chandler is compared to Brett Favre. You get my point though. The same goes for a powerful running back. Then it was Jamal Anderson now it is Adrian Peterson. Do the visitors win again?

 

My biggest concern for the Vikings is the health of their defensive line and the ability of those players to attack Drew Brees and stop the running game. Last week they had the advantage of their own noisy dome crowd and benefitted greatly from Flozell Adams leaving his left tackle post in the second quarter. Eventually the Cowboys folded after missed field goals left them in a bigger hole than they should have been in. Jared Allen was a terror and you know the rest. This time a banged up front four takes on three Pro Bowl offensive linemen who will enjoy relative quiet at the snap. The opposing backfield is healthier as well, and in the case of Reggie Bush peaking.

 

Brett Favre certainly has been here before, but aren’t we all just waiting for him to throw 6 interceptions as he famously did against the Rams in the playoffs? He has just 7 while throwing 555 passes this season. Last year he had roughly the same number of attempts, but tripled his picks at 22. Having the threat of Adrian Peterson helps tremendously because while it has been well reported “All Day” is slumping, he still commands respect from the defense and can bust a long touchdown run at any time. If last week was any indication though, the Saints stymied the run and also shut down a potent passing attack. Kurt Warner is a pretty similar threat at quarterback compared to Favre considering their veteran status and relative immobility. Favre has inferior targets because as much as everyone wants to jump on Sidney Rice’s jock (this means you Buck) he is definitely not worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as the other, retired Rice. He’s also no Larry Fitzgerald.

 

Once the run is cut off, and the top receiver is limited what is Favre going to do? The answer is probably forcing a few throws, which has been his poison over his lengthy career. On the other side of things, balance and ball distribution have been the key for the Saints all season. No one really knows who will be the star on any given week, or any given play. Bush filled the role last week with big plays. This week Pierre Thomas might be a bigger factor, especially if the “Williams Wall” is not at full strength, or either guy taps out. If Shockey is unable to answer the bell it hurts their offense, but the same goes for Minnesota rookie Percy Harvin suffering migraine headaches.

 

Overall the biggest reason I can’t go with the Vikings is their inability to win on the road all season. I don’t see them turning it around against the best opponent they have faced to date. While going 3-5 away from the Metrodome their only win of note came on November 1 against the hated Packers in Favre’s return. It was also their last road victory. The Saints certainly slipped while losing their final two home games to Dallas and Tampa Bay, but flipped the switch back on for the playoffs by putting up their sixth effort of 30+ points on this field. There will be scoring because these quarterbacks can lead a quick drive and any outcome is possible. I don’t buy that either team can take the other out of it with an early flurry. Neither quarterback is going to pack it in if they fall behind by 14 or even 21 points. I’m seeing both teams having a fair amount of success running the ball, for over 4 yards a pop and quarterbacks as usual making the difference. Brees has one more touchdown in him in this battle of good vs. evil. Okay, Favre is not really evil, but this city is dying for a champion and finally gets it: New Orleans 28, Minnesota 23 (NO -3.5/under 53.5)

 

 

 

 

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