Championship week. Great week of football, right? Hard fought, competitive games between evenly matched teams, right?
Well, I'm not so sure about that. Is it me or is "Championship Weekend" usually a bit of letdown? Compared to the Divisional Playoffs (which usually have a couple great games), there have been a lot of duds in the championship round.
Seems like a lot of championship games fall into one of these two categories:
1. Blowout - One team has spent so much energy just getting to the championship game that they lay an egg and get blown out in the championship game (see Minnesota 01, Jacksonville in '96)
2. Choke job - Favored team at home melts down under the pressure and does everything it can to give the game away (see Philly 2001-2003, Minnesota 99, Pittsburgh 02, 05, 94, 98), Jacksonville (01))
Come to think of it, there have really only been three championship games in recent years that were truly memorable.
1. Giants-49ers - 1991 - The Montana injury/Matt Bahr last second field goal game. A truly great game between the two best teams in the NFC.
2. Colts-Steelers - 95 (96?) - The Jim Harbaugh Hail Mary game. One of the most compelling games I've seen. Indy was the ultimate Cinderella story that year. I still remember a lot of the prominent names from that team(Quentin Coryatt anyone?). If Aaron Bailey (yes I had to look him up) had caught that ball in the end zone, you'd have to toss it into the conversation for "greatest play in NFL history".
3. Minnesota-Atlanta - 99 - Probably one of the worst choke jobs I've ever seen. Minnesota was sick that year. Everyone was getting ready for a phenomenal Minnesota-Denver Super Bowl until Gary Anderson missed that chippie and opened the door for a Falcons comeback. We were freshmen in college that year and watched the game in a cramped dorm room on about a 7" tv, but it was still pretty freaking exciting.
Anyway, why am I bringing all this up? Well, championship games aren't always the great matchups that they're hyped up to be. Everyone thinks these two upcoming games will be closely contested games between evenly matched teams. You know what that means don't you? I wouldn't be surpised if one or both of these games was a huge dud, and one of the old familar storylines (blowout) could come into play here. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.
Before I get to my picks, my bro chimed in from sunny Naples with a few thoughts of his own. I thought he had some interesting points to make, so I figured I'd share his picks.
"As for the playoffs, I’m going in the opposite direction as you. I really like Denver to beat the Steel. I know everyone is pumped up about the Steelers and Roethlisberger but Denver just clobbered New England. Everyone is saying the Patriots gave it away, but isn’t that what football is all about? Denver forced fumbles and made big interceptions and won the game going away. Champ Bailey made a hell of a play and Denver doesn’t need to apologize for Troy Brown muffing punts or Adam Vinatieri blowing kicks. Enough with the excuses for Tom Brady and Bellichick. They got stomped by a better team. I also think Pittsburgh is a little overrated. Their postseason wins this year are more fortunate than impressive. Wildcard victory over a Palmer-less Bengals. Division victory over an obviously rusty Colts team that was also battling the Dungy situation. And I can’t get that final regular season game (an extremely meaningful one) against Detroit out of my head. You’re telling me a Super Bowl caliber team goes into the last game of the season desperately needing a win and squeaks it out against DETROIT? Get a tee time for next weekend Hines Ward. I like Denver 31-17.
I really like Seattle in the NFC. I think everyone who picked the Redskins last week thinking that they were the next 2001 Baltimore Ravens is a little bitter towards Seattle. Maybe that bitterness is affecting their judgment because I’m looking at this game and picking Seattle all the way. First of all, it’s going to be raining. Hasselback looked fine in the rain last week but we don’t know about Delhomme. Second, I really like how balanced Seattle is on O. They didn’t explode against Washington but they did more than anyone was expecting. Carolina is hot and they’re a great team but the Deshaun Foster injury concerns me. Is Nick Goings an every down back? If they can’t run, that means it’s up to Delhomme to win the game and something tells me you might see a lot of navy jerseys around Steve Smith. No way he gets off again this week. He’ll see triple coverage and if he doesn’t Holmgren should be fired. Seattle 27-24.
That’s all I got.
Good thoughts. I'm officially nervous about my picks now, and fully anticipate losing yet another football parlay to the good people of sportsinteraction.com this weekend.
ok, on to the picks.
Pittsburgh at Denver (Line: Denver -3.5)
Pick: Pittsburgh +3.5
I'm starting to get nervous about this pick because only a week ago I had Indianapolis blowing out the Steelers. Now everyone suddenly thinks they're the second coming of the '85 Bears. The Steelers have become the trendy pick to win the Super Bowl. That makes me uneasy. This is the same Steelers team that was up and down throughout the regular season, and never gave the impression that they were capable of making a run to the Super Bowl. Then, they beat a rusty Colts team led by the biggest choker in sports, and now everyone is falling all over themselves trying to praise Cowher and the Steelers.
One thing I've noticed about the Steelers under Cowher is that they don't play well in the role of the favorite. When the Steelers are counted out or a heavy underdog, they always seem to take it personally and come out with something to prove. But the minute you put the "favorite" label on their backs, they melt down. Steeler fans will tell you the exact same thing. My roommate from law school is a diehard Steelers fan, and he was actually disappointed last year when the Steelers wrapped up home field advantage. I don't know if it's a psychological thing or related to their style of play, but the Steelers do not handle the pressure of being a favorite all that well.
Ok, so why am I picking the Steelers again? I just think they're the better team in this game. The teams playing the best at the end of the year usually end up winning these games, and I just feel like Pittsburgh is playing great football. Remember, the Steelers went 15-1 last year. In the last two years, they are 29-7. Roethlisberger has been absolutely money the last month and half of the season, and the Steelers D is possessed right now. Polamalu is an animal. I thought he was the best safety in football LAST year. This year, he's become an even better pass defender, and one of the best tacklers in the game. I am terrified of Polamalu. Denver should be too.
There's been a lot made out of this "three road games in a row" stuff. Seems like the "experts" are worried that the Steelers can't get up for this game after the Indy game. Hello!! This is the AFC Championship game! You think they won't be able to get up for this game? Seriously? There was some concern that New England wouldn't be able to get up for the Pittsburgh game last year following the big Indy win. That speculation was quickly put to rest in the 1st quarter. The Steelers will be up for this game.
As for Denver, I was at the UC game last week and didn't watch the Denver-New England game until the 4th quarter, so I can't really get a read on these guys. I just don't get that "Super Bowl" vibe out of this Denver team. They don't really have a great defense, they don't really have a great offense, they don't have a gamebreaking player on either side of the ball. To be a championship team, something has to stand out. Nothing stands out with this team. Very good team, great record, but I just think they're going to run into a red hot Steelers team and lose.
(For the record, since I really have no clue on either of these games, this could easily be the "blowout" game with Denver whipping a worn out Steelers team.)
Pittsburgh 23 Denver 14
Carolina at Seattle (Line: Seattle -4.5)
Pick: Carolina +4.5
I've been going back and forth about this game.
1. Is Carolina really this good, or are New York and Chicago just not that great? Since I've never really been all that impressed with the Bears or the Giants, I'm tempted to go with the latter. Still, when you watch Carolina, you can't help but be impressed with the personnel on their team. Their D is really athletic and aggressive, and that o-line has been dominant. Delhomme has morphed into the modern day Phil Simms, and Steve Smith is one of the most exciting players I've ever seen in football. You can double cover the guy all you want. He will bust open at some point, and you know Carolina will take advantage of it. Last time I checked, Jerry Rice was a pretty good football player. I'd guess that he was double covered a time or two in big games. Did he still find a way to make big plays? You bet.
2. Either Seattle's Defense is really underrated, or Washington's offense was just pitiful. I'm going with the latter. Washington was totally inept on offense last week. They had no push up front to establish a running attack, so Seattle could just pin their ears back and try to put pressure on Brunell. We'll see how good Seattle's D is when they're facing 3rd and 2 situations instead of 3rd and 11.
3. Seattle offense. This is the one area that concerns me with regard to picking Carolina. Seattle's offensive line is really good. They have good balance. Hasselback can make plays, and I think they can run the ball on Carolina no matter who is playing RB for Seattle. The Bears did move the ball consistently on Carolina. If Seattle wins this game, I'm going to look back at this point and kick myself.
3. Coaching matchup. John Fox vs. Mike Holmgren. I know, I know. Holmgren has the ring. Holmgren has won 2 NFC Championships (one of them as a road underdog). I can't knock Holmgren's success. Still, when it comes down to coaching, I'm picturing a fired up John Fox on the sideline pumping his guys up while Holmgren picks at his moustache and stares at his playsheet. I like the Fox matchup here. Remember, this is virtually the same Carolina team that went into Philly two years ago and won.
4. East Coast bias. Hey, I'll admit it. East coast bias is at work here. There's something about Seattle as a football team and as a city that I have a hard time respecting. Maybe it's Ichiromania. Maybe it's the pansy Starbucks thing. Maybe it's the whole trendiness of the Seattle area. It might even be the presence of Tyrone Willingham in that state. I know Seattle supposedly has the loudest stadium in the game, but I just can't buy into this notion that Seattle is a great football town. Seattle football fans strike me as the kind of fans who love doing "The Wave," and go crazy when the scoreboard lights up with "NOISE!!". I don't respect that city or that fanbase.
Carolina 27 Seattle 23