Friday, January 2, 2009

Playoff Preview, Pt. 3

Conference Championships
Down to my picks for the final three games of the season, the Conference championships and the 'big game.' As I see it, we'll have Pittsburgh at Tennessee in the AFC and Carolina at New York in the NFC. Both games would be rematches, with the former Oilers knocking around the Steelers in Nashville. We also saw the G-Men protecting their house and knocking of the Panthers in OT back in week 16. This marks the fifth AFC Championship rematch ('02, '03, '06 and '07) of the decade and the fourth in the NFC ('02, '03, '07) over the same time. The AFC team who won the regular season matchup has won the rematch every time (4-0), while their NFC counterpart has lost each game (0-3). This provides a contrasting view to my pre-research, gut feeling opinion on these games.

In the first Steelers vs. Titans matchup, Ben had to handle a lot of the offense and threw for big yards but also had four turnovers, while Collins managed the Titans to a win and leaned on Lendale White and Chris Johnson who each scored a TD. Look for Roethlisberger to stay away from Michael Griffin who had both interceptions and returned one of them for a score. This game was close going into the half with Tennessee clinging to to a 3-point lead, but it got out of hand when they put up 21 in the second half on the vaunted Steelers D. Look for the pride of that defense come through and have the team in white and blue feeling black and blue at the end of the game. I like the Steelers to beat the Titans to make their second trip to the league championship in four years.

Back to the defending champs and their quest to repeat. The Giants snuck past the Panthers in their week 16 game to lock up the number one seed. New York held Steve Smith to his second lowest output of the season as he only pulled in three catches for 47 yards. It's not like he was in a rut either, Smith headed into the game with four straight Sundays of 100+ yards receiving. I don't think any defense can keep him under wraps the second time he faces them, so look for him to get the ball in the open field and make some plays this game. The Panthers gave up the lead three separate times, letting New York erase deficits of 4, 11, and 8. I see another history-bucking outcome in this one with the Giants coming out on top in a lower scoring game than the first time around.

"The Big Game"
Steelers vs. Giants. A contest between the champs from 2005 and 2007. No matter what happens over the next season, this decade belonged to the Patriots. However, they have not won a 'ship since 2004, so one can make an argument that whoever wins this game becomes the runner-up for Team of the Decade honors and the best team of the second part of the 2000s.

The two championship runs were made in a similar fashion. Both teams made the playoffs as a wildcard and had to win three in a row on the road to get to the big one. This time around both teams are favorites (Vegas has the Giants at 2-1 to win the whole thing and Steelers at 9-2) have a bye and host most or all of the games on the road to the 'ship. This could be a classic game and Plaxico has to be shooting himself that he can't be on the field - Oh wait. These two met week 8 in Pittsburgh and the Giants came out on top 21-14. The Clocktower threw a season high four interceptions while Eli Manning never gave the ball up. The Steeler D didn't let the Giant O in the end zone until there were three minutes left on the clock. When you have a +4 turnover differential, you have to win by more than a touchdown.

I pick the Steelers to win the game and foil the Giants plan to go back-to-back. We all remember what happened last year in a rematch. Pats beat Giants week 17, Giants exact revenge in the worst way. I don't see Roethlisberger having four INTs again and the Steelers will force turnovers this time around. Pittsburgh wins their sixth 'ship!

Check back in February when I grade my picks. I hope my predictions all go wrong and the Fish beat the Birds to win it.


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