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NFL Picks for Conference Semifinals
by John Canton (NFL)
Posted on January 13, 2007, 1:23 AM

John: This, my friends, is the greatest weekend in the NFL every single year. These are the teams that are supposedly the eight best teams in the league. Aside from the Seahawks I'd agree with that this year. That means, at least in my opinion, we're going to get at least three good games this weekend and maybe four if the Seahawks realize they should be a lot better than the way they are playing. We'll get to them later.

I love conference semifinal weekend. If you look at the past couple of years in this round there were some classic games that have occurred with last year's Colts/Steelers tilt standing out as one I'll never forget. When your favorite team is long gone like mine is all you can really hope for is high quality football games. Last week did not deliver that. There was bad quarterbacking all over the place, a major gaffe by Tony Romo in the Dallas game and the Pats laying a beatdown on a Jets team that I thought would be much better than the way they played. As for this week? I don't really know. I have to say that I don't love my picks too much this week. I really think it's a crapshoot in this league now. Does home field really matter? Is team A really that much better than team B on any given week? Teams like San Diego and Baltimore went on impressive runs in their last ten games, but look at who they are playing against. It's not like they're guaranteed to move on. That's what's great about the NFL, though. Anybody can win any game under any circumstances. Not only am I going to watch all four games in their entirety but then 24's back on Sunday night for two hours. I'm giddy this weekend. I love it. Oh right, we have to do picks. Here's the Q man with his thoughts.

drq: So last week's wildcard round wasn't exactly as exciting and well-played as I'd have expected. Between Kansas City's ineptitude offensively, the Cowboys' legendary game-winning field goal attempt and the Giants' inability to make a stand defensively at the end of regulation, these teams looked more mediocre than Super Bowl-bound. Fortunately, this week's roster looks to improve upon the games' quality by quite a substantial margin. Three out of the four games should be competitive, well-played brawls between the best teams in the league, while the Bears / Seahawks match... well, it'll be interesting, I suppose. It's the last week of four-game action in the NFL, with each of the eight division winners still standing tall. That's nice to see for a change, a divisional playoff round sans any wild card entries. Last season, when road wins were all the rage, it seemed that this kind of a situation was a thing of the past. I'm really looking forward to some great games this week. Don't let me down, guys.

Brett: Man, did I call that Cowboys game or what? 'Tony Romo makes a late mistake to cost them the game'. Nice work.

Last Week:
Brett Berliner: 3-1
drqshadow: 3-1
John Canton: 3-1

Regular Season:
Brett Berliner: 161-95 (.629)
John Canton: 155-101 (.605)
drqshadow: 145-111 (.566)

Indianapolis at Baltimore 4:30pm (Saturday)
drq: This entire game boils down to one thing: the play of Peyton Manning. For a dude that's so unbelievably precise and on top of things during the regular season, it's hard to ignore his problems in the post-season. Where, during the regular season, he's willing to accept a sack or throw the ball away, (even when it means the end of an offensive series) during the playoffs he plays a different game. He seems unwilling to accept a single punting situation, whether he's up by twenty or down by six. He tries to force the ball into places he wouldn't even think about during a regular season game. He dances nervously around the pocket, as if he's anticipating instant doom at each moment. But, in the few instances he's actually "on" during a playoff atmosphere, it's like he's playing a different game than the rest of the players. He showed that poise during each of his four postseason wins, which have surprisingly come against only two different teams - Kansas City and Denver. Although he wasn't responsible in any way for the team's win over KC last week, in those victories over the Broncos he was immaculate. And that's what he'll need to be against this incredible Baltimore defense.

The Ravens aren't a team that Manning's had too much trouble with before - they always seem to present him with a wild assortment of different looks, blitzes and cover packages - and he's always managed to solve their riddle. He creamed the Ravens on their home field to open the 2005 season, stomped them in Indy the season before and slipped past them midway through the '02 season. This isn't exactly the same Baltimore team he's owned in the past, however. They're motivated defensively like they haven't been in years, and they have a proven field general in Steve McNair. It's McNair, actually, who I think will be the Ravens' achilles heel. The Colts know how he likes to operate, having played him twice a season since the inception of the AFC South, and have had lots of success against him in that time. He's slowed down since then, and I don't think the Baltimore offensive line will be able to buy him as much time as he needs when confronted by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. As long as Peyton can hang onto the ball and avoid giving the Baltimore defense an opportunity to score, I think it's the Colts' game. Indianapolis: 24 - Baltimore: 20

Brett: Defense wins championships, but to be fair, the Ravens aren't shabby on offense, either. I think if the Chiefs had more weaponry on offense (such as: a good QB, good WRs, or anything but Johnson and Gonzalez) they may have had more chance, but Indianapolis was absolutely inspired. They will try to be again this week, but with all the guys they have banged up, it's going to be interesting. I think that Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson will be able to succeed where Larry Johnson failed, and Steve McNair, Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Mark Clayton will be able to do just enough. Baltimore 21, Indianapolis 17

John: It's the traditional offense vs. defense deal where the talking heads will tell you why one is going to succumb to the other. Most of the time defense wins. If you believe that then you gotta go with the Ravens since they have the number one ranked defense in the league. The Colts of course have been the best offensive team in the NFL over the past four or five seasons. Interesting. I think last week's game against the Chiefs was telling for the Colts because Peyton Manning was shaky against an average defense. Something is amiss with the Colts offense. Maybe it's the offensive line, maybe Joseph Addai isn't picking up blitzes enough. I'm not really sure, but if Manning throws three picks this week like he did last week then you can put the Colts down for a loss.

I'm not really sure what to think of the Ravens. Since they weren't on primetime a lot (were they at all?) and I usually chose to not watch them on Sundays they are a foreign team to me in a lot of ways. They play your basic style of football with Jamal Lewis running for three yards then falling down while Steve McNair takes care of the ball with a short passing game. It's boring as hell, but it works. They've won 9 of 10 and in their last seven games the most points they’ve given up in a game is 17. This defense is scary good. Good enough to slow down the Colts, I think. Ravens 23-16

Philadelphia at New Orleans 8:00pm (Saturday)
drq: The Saints appear to be the cream of the NFC crop, but they'll be tested by this resurgent Eagles squad come Saturday afternoon. The Big Easy should come out in full force in support of this game, and it's easy to imagine an atmosphere like we saw in the Super Dome on that fateful Monday Night earlier in this season. In that game, the crowd was fired up to such a degree that the Atlanta Falcons completely lost their heads prior to the opening kickoff. They were staring into the headlights, and the Saints were more than happy to press down the accelerator and barrel right over them. Considering the Eagles' shaky win over the Giants last week, it's easy to imagine this one as a humongous blowout, basically finished by the end of the third quarter.

The Eagles have made their name by excelling in that kind of situation late in this season, however, and I'm not quite ready to completely write them out of the equation just yet. The last time these teams met, which was also under the dome in NO, the home team squeaked by with a narrow three point victory, highlighted by two TD catches from Joe Horn. Since that time, Horn's struggled with an injury, (as has former rookie of the year candidate Marques Colston) and the Eagles have reinvented themeselves under the eye of Jeff Garcia's excellent game management skills. I think Philly is a good enough team to hang with the Saints for three and a half quarters, but ultimately New Orleans has too many offensive weapons for the Eagles to keep track of. They'll pull away with the win in the fourth quarter. New Orleans: 28 - Philadelphia: 17

Brett: Funny, I'm going to pick against my call last time (experience over heat) and go this time with the inspired New Orleans Saints. They've simply played phenomenally in comparison to what they were expected to do, and I think with all the weapons they have, outscoring the Philly offense won't be too tough. New Orleans 35, Philadelphia 31

John: Another tough game to pick. On the one hand you've got an Eagles team that has been on a ridiculous tear to end the season. They're back to looking like the team they were a couple years ago when they were in the Super Bowl. They've done it by playing turnover free football on offense and blitzing QB's like crazy on defense. The Saints are a cool story because of what that city has had to overcome since Katrina hit, plus the fact that this team had the second pick in the draft last year and now suddenly they had a bye in the playoffs. The whole experience vs. inexperience debate can rage on too since the Saints are virtually virgins in this spot. I think they're the better team, though. If the Eagles try to blitz Brees a lot he has the tools to pick it apart with a deep passing game. He's smart, he doesn't force his throws and he's very good at reading defenses. If Philly sits back then the Saints can just run on them with their very good RB's. It's important for the Saints to dictate the pace of the game otherwise they could lose a slow, lethargic type of game that Philly likes to play. Even though the Iggles will play it smart I think the Saints simply have too much talent for them to handle. Defensively the Saints aren't great, but they should have enough to slow down a very predictable Eagles offense. Saints 30-20

Seattle at Chicago 1:00pm (Sunday)
drq: I don't care who wins this game or how impressive they look in doing so, I'm not going to take them in next week's conference championship game. The Bears, after opening the season in unstoppable fashion have really begun to come apart at the seams down the stretch. The play of Rex Grossman has been absolutely awful, to the point that people are already beginning to wonder if he'll single-handedly cost the Bears their chance at a Super Bowl ring. Of more concern, however, is the slow decline of their defensive play. After completely shutting down teams for the entire first half of the season, the Bears' D allowed an unusual amount of points to close out the season, and they weren't exactly facing the cream of the NFL's crop. They allowed a minimum of three scores against such powerhouses as Tampa, Detroit and Green Bay, and really didn't look to be in playoff shape the last time we saw them.

As bad as the Bears have looked, however, the Seahawks haven't looked much better. They struggled throughout the season with major injuries, but didn't immediately improve upon those players' returns to the active roster. Their defense remains ravaged by injury, which is something that could make Grossman's flaws much less of a factor, and they've had serious trouble moving the ball on the ground. Dallas really should've won that game last week, and I don't think Chicago's going to hand them the win here in the same kind of fashion. I like the Bears comfortably, but not beautifully. Chicago: 17 - Seattle: 7

Brett: Ooh, I know it makes a lot of sense to pick Da Bears, as they smashed Seattle in their last meeting, but here's my feeling on this one:

1. The Bears are extraordinarily unhealthy, missing key players such as Tommie Harris and Mike Brown. The Seahawks have a few injuries but are as healthy as can be expected, with their best players starting to round into form.
2. Very few people are giving the 'Hawks a chance, as most think the Bears will blow them out again. That is always a recipe for an upset.
3. The Seahawks have been here before and have won in positions like this, while the Bears have yet to win any really big games. Never underestimate experience.
4. Rex Grossman. He is terrible.

I think Seattle is going to pull it out when Grossman makes a late mistake, I really do. Seattle 21, Chicago 20

John: I don't think this will be a close game. About a month and a half ago I thought the Seahawks had turned the corner to become a great team again. I'm wrong. Shaun Alexander does not look healthy, Matt Hasselbeck looks very uneasy there with a bad knee keeping him in the pocket way too much and while the defense is solid it's hurting badly in the secondary. Everybody talks about Grossman for the Bears, but I'll be shocked if he even completes 15 passes in this game because they won't need him to. They'll win this game the same way they've won all year: with defense and special teams. The Seahawks don't have enough offensive firepower this year to win this game, so they won't. I like the Bears in a boring, anti-climactic game. The difference won't be that much, but it'll be enough to cover the spread. Bears 23-10

New England at San Diego 4:30pm (Sunday)
drq: Easily the game of the week. The Chargers are white hot, coming off a very impressive 14-2 regular season, and have the biggest running threat in the game in their corner. The Patriots, likewise, are fresh off an extremely impressive destruction of the New York Jets, a team they'd struggled with earlier in the season, and are led by a battle-tested, super-accurate Tom Brady. It's always hard to pick against the Pats when you're in the post-season, however I'm noticing a lot of similarities to last season's New England team. In both seasons, their regular season was strong but not dominant. They did enough to win the division, although just barely, and remained under the radar in the build to the wildcard games. In round one, they annihilated their opposition within the familiar confines of Gillette Stadium (The aforementioned Jets in '06, Jacksonville in '05) and quickly captured the audience's imaginations with their fantastic play. Of course, you remember what happened when they visited Denver around this time last year. It's kind of strange, then, that they'll be visiting yet another strong AFC West team in the divisional round this year. I think a big part of the Pats' post-season successes have been their ability to play at home with some regularity, and I think the road environment will be detrimental to them here. With Rodney Harrison, I'd be very tempted to pick them. Without, I think they're in for a true fight. I think Brady sits on the sidelines and watches as league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson leads his Chargers on a powerful last-minute march down the field, ultimately grabbing the victory in nail-biting fashion. San Diego: 28 - New England: 27

Brett: This one is really interesting, specifically because, if you've been following football over the last 20 years, you realize that Marty Schottenheimer is ridiculously conservative, and Bill Belicheck is a genius. This is a fun game. You, of course, have to give the Pats a shot, and maybe even money since they've defied the odds for years, but I really think that the Chargers are too talented, too well coached (not just Marty, but the coordinators, Wade Phillips and Cam Cameron, have to be lauded) and too ready for this one to lose. San Diego 30, New England 21

John: Yes, this is the game of the week. We all know it. It's the team of the decade going on the road against the team with a 10 game winning streak and the unquestionable MVP of the league. So many storylines here. It's what the playoffs are about. My belief is that both of these offenses are playing such good football right now that the score is going to be in the twenties somewhere, maybe higher. While I'm sure Bellichick will come up with a bunch of schemes to confuse Rivers, I still think the Chargers will be able to move the ball on the Pats. You can't just shut down an offense that puts up 30 points a game. It's not that easy. Especially when that team is coming off a bye week where they've been able to rest their bodies and prepare for their opponent thoroughly. That's why I'm going with the Chargers. The time off is huge. Even though I don't feel so great about picking a Marty Schottenheimer team in the playoffs this is a different team for the guy. It's by far the best team he's ever had and even he can't screw this up. Also keep in mind that last year everybody said the same thing about the Pats. They said Brady doesn't lose in the playoffs or to an inferior QB (Jake Plummer) yet what happened? They lost. And they'll lose again. Chargers 31-24

I'm not sure about my picks. I pick all the favorites to win and to cover the spread. It's probably not going to happen, but I went with my gut and that's what I came out with. All I really want are close games that I can enjoy watching as an impartial fan. Is that too much to ask?

Until next week when we preview the conference championships, for Drqshadow and Brett Berliner this is John Canton saying enjoy the games. You know we will.



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