Tuesday, January 15, 2008

NFL Conference Championship Week: Keys To Success

Upsets, comebacks, unlikely heroes, snowstorms, and a bevy of dreamy quarterbacks… this past weekend’s divisional games had it all. And after the best weekend of NFL playoff football in recent memory, we can only hope the upcoming conference championships offer up even half as much entertainment.

Here are the keys, on both sides of the ball, for each team’s road to the Super Bowl.

New York Giants
The Giants looked poised and focused last week in a win that scarred the Cowboys so badly it turned Terrell Owens into Chris Crocker. Now, after sending their hated rivals home for the year, it’s time to see if these Giants have what it takes to keep things rolling.

Offense: Eli Manning, who has made the sudden and unexpected transformation from perennial butt of all crappy quarterback jokes, to savvy, composed team leader, needs to remain confident. The Giants can ill afford to have their blossoming quarterback revert to his old ways. So my advice, keep him away from his family. One reminder that he is still the Fredo to Peyton’s Michael Corleone could shatter his fragile psyche, along with Big Blue’s Super Bowl hopes.

Defense: As it has been up to this point, the Giants defensive line remains their biggest advantage. Considering they made the Cowboys offensive line, which boasts 3 pro-bowlers, look like they were shooting the real life version of their Pepsi-Max commercial on Sunday, you have to wonder if the Pack’s O-line can stop them from pummeling Brett Favre into the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers braved a snowstorm and a 14 point deficit to handily defeat the Seahawks last Saturday. The boys from Wisconsin are this season’s Cinderella story, but do they have what it takes to make a run at the trophy?

Offense: We all know that the ageless, Wrangler donning Brett Favre has been the catalyst in the Packers magical season. And last week, heads up plays like his stumbling shovel pass to Donald Lee helped keep the cheese-heads cheering, but it helps to have a running back that churns out a 200 yard game(even though he did fumble twice in the 1st quarter). The key to a Packers victory could rest on the back of running back Ryan Grant, who was traded by the Giants earlier this year. So keep up the good work Ryan, and if you can, try not to open this one with two TD’s… for the other team.

Defense: If I were to say there’s an NFL defensive back with a weird name, who seems to be in all places at once, flying around the field with his wild hair bouncing behind him and crushing everything in his path, you’d likely assume I was talking about the Steelers’ Troy Palomalou… but there’s a new crazy-named sheriff in town. Sheriff Atari Bigby. And if he treats the Giants’ receivers anything like he did the Seahawks’, there’s a good chance the Packers will be heading west for the final shootout.

San Diego Chargers
The Chargers were given little-to-no chance heading into their showdown with the defending-champion Colts, but somehow they managed to pull out a victory. Now Norv Turner, who was previously lamented as a head coaching pariah, finds himself in a Waterboy-esque Coach Klein vs. Coach Red Beaulieu scenario with a chance to face-off against the game’s most feared Head Coach.

Offense: Untimely injuries were the only story bigger than the Chargers upset of the Colts. Superstar running back Ladainian Tomlinson went down in the 2nd quarter with a knee injury, and young quarterback Philip Rivers had to leave the game in the 3rd. While Tomlinson is likely to start, fueled largely by his seething hatred for all things New England, Rivers may not be able to play at all. So the question is, can the Bolts really put up a fight with Billy Volek at the helm and Rivers reduced to spending the entire game trash talking with Pats fans?

Defense: The Chargers offer one of the league’s best pass defenses to combat the Pats’ aerial attack. After picking apart Peyton Manning and the Colts’ receivers for the second time this year there is only one question left to ask; Will any Patriots’ receivers be willing to go over the middle after safety Marlon McCree gave Reggie Wayne the wrecking ball treatment?

New England Patriots
The Patriots currently stand as only the second team ever to make it to 17-0. They have been the favorites to win the Super Bowl since long before the season started. They look unstoppable. So are they?

Offense: Tom Brady posted a 93.3% completion rate last week… that is 10 points higher than Philip Rivers quarterback rating this year. When you cover his men deep, he picks you apart with short passes. Play the coverage tight, and he will smoke you downfield. So unless he is assassinated, Tom Brady will not be stopped… and even if he is I’m not so sure he won’t pull an Obi Wan Kenobi and return, more powerful than we can possibly imagine.

Defense: With their high flying offense squarely in the spotlight throughout the year, the Pats’ D has quietly remained one of the league’s most daunting units. Asante Samuel, Tedi Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, Roosevelt Colvin, Adalius Thomas, Richard Seymour… the list goes on. The Patriots offer up a veritable Murderer’s Row of defensive stoppers. In fact, I predict one of them will join the actual Murderer’s Row when Rodney Harrison pops Billy Volek’s head with his HGH-filled bicep.

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