Saturday, January 23, 2010

NFL: Final Four Picks

Due to popular demand from a breathless public, I'm issuing my picks for the playoff games this weekend--because there just isn't enough about them available on TV and in print. (Seriously, I didn't think it was possible to talk so much about the same four teams every day for a week, but hey, that's why I'm not on ESPN.)

Indianapolis Colts v. New York Jets: On offense, the Jets run and the Colts pass. The Jets defense can cover and also blitz, and so, to a lesser extent, can the Colts. If the Jets control the tempo by running effectively, and their defense smothers Payton Manning, they win. But if they fall behind, they have a harder time catching up by scoring points quickly. If the game is close, Manning is better at manufacturing points, and except in a real blowout, the Colts can never be counted out until the game is over. I expect Manning to do a lot of short passes, to try to counter the Jets ability to dominate the clock. But Manning can also get points on the board. If the Colts can't stop the run, they're pretty close to cooked. If the Jets can't stop the pass, they are cooked.

So when you're looking at this by considering various scenarios, the Colts have to be the favorites--they have more ways to win. Also on average, this looks to be a close game. Still, this game could be a blowout either way, depending on whose specific game plan works, plus the breaks of the game. Both teams are capable of having a great game, and both are capable of having a bad game. How's that for temporizing? So I have to pick the Colts, but a Jets victory would not surprise me.

New Orleans Saints v. Minneapolis Vikings: A pair of well-matched teams, with high powered offenses and defenses that can be stifling, but can also be breached. I expected to be picking MN because of their defense and the wily ways of Brett Favre. But then I saw New Orleans last week, and if they play like that, no one can beat them. I haven't seen a more balanced offense since the 70s Steelers, and their defense was pretty impressive.

Both of these offenses can be so efficient that they're scary. Still, I don't think this is going to be as high-scoring as the Arizona-San Diego game. This one is less likely to be a blowout either way than the AFC final. So... with the Saints at home, a possible key injury to the MN offense, I have to give the edge to New Orleans. But again, a Vikings victory wouldn't surprise me.

But if that's not definite enough for you, here's this: the winner of the Saints-Viking game beats the winner of the Colts-Jets game in the Super Bowl.

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