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My Picks for the Conference Championship Round of the 2009 NFL Playoffs
Who Will Win and More Importantly (At Least Here In Vegas) Who Will Cover the Spread
See, I told you that I would turn it around. After going just 2-2 straight up with a dismal 1-3 against the spread in my Wildcard Round picks, I went 3-1 straight up and 4-0 against the spread in my Divisional Round picks. Which leaves me 5-3 straight up and also 5-3 against the spread overall.
It's another week of reruns, but of course, both of these retreads are going to be well worth watching. One is a genuine grudge match; with no hyperbole needed to sell it as such. The other is the most unlikely conference championship matchup ever; featuring two teams that weren't even supposed to be worthy of being in the playoffs in the first place. Can it get any better than this? Maybe.
Then again, with Philly having played both Baltimore and Pittsburgh during the season, there's a fifty-fifty chance that the reruns will carry over into SuperBowl XLIII. Apparently, Hollywood isn't the only one who can't manage to come up with original programming anymore.
Philadelphia (-3) at Arizona
Arizona didn't exactly set the world on fire last time they faced the Eagles in week 13, losing 48-20 in the game that launched Philly's late season rebirth from underachieving ne'er do wells to NFC Championship favorites. The Cardinals, of course, went the other direction falling into a tailspin and getting blown out in three of four games before finally coming back to life with a win in their final game, followed by two unexpectedly impressive playoff wins.
Most remarkably, unlike during the regular season, they actually have figured out how to play defense and run the ball during the playoffs. The single biggest factor in their playoff charge has been turnovers. They made sure everybody watching remembered that it was Matt Ryan's first playoff game during the Wildcard Round. Then they made Jake Delhomme look like it was his first game ever last week. All told, they've grabbed nine turnovers while only committing two themselves and that has been all the difference.
The Eagles have had some impressive wins of their own starting with their dismantling of the hated Cowboys in the final game of the season. They followed that up by pouring it on late to turn two close games into routs during the playoffs. Philly hasn't been piling up the stats thus far, but what they have been coming up with is big plays and they've done at all the right times. Donovan Mcnabb has been solid, but unspectacular for most of the games. However he's come up big on crucial third downs and scored when it counted. Similarly, Brian Westbrook has been held to 38 by the Vikings and 36 yards by the Giants, but put a 71 yard nail in Minnesota's coffin on a screen pass.
Not surprisingly, the Eagle's defense has done plenty of hammering also. Chasing Tavaris Jackson back out of his starting position in Minnesota. Against the Giants, they tightened up at key times holding New York to just three field goals in five trips inside the twenty and intercepted Eli Manning twice, including the game clincher. If Philadelphia is gonna win the defense is gonna take 'em there. The Cardinals offense has looked very impressive against the 18th ranked Carolina defense and the 24th ranked Falcons defense. However, they are going to have to step it up alot against an Eagles defense that finished the season ranked number three in total offense and has only gotten better each week.
Ultimately, the real key to this game could be Arizona's run defense, which has been the real cause of all those Interceptions. During the regular season, both Atlanta and Carolina used their running game to keep the pressure off of their QBs. But once the Cardinals run defense forced the outcome into their hands, Ryan wilted under that pressure and Delhomme panicked and reverted to the type of play that has led his 4.5 to 3 career TD to INT ratio.
Mcnabb has had his own problems with accuracy, so if Atlanta can continue this trend against Brian Westbrook, they stand a chance of grabbing some more errant passes and winning this game. Then again, Minnesota and New York both shut Westbrook down (with the exception of one play) and the Eagles still managed to win by twelve points in both games against the sixth and fifth ranked defenses, respectively. Which is why things will be decided before the fourth quarter this time and:
Philly will win by 10+ points.
Eagles vs. Cardinals Poll
Which team will win/cover?
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-6)
By now, you've heard plenty about how hard it is to beat a team three times in a season all week, but that is one of the most overblown stats in football. There are several reasons it doesn't happen often. First, most teams don't play each other twice in the regular season. Second, there are only three chances for two or more teams to make the playoffs (1 div. winner, 2 wildcards), so not all divisions have more than one team in the playoffs. Third, A team that is good enough to make the playoffs is less likely to get swept by a division rival. Fourth, there are at least four and more often five other teams outside your division within the same conference bracket, making it that much more unlikely for a team to be matched up against a team they already beat twice. So, while I'm not a statistician, I don't really need to be to figure out that the difficulty of beating the same team three times in a season has alot more to do with a lack of opportunity than it does with the actual ability of a team.
Now, having said all that, it's gonna be damn hard for Pittsburgh to beat the Ravens for the third time this season. Not that it was particularly easy the first two times. They had to put in overtime (why doesn't the NFLPA ask owners for time and a half like other unions?) the first time and won it on a controversial goaline catch the second time. In fact, if you're a Ravens fan, you might still have something to say about that last minute reversal in Baltimore.
Joe Flacco is doing a pretty good impersonation of Ben Roethlisberger during his rookie season, except that he is doing a hell of alot better at protecting the ball during his first postseason venture. Nobody had any doubt that Big Ben was a rookie when he threw five interceptions during his first playoffs. Of course, much like Roethlisberger in 2004, Flacco (whose not so small himself at 6'6") hasn't exactly dominated and owes most of the credit for his trip to the AFC Championships to a dominating defense and a great running game.
Roethlisberger had somewhat of an off year during the regular season, which had alot to do with his offensive line letting everybody in the stadium take turns dropping him on his head. However, he played brilliantly last week and the running game, that had been AWOL all season, has finally showed up gaining 262 yards in the last two games. Although, neither the Cleveland or San Diego run defense is really anything to write home about. As always, the defense making life completely miserable for the other team's offense was the real key to the victory.
That's the way things have been for both these teams all season long and nobody should expect anything to change this week. As already mentioned, the Steelers might have the worst offensive line in the NFL, but Baltimore's isn't much better. Both QB's are going to be spending alot of time looking at the clouds on Sunday. This game is going to be a low scoring, grind it out battle that is decided by a late turnover just like the first two. Fortunately for Flacco, he is going to get two full weeks to heal his injuries prior to Superbowl XLIII. Big Ben, on the other hand, is going to have about seven months to prepare for his next game because:
The Ravens are going to win outright.
Ravens vs Steelers Poll
Which team will win/cover?
The bird is the word. I guess I can only fight it so long. Arizona is for real. Of course, I got killed by all the other birds this week and ended up 0-2, both straight up and against the spread. Which brings me to a nice round 5-5 record overall, both straight up and against the spread. Tune in for my Superbowl XLIII picks and see if I can rally for a winning record or just go down in flames. I'm picking the actual winner; the spread; the over/under; the MVP; and, just for good measure, I'm picking the coin flip.
Links to My Other NFL Picks Columns
- My Picks for the Wildcard Round of 2009 NFL Playoffs
The Cardinals led by 37 year old Kurt Warner host the Falcons and their 23 year old rookie. Atlanta is hot having won three straight and seven of their last nine, while Arizona limped to the finish after clinching a playoff spot going 1-5 since that
- My Picks for the Divisional Round of the 2009 NFL Pl...
Well, my Wildcard Round picks could have been better. Ended up 2-2 straight up (Bal. + Phil.) and 1-3 (only Philly came through for me) against the spread. But I'm back and I'm ready to turn it all around...
- My Picks for Superbowl XLIII
My picks for Superbowl XLIII, featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Who will win and why, both straight up and against the spread. Also, predictions for the over/under, Suberbowl MVP, and the opening coin flip.