[NFL] Championship Weekend Preview

Wow, I need to send out a ginormous apology to all of my readers. I have done a downright terrible job picking the outcome of these games. So far, due in large part to my (not-so) spectacular analysis of each side, I’m 1-7 (the lone correct pick was Baltimore over Miami in the wildcard round). It’s a pretty good bet that whoever I pick for the Superbowl won’t be anywhere near Tampa on February 1st. So it’s best to read my predictions and assume the opposite. I guess this proves how wacky the playoffs have been.

I also need to once again apologize to the Arizona Cardinals. They’ve seriously proved me wrong once again. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been rooting for the Cards in every game. I just didn’t think they were very good heading into the playoffs. Besides their season ending victory over Seattle, they had gone 1-4 in their previous five. Arizona lost to the Giants, Eagles, Vikings and New England in that stretch. They lost to the Pats 47-7 in their second to last game and looked like a lot more like a bad Pop Warner team than a team on the cusp of the Superbowl. Ken Whisenhunt has made a lot of changes since then and the Cards just might be this season’s version of the New York Giants.

AFC Championship Game:

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4):

This is the dream match up for people who enjoy watching paint dry. It’s the battle of the top two defensive juggernauts in the NFL. It’s also the battle of Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. Neither player had a spectacular season, but you have to remember that Flacco is a rookie. Rookies (other than Matt Ryan) don’t usually fare very well in their inaugural season. Although, you may remember that if it wasn’t for a 41-27 shellacking by the Patriots in the 2004 AFC championship, Roethlisberger might have won the Superbowl as a hot shot rookie.

Time: Sunday at 6:30 PM EST on CBS

How they match up: It’s the top defense in the NFL against the second ranked defense. Neither of these squads has a spectacular offense so don’t expect a high scoring affair. Although this game is being played at Blitzburg, where the Steelers are 6-2, the Ravens are a respectable 5-3 on the road.

The most important battle: Their defensive statistics are practically the same, but there is one glaring difference on the offensive side of the ball. Baltimore is the fourth ranked rushing team in the NFL, with 148.5 per game. Pittsburgh’s stout defense, led by James Harrison and Troy Polamalu was second in the league against the run, only giving up 80.3 yards per game. Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice hope to put a big dent in Pittsburgh’s fender.

Last time they played: Week fifteen: Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 9.

Prediction: This game will most likely be on par with a root canal for those who enjoy offensive fireworks. That being said, there shouldn’t be a lot of opportunity for either side to make it into the end zone, so ball control and field position will be key. Also, both of these teams have excelled in the turnover battle so far in the playoffs. Whoever wins that struggle will mostly likely be punching their ticket to Tampa Bay. Since the Steelers beat the Ravens twice this year, I believe Baltimore is due. Baltimore will run to a 17-9 victory.

NFC Championship Game:

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) @ Arizona Cardinals (9-7):

Just like pretty much every other playoff game, this clash is ripe with crazy storylines. This is the first ever championship game appearance for the Cards, the first time in NFL history that none of the top three seeds are playing in the championship game and the first time every team in the playoffs is named after a member of the Avian family (What, you’re telling me a Steeler isn’t a bird? Dang.). Both of these teams are hotter than a fur coat in Death Valley. Arizona is definitely the trendy bandwagon team to root for, and even though I know this will come back to haunt me, I’m finally ready to throw them my support. They have proven over the last two weeks that they are one of the “better” teams in the NFL. I’m still not convinced they originally belonged in the playoffs, but I’d love it if they proved me wrong.

Time: Sunday at 3:00 PM EST on FOX

How they match up: Even without Anquan Boldin, the Cards managed to throw down 33 points on the Panthers defense, while holding Carolina to 269 total yards and 13 points. This game could be very different than the AFC match up since both of these franchises have outstanding offensive weapons at every position. The only difference is the fact that Philly has the third ranked defense while ‘Zona has the nineteenth.

The most important battle: There are probably thirty seven different offense to defense battles that I could write about here, but the most important is probably the Cardinals’ not-so-stellar rushing attack against the Eagles’ wall of linebackers and linemen. Arizona had the thirty second ranked rushing offense and Philly had the fourth ranked rushing defense. If the Cards can’t find a way to get Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower involved in the offense, the Philly defense will mercilessly blitz Kurt Warner.

Last time they played: Week thirteen: Philadelphia 48, Arizona 20.

Prediction: Arizona is 7-2 at home, including its first round defeat of Atlanta, but only 4-5 on the road. Lucky for them, this game will be played in the sandy heat of Phoenix. Larry Fitzgerald appears to be unstoppable these days even without Boldin. If Boldin comes back this week, it’ll be really bad for the Boo-Birds. Regardless, the Cardinals will fly to Tampa after beating Philly 27-17.

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