Today are the AFC & NFC Championships. This is why I think the Carolina Panthers will be playing the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XL.
A lot of people are looking at the teams in the Championship games, and thinking, "Oh, the Patriots and Colts didn't make it, the Bears didn't make it... the NFC isn't good anyway... it's not going to be great football." They're wrong: These are the 4 teams that spent the year not making mistakes. They are the most all-around teams; they are the most consistent teams.
Pittsburgh @ Denver:
A reader of this blog (whom I just met last week for a second) asked me on the way out of Mincha very quickly, "Super Bowl picks?" I laughed, apologized for not posting them yet, and then quickly said "Panthers and Broncos." He asked something along the lines of, "Steelers didn't convince you yet?" I responded simply, "The Broncos convinced me more."Carolina @ Seattle:
And they did. Sure, the Patriots got the short end of the stick: A bad interference call, the interception return that should have been a touchback, etc. But when it came down to it, the Broncos flat out-played them - and they didn't even play all that well, statistically. Meanwhile, the Steelers completely out-performed the Colts for 55 minutes: And still almost managed to lose the game.
A few factors that will play into this game: Mile-High Stadium. Notice the Broncos had 24 yards in penalties last week on 4 penalties; the Patriots had 8 for 82, though granted a lot of that was on the interference that wasn't. But that's the "disciplined" Patriots - the Steelers had a lot of trouble in the Bengals game because of the noise. Last week, they avoided what I thought would be a problem by scoring fast and early. This week, what I said will apply a lot more:A very good Bengals analyst noted last week that the crowd noise was a difference, not because the Steelers were getting called for false starts and the like; but rather, because the O-line has to react when they see the snap, and not a half-second earlier when they hear a snap count. That half-second difference allows the opponents' line to get that push the Steelers' O-line normally gets - and that's huge.Cowher vs. Shanahan: I'm always unimpressed by Cowher. He continually makes poor decisions at crucial junctures in the game. He's trying too hard not to lose to actually win the game. Shanahan does no such thing: He's out to win the game outright. Look at Cowher's decision last year to take a field goal on 4th & Goal from the 2. He was down 14: The FG cut it to 11, which means he needed a FG and a TD AND a 2-point conversion to tie. What's a 2-point conversion? The same thing as 4th & Goal from the 2. So by not doing it this time, he now needed to get an extra drive for a FG, and he'd still need to make that 4th & 2. What an idiot. What was he trying to do?!
Denver's offense: The Steelers can't play the same type of game they did last week against the Colts. Jake Plummer is not as good as Peyton Manning; but the Denver line is better than the Colts, Plummer is better out of the pocket than in, and Denver focuses on a running attack rather than a passing attack. The Steelers' defense is good, but the Broncos' offense is better.
It's going to be a very good game - but the Broncos will prevail. One last note: Ben Roethlisberger is no better than your typical journeyman quarterback on 2nd-and-8 or more and 3rd-and-6 or more - in other words, when the running game gets stuffed. His strength is on play-action and surprise passes on running downs, not typical passing downs. If the Broncos can stop the Steelers' running game as they did the Patriots', Big Ben won't seem too big after all.
Seattle is good. Carolina is just better. The Seahawks are a good, solid, consistent team. But they really didn't beat anyone all year. They scored 20 points off of Washington last week, which isn't bad - but it's not great, either. They held the Redskins to 10 points, which is good - but it's not as if the Redskins could score too much off of any really good defense, as they showed against the Bucs in the first round.All right, it's time to go watch. And when the Steelers lose, I get a nice meal at Sushi Mitsuyan, don't I, David? :)
Home-field advantage: Almost non-existent. The Panthers are 8-2 on the road, don't seem to have any trouble with noise, and get a nice jump every game to shush the crowd. Yes, the Seahawks are 9-0 at home, but the best team they played was the Giants - and they only won because Jay Feely shanked 3 kicks. (The Colts weren't playing to win in Week 16.)
Steve Smith: Wow. I never understood how good he was until seeing the highlights from last week. He's just so... fast! He's big, he has moves, he has great hands, and nobody can seem to keep up with him. Yes, the Seahawks have good corners - but the other Panthers receivers are pretty solid as well, and the Seahawks' pass defense was ranked 25th in the league. He's not going to get 218 yards this week. But he'll get enough of them when it counts.
Shaun Alexander vs. the Panthers D-line: The Panthers will shut him down. Alexander is one of the best running backs in the league in a long time - as long as you ignore his inability to rush against great rush defenses in important games. The Panthers have shut down good back after good back - Alexander will be no different. Coming off a concussion doesn't help much, either.
It's time for some NFL PLAYOFF FOOTBALL!!!!!!
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