Friday, January 16, 2009

NFL Picks - Conference Championships

Where was last week's picks column, you're asking yourself? Never posted it, and it's a shame, because we had some good stuff planned. Stuff which turned to crap by around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon (Thanks Eli!).

Despite the lack of a posted picks column, we still had them done, and the results were a rather predictable 3-5 (1-3 on the games, 2-2 on the over/unders). Only the Steelers managed to come through and win at home, which up until this season was pretty much a lock during the divisional round.

So, what now? How can we possibly predict the outcomes of these rather unlikely matchups? More importantly, how can we get back to a 50% success rate with only 6 remaining things from which to pick? Simple - the Super Bowl pick will also involve all the Prop Bets (coin toss, first TD, first FG, etc.), which could result in a spectacular failure, but will be fun nontheless. On to the games at hand.

ARIZONA (+4) over Philadelphia

We understand how home field advantage has taken a bit of a beating this season, but if it does exist, the Cardinlas are a pretty solid example, going 7-2. It's notable how the home crowd responded during the opening round game against Atlanta, though that was against a batch of playoff newbies not accustomed to such things. This Eagle team has no issues travelling, haing already won twice in two pretty hostile environments (Minny and the Meadowlands). The line has been steadily moving in Philly's favor all week, creeping up to 4, and we will not hesitate to grab the points.

Nothing about the Eagles offense has impressed thus far. Think about it, the one screen pass Westbrook busted against the Vikes was pretty much the only big play they've pulled off in two games. What has them here is the defense, and we expect Jim Johnosn to have some new looks ready to throw at Kurt Warner. The X factor is Warner's ability to hang on to the ball, which he can often have issues doing. Keep an eye on Asante Samuel, who loves to go for the big play and jumps routes all the time - miscalcualting that here against the physical receiving corps of Boldin and Fitzgerald could result in big gainers for the Redbirds.

Throw out the Turkey Day debacle - Arizona had to travel cross country on a short week, while the Eagles stayed home with a pissed off Donovan McNabb ready to prove Andy Reid wrong for benching him three days earlier. Though that game jump started Philly's playoff push, it bears no relevance here other than to add more fuel to the Cardinal "nobody repects us" fire.

The pick: we like the Cardinals to continue the improbable ride, and prepare ourselves for 2 weeks of feel good stories about Kurt Warner.

Cardinals 27 Eagles 23

PITTSBURGH (-6) over Baltimore

Beating a team three times in one year can often be a chore, but the feeling here is that Pittsburgh is one team the Ravens are incapable of intimidating. Big Ben seems to get knocked around every week, but opicks himself up and manages to make just enough plays. throw in the fact that the Steelers offensive line finally showed signs of playing like a real cohesive unit last week, and that spells trouble for the Ravens. Joe Flacco has been a great story, and to call him a rookie seems improper by now - he's a "first year player" who has shown himself to be unflappable in big spots. He manages to make at least one big throw each week and will likely do so here as well.

Two significant injuries for Baltimore, Suggs and Rolle, will have an impact as well. A resurgent Steeler ground game will help chew up the clock and wear down the resilient defense. We see the Steelers gettign a lead and forcing Baltimore out of their game, which could make the game a bit more high scoring than most expect.

The pick: Pittsburgh returns to the Super Bowl in a game that might be closer than the final score indicates.

Steelers 23 Ravens 13

Last Week: 3-5
Playoff Totals: 8-8

Season Overall: 131-140 (48.3%)

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