Guest Author - Mona McKenzie
Divisional Round Recap
The New Orleans Saints are on a mission to prove they are an elite NFL team. The poor Cardinals caught the brunt of the Saints’ wrath. Less than a week after the shoot-out with the Packers, Arizona looked great on their first drive but quickly faded. There was no way the Cardinals defense could shut down Drew Brees. New Orleans was rested and firing on all cylinders. Reggie Bush was playing at a level worthy of his Heisman Trophy. All in all, New Orleans dominated Arizona. Final Score: Saints 45, Cardinals 14.
In a battle between the old Colts and the new Colts, Peyton Manning and his crew methodically took care of the once dominate Ravens defense. The Colts took the safe route on offense – managing the clock and wearing down their opponent. The Colts’ defense created turnovers, frustrating the Ravens offense all evening. It wasn’t pretty, but, the Colts got the job done. Final Score: Indianapolis 20, Baltimore 3.
The Dallas Cowboys had Brett Favre’s number, until this game. Favre usually falls apart against Dallas, but, with all the weapons he has to choose from on offense, falling apart was not an option. Minnesota still didn’t get Adrian Peterson as involved as he needs to be, but, Sidney Rice stepped in and all but stole the show, and the game, from Dallas. The Cowboys defense had no answer for Rice and pressured Favre very little throughout the game. Dallas’ offense, on the other hand, was horrible. During two early possessions, Tony Romo drove the team well into Viking territory. The result - no points. Not how a championship-caliber team performs on the road. Further, from the time Wade Phillips decided not to go for it on 4th and 1 and sent out Shaun Suisham for a 48 yard field goal attempt, which Suisham missed, it was all but a done deal for the Vikings. Romo was literally running for his life the majority of the game, leading to several fumbles and interceptions. Minnesota dominated Dallas the way Dallas dominated the Eagles the prior week. Final Score: Vikings 34, Cowboys 3.
The most entertaining game of the weekend was the J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! vs. San Diego. New York flew into San Diego with a lot of bravado, backed it up, and stunned the Chargers. Mark Sanchez had a rather pedestrian day statistically speaking, but, he was able to complete a key fourth quarter touchdown pass to Dustin Keller. The other Jets rookie, Shonn Greene, stole the show by rushing for 128 yards and one touchdown on 23 attempts. Both Chargers QB Philip Rivers and K Nate Kaeding seemed to be off their game. Rivers did pass for almost 300 yards, but, threw two key back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter. The usually reliable Kaeding missed several field goal attempts, one of which would have pulled the Chargers within a touchdown late in the game. After the Chargers pulled to within three points with a little over two minutes left in the game, Norv Turner opted for an onside kick instead of kicking it deep and let his defense contain Sanchez. What? Anyway, the Jets made a first down conversion and it was game over. Final Score: Jets 17, Chargers 14.
NFC Conference Championship Preview
Vikings fans are hoping Brett Favre can continue his fairy-tale journey to the Super Bowl. Rookie Percy Harvin may not play this week due to migraine headaches. Expect Favre to spread the ball around to Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Bernard Berrian, if he’s able to communicate and connect over the crowd noise. Adrian Peterson must get involved early if Minnesota has any chance of winning. Saints FS Darren Sharper knows a thing or two about the Vikings offense and is more than willing to hip his teammates to various players’ idiosyncrasies, as well as Minnesota’s play-calling tendencies. Minnesota does have a few injuries, mainly on defense, which will affect their ability to contain Drew Brees and his high powered offense. After destroying Dallas last week, Jared Allen and the crew look forward to creating the same type of pressure on Brees. Without that pressure, this game could turn into a blowout in favor of New Orleans.
Saints faithful certainly aren’t wearing bags this year and will definitely be the 12th man in the first ever NFC Championship held in the Superdome. Sean Payton has done a magnificent job getting his players to believe in him and has turned this team into a winner. If the Saints’ offensive line figures out a way to contain Minnesota’s menacing defense, Brees and his full complement of receivers, plus an emerging Reggie Bush, will have a field day at the expense of a suspect Vikings secondary. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has worked hard to get the Saints defense to help out the other side of the ball. Darren Sharper has taken the Saints secondary to another level. It’s imperative for the Saints to relentlessly pressure Favre into one of his patented five interception outings. If Favre is hit early and often, he will more than likely turn the ball over and retire for good.
With that said, this game will definitely be worth watching. Prediction: New Orleans 37, Minnesota 17.
AFC Conference Championship Preview
The Jets are looking for a miracle and have turned back the clock 40 years to try and find one. Offensively, New York is outmatched. Sanchez must stay calm and have a turnover-free day in order to give his team a chance to win. Running backs Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones must have career days to carry their team into the Super Bowl. Defensively, CB Darrelle Revis has to figure out a way to shut down Reggie Wayne or the game could be over in a New York minute. No Jets upset this time around.
The Colts enter the weekend as the elder statesmen. They’ve been to this dance before and won, albeit under Tony Dungy. However, rookie Head Coach Jim Caldwell coached under Dungy for years and knows what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning will come out on fire and smack the Jets in the mouth before they know what hit them. Indianapolis’ unheralded defense will bring it to shut down rookie QB Mark Sanchez and shut up Rex Ryan. The same team that snuck into the playoffs by beating Indy will get bounced by Indy.
The fair-weather fans have jumped on the New York bandwagon, but, it won’t be enough. Prediction: Colts 31, Jets 10.