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Conference Championship Picks

January 22nd, 2011

Forget about the lines. The safe picks this conference championship weekend are the home teams. Probably. I mean, look, both Green Bay and New Jersey are six seeds. That’s not important in and of itself, particularly since it means they both come into this round having ousted the top-seeded teams in their conferences a week ago. But it does mean that neither team has played a home game in the playoffs. Two straight road wins is hard enough; three borders on impossible. In fact, only three teams ever have qualified for the Super Bowl by winning three playoff games on the road: The 1985 New England Patriots, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, and the 2007 New York Giants. So the odds say we won’t be adding two teams to that list this season. And if you’re gonna play it safe, you probably have to assume we won’t be adding one.

Still and all, I’m taking one of the road teams. I’m not doing it to be contrarian. I’m not doing it to be cute. I’m doing it because I think one of them is gonna win. Which? Well, in reality, it’ll probably be the opposite of the one I pick. For my theory, though, you’ve gotta read on. Here’s what not to expect.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Chicago
I was certain the Packers would lose to the Falcons last weekend. And I could not possibly have been one bit more wrong. How did it happen? Aaron Rodgers. That’s how. I knew Rodgers was good, but I had no idea how good until I saw him go all William Tecumseh Sherman on Atlanta. That was easily one of the best performances by a quarterback in a post-season game that I’ve ever seen. You have to like the chances of any team with a quarterback playing at that high a level. And, yeah, the Bears had a nice win last weekend, too. But they beat the Seahawks, a team that had no business even making the playoffs, let alone progressing to the divisional round. So you’ll forgive me (or you will if you’re not a Chicago fan, I suppose) if I stop short of reading too much into that particular victory. To my mind, this game comes down to whether you trust Rodgers to find ways to move the ball against Chicago’s damned tough defense more than you trust Jay Cutler to get it done against Green Bay’s somewhat tougher D. Me, I’m gonna favor the better quarterback against the slightly (and I mean slightly) lesser defense there. I think Rodgers throws a pick at some point in this game. But I also think the Bears turn it over twice. So I’m taking the Packers and looking for them to win by somewhere around six points.

NY Jets (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
Ugh. I wish to hell there were some way for both of these teams to lose. Because, you know, the Frat Boys are the Frat Boys. Thoroughly unlikable. And the Steelers, great franchise though they may be, are quarterbacked by the infinitely detestable Ben Douchelisbagger, a man who, if there were any justice at all in the world, would be in prison. I can’t root for either team. And rooting hard against either one would feel a bit too much like rooting for the other. So I think what I’m gonna do is root for a blowout and a healthy bit if carnage. That is, I don’t care which team wins; I just want whichever one loses to lose by multiple touchdowns. And if a few guys, including but not limited to Douchelisbagger, happen to suffer season-ending injuries, well, let’s just say no tears will be shed in my living room. Thing is, I’m not counting on a blowout. I rather suspect that what we’ll get will be a close game. That’s certainly what we got back in week 15 when the Frat Boys went into Pittsburgh, hung tough, and came out ahead 22-17. And, with the exception of the fact that the Steelers will have Troy Polamalu back, I don’t see where these are substantially different squads than the ones that met five weeks ago. Still, Polamalu’s no minor factor (if he can hold up). And it’s hard to imagine the Frat Boys can find a way to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in the same season. Plus, you get the feeling that New Jersey won their Super Bowl last weekend. Add to all of that the fact that it’s all but impossible to run the ball against the Steelers, which means Mark Sanchez is probably actually gonna have to play a good game this weekend if his team is to have a chance, and I just can’t see the Frat Boys coming out on top. I suspect New Jersey keep it close. Probably really close. But I do expect Pittsburgh to pull it out in the end, maybe by a single point. Then, with any luck, they’ll get their clocks cleaned by the Packers two weeks from now in Dallas.

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