NFL Conference Championships Preview and Free Picks

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Four teams remain, and each possible Super Bowl matchup that exists would be a pretty good one, with multiple story lines. Favre and the Vikings against the team he just left. Manning against his father’s former team. Favre vs. Manning. And the two most tortured fan bases that don’t have a stadium near Lake Erie (sorry, Bills and Browns fans) in the Jets and Saints. Each would be a fantastic game with battle between great offenses and defenses and intriguing coaching matchups. So which one will we actually get?

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, 3:00 p.m. (CBS)
The situation: Just over 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter of a Week 16 game between the 14-0, clinched-everything Colts and the 7-7, playoff-hopes-dangling-by-a-spaghetti-noodle Jets. The Colts had a 15-10 lead and the ball after a Steve Weatherford punt. The Lucas Oil Stadium crowd was poised, ready to erupt in celebration of a perfect home record and the chance to become only the second team ever to go 16-0 in the regular season, knowing one more touchdown would likely ice the game against the offensively inept Jets. And who better to lead that drive to ice the game, send Indy to Buffalo looking for 16-0 and the Jets back to Jersey for a meaningless finale to the Meadowlands before the start of a blissful offseason, than the best QB on the planet, Peyton Manning.

Except that wasn’t Manning jogging onto the field… it was Curtis Painter. And that wasn’t the Colts sealing the game, it was the Jets storming back. It was a Painter fumble in the end zone. It was a stifling Jets defense. It was a 29-15 win for New York that started a streak of four straight wins against division champions for the Jets, and the first of two regular season losses before an unimpressive division win over Baltimore for the Colts. And now, it’s the Jets and Colts for a second time at Lucas Oil Stadium, when Indianapolis should have stepped on the Jets throats four week ago.

Attention Jim Caldwell – this is what’s known as karma.
Prediction: New York 20, Indianapolis 17

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. (FOX)
If ever there were two more lopsided and, quite frankly, uninteresting games in one conference’s divisional round, then it happened before I was born. The Saints traveled back in a time machine and found the Reggie Bush that played at USC, while the Vikings were happy they didn’t have to travel back in time, allowing Brett Favre to play against a group of Cowboys players who were likely in Kindergarten when Dallas beat Favre’s Packers three straight postseasons. Now it’s the feel-good story of the last four years, with the Katrina-ravaged New Orleans fan base finally able to pull for a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and the most overplayed story of the last four years in Favre.

As for the game itself, the Vikings win two critical areas of the matchup that usually spell victory – running game and defensive line. Granted, Adrian Peterson didn’t have his best game against Dallas, but the “D” line did, abusing the Cowboys front five and making the day a nightmare for Tony Romo. Despite that advantage, combined with the Favre-Rice combo, I’m still not liking the Vikings. They won one big time road game (Green Bay, no less) the entire season, and as Arizona found out last week, crowd noise is one thing, but crowd noise against you in the Superdome? Well, that’s just a totally different beast.

Over/under on number of times Joe Buck and Troy Aikman remark that this could be Favre’s last game as time winds down? 4.2 million, and I want the over.
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Minnesota 24

Last Week: 3-1
Overall: 6-2

And since my Super Bowl winner is now out, I’m going with my rooting interest.

Super Bowl XLIV
New York  over New Orleans

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