AFC-NFC Championship Preview and Prediction



Today I’m going to stray away from “the norm” a bit.

This being a blog for the Carolina Panthers, I am going to break habit for today, as we get ready to look to this Sunday, where at least three new teams will compete for the chance to go to Super Bowl XLIV in two weeks.

The Minnesota Vikings led by Brett Favre, the New Orleans Saints led by Drew Brees, and the New York Jets led by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. These teams will perform on an unfamiliar stage. The New Orleans Saints have advanced this far only one other time, but fell short to the Chicago Bears.

The last time the Colts and Saints were here, the Colts advanced to and won the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears.

Another interesting point to make is, there are two rookie head coaches leading their respective teams onto the field this Sunday. Rex Ryan, head coach of the Jets and Jim Caldwell, head coach of the Colts.

Unfortunately, my head coach of the year candidate, Sean Payton, did not win and Marvin Lewis, head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who was very deserving of the award is no longer in the playoffs, having been bumped by the Jets in last week’s Divisional Round.

I digress, I need to keep myself on topic here, with the upcoming playoff matches this Sunday.

Earlier in the season on my radio program, I had made my prediction about Week Six, that the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts could very well meet in the Super Bowl. So far, they’re on-target to meet that prediction. Unfortunately, it won’t be the ideal circumstance, in which both teams would be undefeated, thanks to the notion that winning the Super Bowl is more important than going for a record while you’re at it.

At any rate, I’d still very much love to see that matchup in Miami.

Last week the Minnesota Vikings basically took the Dallas Cowboys to the woodshed, 34-3, showing me three things: the Cowboys’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles goes to show what a sloppy team Philly has really become, it told me that Dallas peaked too soon and has a short fuse for success, and it showed that Dallas wasn’t able to stand up to the pressure of making it beyond the first round of the playoffs.

In the second NFC game, the Arizona Cardinals traveled to the Superdome and New Orleans. They too suffered a similar fate as the Cowboys, getting slammed by the surging Saints in another blowout, 44-14.

On the matchups for the AFC, we saw the Jets in a surprising, albeit close win (17-14) at the San Diego Chargers. Rex Ryan has his Jets team executing very well on defense; the Jets being the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL. For the first time since Joe Namath was quarterback of the Jets, New York’s “Gang Green” finds itself in the AFC Championship for only the second time in it’s existence.

The other AFC team, being a very worthy adversary of a hot Jets team, is the 12-2 Indianapolis Colts. These two teams will meet Sunday at Luke Oil Field in Indianapolis.

Looking at the matchup between the Saints and Vikings, both teams bring a different look to the game offensively.

The Vikings bring more of an old-school approach with a solid run game and finesse passing game, which will be orchestrated by Brett Favre.

The Saints have a little more of a spread offense with a passing game that can rack up the points very quickly. However, New Orleans’ running game is also very good and it looks as though Saints running back Reggie Bush might make the Vikings defensive coordinator have to gameplan a little more than originally anticipated.

Both teams have stout defenses; the late fall in production during the regular season is nothing that should be taken for anything more than face value. Both clubs will have their defenses ready to go on Sunday.

In this game I like the home team. I have great respect for how far this Vikings team has come this season, but it’s time for the doubters; my self included, to start believing what the Saints are putting on the field every Sunday.

This will be a close game, but I take the Saints to advance to the Super Bowl.

The AFC is a little less straight forward.

The Jets offense has been carried by-and-large, by it’s running game. Thomas Jones has turned out to be the X-factor for the offense. On defense, Darrelle Revis is the man. He is the Jets’ version of the Ravens’ Ed Reed.

The cool story for the Jets is, Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan are rookies at their positions. I never fathomed the Jets would make it into the playoffs, let alone this deep into it.

For the Colts, first-year and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has benefited immensely from having Peyton Manning at quarterback. Not to slight the success that Caldwell has had as the Colts’ coach, but probably any coach can give Manning the keys and ask him to win games. If Manning isn’t at QB, the Colts will lose. Week 16 should serve as proof-positive of that.

The Colts defense has been under every team’s radar this year. It’s secondary has been banged up a lot, but this unit shows up every week and makes plays. Indianapolis’ defense should put up a good fight against the Jets running game.

It’s hard to pick against a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team. It’s also hard to pick against the No. 1 defense in the league.

In the end, Manning has the experience that Sanchez doesn’t have, but will acquire over time. It really comes down to which team makes the fewest mistakes, and executes proficiently on both sides of the ball. Momentum going into this game could be a big factor as well.

I’m going to go with the team that’s hot right now. I’ll take Rex Ryan up on his bold “we’re going to the Super Bowl” statement, and see what happens.

I’ll take the Jets in a close one.

Just so you know, the games are on Sunday. The AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts will start at 3 p.m. eastern time on CBS, and the NFC Championship between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints will start at 6:40 p.m. eastern time on Fox.

As always, I thank you for reading. On Friday morning, I will begin breaking down the Carolina Panthers position-by-position. Be sure to check back then!