NFC & AFC Championship and Super Bowl Predictions (Hint: Saints win)

The Sexy Pick: New York Jets — Those who are all of a sudden on the Jets bandwagon really get on my nerves. Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, thought they would beat the Chargers, most figured the Bengals would take care of business against them, and everyone thought it laughable that they would have even a remote shot at making the Super Bowl. “I told you so,” Rex Ryan won’t say, but I’m sure he feels. I must say that I kinda like the guy, but his charming chunkster routine at press conferences is wearing a little thin. “Smash mouth football, play defense, run the ball up the gut and stop the run, that’s how we win and will win — it’s really not that hard,” he seems to say in so many words. The Jets have played a somewhat injury-plagued, thus somewhat porous, Bengals defense who had been superb all season, and a Chargers team who came in to the game riding on the shoulders of Philip Rivers and his cocky douchebaggery; Rivers and the Chargers thought they had the game


all but wrapped up before even stepping foot on the field. Now, everyone is talking about the Jets: “Cinderella! Oooohh, rookie coach and QB, amazing! They’ve got the momentum!” All valid sentiments. The Jets defense is stout. What they’re doing is pretty impressive. But it ends this weekend, and the idea that they have a remote chance at winning the Super Bowl is still laughable to me. They are the only team left in the playoffs without any semblance of a passing attack. You’ve got Favre, Manning, Brees…and, umm, Mark Sanchez, who has been asked to do nothing short of hand the ball off a lot, throw for at least 100 yards, and please, for the love of God, take no risks and make no mistakes of any kind (which he has done well, I’m not taking anything away from the guy). But that will only get you so far. I think the sexy pick this weekend may have to cover up her exposed parts for embarrassment.

The Veteran Team: Indianapolis Colts — The only thing I really know about the Colts is that they have Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, a tandem which seems to have developed a like chemistry to that of Manning and former go-to guy, Marvin Harrison. I’ve seen Manning make some insanely accurate throws this season to Reggie Wayne, who has made some unbelievable catches. More importantly, there is no quarterback in the league more impressive in the fourth quarter than is Manning. The game-winning, come-from-behind drives he seems to engineer time and time again are exciting to watch for their almost lack of suspense — you just know Manning, somehow, some way, will get the job done. Their defense is often talked about as their weakest link (most likely true), but I would consider holding Baltimore’s offense — with a pretty good second-year quarterback in Joe Flacco (who’s been deep in the playoffs before) and an emerging star running back in Ray Rice — to only three points pretty impressive. The Colts also have a rookie coach in Jim Caldwell, who was an assistant under Tony Dungy. Sure, maintaining Indy’s winning ways can’t be easy, but he also inherited Peyton Manning. Honestly, it’s as if Dungy never even retired, as Caldwell hasn’t seemed to change the team’s gameplan much, if any at all (not that any change was needed.) I also think not going undefeated will help the Colts tremendously. Everyone was boo-hooing, myself included, when the Colts sat their starters in the third quarter of the Jets regular season game; but, now that a few weeks have passed, is it really that big of a deal? They have the Super Bowl in their sights, which I still don’t think they’ll win, which will inevitably bring out again all the critics of sitting the starters who’ll say, “See, we should have went for perfection. Look what happened!” I’m not saying it was the right or wrong move, I’m just saying that, in terms of winning the Super Bowl, it’s not a big deal one way or another. It is what it is, and whatever happens, Colts fans will have to get over it.

The Sentimental Favorite: Minnesota Vikings — If you’re not cheering at least a little bit for Brett Favre by now, you either hate professional football or you’re just an incredibly bitter person. I get sick and tired of the will-he-or-won’t-he-return saga every off-season just as much as the next person, with the last one verging on downright maddening. But, for me, most of that stems from thinking (especially after his season with the Jets) that Favre is just a washed-up old man who may have a couple good games left in him, but whose body will simply peter out by season’s end. This season, Favre has proved all doubters incorrect. What he has accomplished this season is incredible, if not miraculous. I’ve heard many commentators and analysts say he’s probably having the best year of his career. When he threw for his fourth touchdown pass last weekend against the Cowboys with two minutes left in the game and the Vikings in possession of an absolutely dominating lead, I couldn’t have loved it more.  The fact that at least one Cowboy started whining on the field and other talking heads throughout the week have said that score was “rubbing it in their face” made it that much sweeter. Of course it was rubbing it in the Cowboys’ face; every other team in the league has to know how much every person in America hates the Cowboys, unless, of course, you are a Cowboys fan. Favre was just trying to make the nation happy. Also, the Cowboys should know that there’s no crying in professional football (unless you’re Rex Ryan). Anyway, back on point: I would legitimately cheer for Favre and the Vikings if the Saints were not in the playoffs. I think the Saints defense is a little overlooked because of their consistently mind-boggling offensive performance nearly every game, and I think the Vikings defense can be exposed more than people think, and certainly by the highest and quickest scoring team in the NFL. I say the Vikings lose and Favre comes back for one more year.

The Underdog: New Orleans Saints — I don’t want to go as far as to say the Saints are the team of destiny or some such sentimental garbage, but I think the Saints are the team of destiny. They have been since August 2005 when their city’s levees were breached by a Category Three Bitch named Katrina, whose floodwaters engulfed and overwhelmed the city until it resembled a third world country. They have been since they embarrassed Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons in their first game back in the Superdome after the hurricane, on Monday Night Football no less. They have been since the Chargers (who’s laughing now?) released Drew Brees to the supposed NFL obscurity of the aged and short. They have been since they hired a coach who just so happens to be an offensive mastermind (I’m the last one who should judge offensive football genius, but you can just tell when you watch them play).

In recent years I’ve gained an appreciation for running the football; I used to never understand why teams would run. Usually, you gain just one or two yards, 20 or 30 if you’re lucky, and the plays were rarely exciting. Now that I’m older and understand the game more, I no longer hate the run and see it as an obviously vital part of the game that opens up what has always been my favorite part of the game: passing, especially the deep ball. And this is what the Saints excel at. I think it’d be impossible to overstate their thorough dominance on offense this season. Even when outcomes weren’t sure, they always found a way to score, and usually quick. Drew Brees’ accuracy throwing the football rivals and may even surpass Peyton Manning’s; he can thread the needle on the long ball just as well as he can on the slant. He’s not the most athletic guy, but he’s fairly mobile in the pocket and not afraid to stand in there and take a hit. One of the most exciting and enjoyable games I watched this season was when the Saints not only demolished, but utterly baffled, Bill Bellichik and the Patriots — the cameras caught Bellichik and Brady on the sidelines several times with “What the hell is happening? / Our dynasty is over” looks on their faces — on Monday Night Football. That was supposedly the game when everyone started saying the Saints were the real deal.

Surprisingly, it seems that even though everybody respects the Saints and what they’ve done, no one really thinks they can win it all; and that’s why I call them the underdog. Because of the way they ended the season with three straight losses, some were wondering if the magic was gone, if they’d peaked too early. I never bought that, and doubters were proved truly faithless when New Orleans beat Arizona last weekend 45-14 — they played offense like they did earlier in the season and their defense stifled a potent Cardinal offense led by Kurt Warner. If there was ever any doubt in my mind about the Saints chances to win the Super Bowl, they were alleviated with that convincing victory. The Saints have never been where they currently find themselves, hosting an NFC championship game at the Superdome (which is another huge weapon in the Saints arsenal — their rabid, noisy fans). I’m a Bengals fan first, but ever since I lived in New Orleans a few years ago, I’ve been on the Saints bandwagon, and became even more emotionally invested in the team after Hurricane Katrina. The only thing better than this would be if the Bengals were in their position. But I think people are still overlooking the Saints because of the only thing they’ve got going against them: inexperience. It wouldn’t surprise me if they beat the Vikings by two touchdowns this weekend, and the Colts by at least a touchdown in the Super Bowl. They have destiny on their side. And Drew Brees.

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