Friday, January 16, 2009

Championship Weekend Forecast:

Turn out the lights, the party's (almost) over.

I have heard that when the holidays end, may people go into a bit of a slump. All the waiting and anticipation for Christmas to come, all the preparations and the excitement over spending time with friends and family, all the Christmas trees and bright lights and presents and then, BAM. January. No more lights, no more excitement, no more carols, no more days off of work, no more reindeer, it all ends suddenly and all that is left is a long winter with little excitement in the near future. Depressing.

I do not experience this post holiday lull to this degree, sure I enjoy Christmas, but I don’t get so up for it that December 26th becomes a major bummer. I pretty much just get on with life, thankful for the Christmas that has passed. However, I am not without empathy for those with the post Christmas blues, as I experience my own version of this phenomenon at the beginning of February…the post Super Bowl blues.

You see, since mid-August, I have been feasting upon NFL football. It’s my favorite sport, and I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking, reading, and watching football. Right now, we are in the midst of a great stretch, the playoffs, where every game is significant and the best teams are playing at their highest level with the most on the line. It is truly glorious. (It would be even better if my Broncos were part of the festivities, but like I said, the BEST teams are playing which precludes their participation.) But, as exciting and glorious as the playoffs are, the sad fact remains that as I write this, there are only three games remaining in the NFL season, and after this weekend, nothing but the Super Bowl. So, in this time of glory, I am already melancholy knowing that the long dark offseason awaits. The day after the Super Bowl is my December 26th. The offseason is so long and sad…let us enjoy the NFL while it is still around. In that spirit, here are my Championship Sunday predictions…

The NFC Championship game:
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals

Come on, I enjoy practical jokes as much as anybody, but hasn’t this whole, “The Arizona Cardinals are hosting the NFC Championship Game” charade gone on long enough? Let’s go ahead and get the New York Giants and do this thing right, eh? Wait? Seriously? The NFL is actually sanctioning this? Really? Okay, if you say so, I guess we’ll go with that…

I am going to write that out again because it’s been almost a week, and I still don’t completely believe it. Not only are the Arizona Cardinals IN the NFC Championship game, (Which by itself would be weird enough) but they are playing host. This thing is just goofy enough, that I am ready to fully embrace it. That’s right! I am throwing my support behind the NFC West Champion Arizona Cardinals. I sincerely hope that they win the whole thing. I want Larry Fitzgerald to go in the first two rounds of all fantasy drafts next year, I want Kurt Warner in the Hall of Fame, heck, I even love the color red. I’m on board the Cardinals train, now. I love AZ.

I am definitely more in support of this reformed train wreck from the desert than the Iggles for one simple reason. Philadelphia fans. I have met a lot of fans from opposing teams in my decades of going to Broncos games, but no single group of fans has ever been more obnoxious than the Philly fans when my brother and I went to a regular season Broncos-Eagles game in 2005. We are just walking to our seats, not talking any smack as I bear no ill will to the Eagles and a few of these nimrods run over to us and start yelling at us, questioning our manhood, and randomly berating us because we dared not have the same favorite team as them. Then at our seats, there were several Eagles fans nearby who were obnoxious throughout the entire game. They were mocking us, even as their team was falling behind by 28 points. The Eagles scored three quick touchdowns to make it 28-21, and the abuse was hot and heavy, even though they were still trailing. That was one of my most satisfying Broncos games, ever, though. Because after it briefly got close, the Broncos exploded and ended up winning 49-21. Finally, after having their team beaten into submission, at the end of the game they left quietly. That happy image of obnoxious people leaving the game sad still brings a smile to my face to this day. That is why I am rooting against Philly. Not because I hate the Eagles, I just want their fans to be unhappy because they were that insufferable.

That said, do I expect Arizona to win? No. No, I do not. Philadelphia has been riding a hot streak remarkably similar to the Giants last year, and I fully expect them to win, because I am not sure the world is ready for a Super Bowl in which the Arizona Cardinals are prominently involved. Plus, the Cardinals have been ridiculously fortunate thus far in the playoffs they have forced nine turnovers in the past two games. I don’t anticipate that they will continue to average four and a half takeaways against the Eagles. Because, unfortunately for the Cardinals, Jake Delhomme will not be involved in this contest for the Eagles. They played earlier this season and the Eagles dominated 48-20. Granted it was a Thanksgiving night game, and the Cards had a very short week and then had to travel to play the Eagles making it very difficult, and they are at home this time, but I don’t think they have what it takes. I think that the Cards keep it closer, but don’t do enough to win. Creating a situation in which a team that tied the Bengals represents the NFC in the Super Bowl. Weird season, eh?

Make mine, Philadelphia 31 Arizona 21

The AFC Championship Game:
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

This game is generally considered to be the better game of the weekend, but I question that. We are looking at two teams with suffocating defenses and competent but hardly amazing offenses. If you like low scoring, defensive battles, this will be right up your alley. If you don’t like games with the potential for a final score of 6-3, perhaps this won’t be your favorite game ever. It has the potential to be a classic or a snooze fest. I’m hoping for the former.

I like the Steelers in this game because I think they are peaking right now. They looked like a force of nature against the Chargers. The only thing that scares me is that Pittsburgh is due for a stinker game, as they haven’t laid an egg for too long, and they have a history of wetting the bed in Championship games at home that they should have won. Could I see that happening this time? Sure, because the Ravens are a quality squad and they have already played two ridiculously close games this year which the Steelers won late both times.

The reason I am not picking the Steelers to fall apart at home is because of how the Ravens played last weekend. The Titans are a very similar team to the Steelers, and the Ravens were dominated last week by Tennessee. The Titans killed themselves with several turnovers in the red zone, and just enough boneheaded plays that they managed to lose a game by all rights they should have won. Plus, if the referees had called a delay of game penalty when they should have, I’m not sure that Baltimore is even playing this weekend. A team can get all the breaks like the Cardinals getting nine turnovers or the Ravens getting ALL the breaks, but after awhile, these breaks tend to even out. You can only be lucky for so long, and I feel like the luck runs out on the banks of the three rivers for the Ravens.

I am calling it, Pittsburgh 16 Baltimore 13

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