NFL AFC/NFC Championship Games – Matchups, Spreads, Predictions
January 15, 2009 by amir
The best weekend of the NFL season is here. Sure the Super Bowl is the perfect excuse to drink yourself into a comma by halftime and drop $500 on the coin-toss prop bet, but the Conference Championship games offer Super Bowl-like drama with half the hype and no guests to entertain. This year’s matchups offer up a little something for everyone. In the AFC, it’s all about nasty, lock-up-the-kids defense with the Baltimore Ravens visiting Pittsburgh to battle the Steelers. Over in the NFC, it’s the offenses that will featured as Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and the surprising Arizona Cardinals host Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals
Game Time: Sunday, January 18 at 3:00pm EST
Spread: Philadelphia -4, O/U: 47
Weather: N/A (Dome)
Even after shutting down the #2 rushing team in the NFL and then going into Carolina and blowing out the Panthers 33-13 as 10-point dogs, the oddsmakers still don’t believe in the Cardinals. Arizona came back home to find themselves entering Sunday’s game as a 4-point underdog to the Eagles. It seems the Cardinals just can’t shake the perception they built up during the regular season as a mediocre-at-best team that only got into the playoffs because they were in a weak division. What the public is forgetting is that Arizona basically had the division won in Week 10. Now, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t or shouldn’t have performed better towards the end of the season, but it’s got to be hard to muster up playoff-like intesity when you look down the standings and see the Forty Niners, Rams and Seattle. The funny thing is, the Eagles were 5-5-1 and playing as bad or worse than the Cardinals at around the same point in the year, but now, all of a sudden, they have become the feel good, Cinderella story. East Coast media bias anyone? But I digress. This game will be determined by Arizona’s ability to pick up Jim Johnson’s blitz schemes and give Warner enough protection to find his two star receivers – Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (who is listed as questionable after missing last week’s game, but you have to think he’s going to play in this one) and the Eagles getting Brian Westbrook going against a suddenly stout Arizona defense. Judging by the over/under (47),it looks like the oddsmakers think both of those things will happen and each team will get into the endzone at least a few times. So it could very well be a matter of who has the ball last. Who would you want at quarterback with two minutes left and a trip to the Super Bowl at stake – McNabb or Warner? I say give me the guy that’s been there twice and has two freakish receivers at his disposal. I’m sorry but Jason Avant just doesn’t scare me.
Prediction: Arizona 28, Philadelphia 24
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Game Time: Sunday, January 18 at 6:30pm EST
Spread: Pittsburgh -6, O/U: 34
Weather: Snow showers, high 29 degrees
Let me put it this way, if I don’t see Ray Lewis physically remove one of Santonio Holmes’ limbs, I’ll consider the game a letdown. This is one of those rare games that could actually live up to all the hype. Bitter, cold weather, bad blood, plenty of trash talk and, oh, did I mention the winner instantly becomes the favorite to win the Super Bowl? Despite what looks, at least on paper, to be a tight defensive battle all the way down to the final seconds, the Steelers are currently 6-point favorites. Clearly, the oddsmakers aren’t liking the chances of Ravens’ rookie quarterback Joe Flacco going into Pittsburgh and performing well. They could be right, but Baltimore isn’t shy about taking its share of three-and-outs and leaning on Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the defense, so don’t expect to see Flacco throw more than 15-20 passes, unless the game gets out of hand early. The Steelers offensive line will have to play better than it has for most of the year if they want Ben Roethlesberger to be able to recognize his children. Although, if Willie Parker can play half as well as he did against the Chargers, Big Ben might not have to take too many hits.