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- Conference Championship Games

Chris Pokorny January 22, 2005
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

Tell Chris your opinion.

The NFL Conference Championships are on the line this week, and every team that had a bye week is involved. With the exception of Pittsburgh last week, all of the teams nearly dominated their competition. New England shocked many by holding the Colts offense to just three points. The constant running of Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn overwhelmed the Rams. The Eagles may have had some luck on their side, but they played a solid game defensively and made sure that Randy Moss did not have a big game. The Steelers defense played excellent, but their special teams and offense nearly cost them the game. This week, there will be no blowouts. This will be smash mouth football weather involving four very physical teams. Now, on to the predictions, starting with the early game.

NFC Championship - 3:00 PM EST on FOX
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Key Match-Ups
For Eagles offense:
- Get Brian Westbrook involved early. Westbrook is so versatile, just like he showed against the Vikings last week. The Eagles must split him out to the slot so they can find some mismatches. Then once the defense tries to double team Brian Westbrook, that opens everything up that this Eagles offense is meant to do.

For Falcons offense:
- Let Warrick Dunn get his carries early. The Eagles are getting better at stopping the run, but they know they Vick has the potential to take off at any time. If they have a spy on Vick, that's one less guy that Warrick Dunn has to go through. If Dunn has some success, then that's when Vick will run the bootleg and do what he does best.

QB Pressure
For Michael Vick:
What pressure is Vick under? Of course he's probably got the jitters heading into the game, but he is still very young and could easily be involved in a Super Bowl later in his career. He can play his game without concern.

For Donavan McNabb:
McNabb should be under a ton of pressure. Not only have the Eagles lost the past three NFC Championships, but a fourth one would just make it worse. McNabb needs to realize that he won't have this chance every year, so he better seize it before it's too late.

The home team always benefits in bad weather in my opinion. The Falcons are used to playing in their home dome, but they won't be afraid to play in cold weather. The Eagles will have the advantage by possibly being able to slow Vick down if the fields are wet at all.

The Game
The Eagles need to get off to a fast start. In the previous NFC Championships, they have not been able to come from behind. They had hoped they'd have Terrell Owens in this situation, but he is injured. The real key isn't Owens, it's Westbrook. Westbrook needs to be the guy who steps up early. McNabb will need to have at least one run of twenty yards in this game, and Freddie Mitchell needs to be the receiver that steps up again. The Falcons defense is solid but beatable. For Atlanta, the key will revolve all around Michael Vick. The threat of him being able to run on any play changes the gameplan of the defense. The Eagles can shut down the Falcons wide receivers and then double team Crumpler if necessary. The Eagles gameplan will be to force Vick to run when he doesn't want to, and hopefully lead to a mistake. The Eagles finally head to the Super Bowl. Philadelphia wins 24-21.

AFC Championship - 6:30 PM EST on CBS
New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Key Match-Ups
For Patriots offense:
- Let Corey Dillon run the football. It's the most obvious thing to do, since not having Dillon is the reason the Patriots had no chance against Pittsburgh on Halloween. Dillon adds the run threat that the Patriots didn't in that game, and he can run out the clock just like he did against the Colts.

For Steelers offense:
- Get Ben Roethlisberger back on track. It's pretty safe to say that the Steelers can run the football against anybody, but the rookie QB nearly cost the Steelers the game last week. Big Ben has looked shaky later in the season despite not losing a game yet. If he wants to stay a winning QB, he needs to do what he does best - make safe throws all game with the occasional deep ball to Burress.

QB Pressure
For Tom Brady:
Brady is probably as calm as you can get. The guy is 8-0 in playoff games, and knows that he does not have to win this game - his team can do it for him.

For Ben Roethlisberger:
Big Ben doesn't have a whole lot of pressure on him, but he knows that he needs to have a better game than what he did last week. Roethlisberger can make a fairy tale story come true with a win.

The Steelers field is one of the toughest places to play. If you told me to pick one place where Vinatieri may not be able to make a clutch kick, I'd say at Pittsburgh. This game is also in Pennsylvania, where the huge snowstorm has just hit. The storm should be over by time the game starts, but the fields could be a mess. Both teams play excellent in bad weather games, so there's no real advantage.

The Game
If Ben Roethlisberger has the same game that he did last week or anything similar to it, the Steelers will lose this game. The Patriots will make you pay on any mistake that you make. This is a re-match, but I don't think the Patriots even care about what the Steelers did to them this season. The Patriots are coming off domination of the Colts, and the Steelers know that they need to play a perfect game if they can win. The Steelers have the crowd on their side. This game should be filled with tons of runs by Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley, and Corey Dillon. Back and forth they will go. I can see this game coming down to the very last second. Even though I said this would be the toughest place for Vinatieri to come in clutch, I'm going to say that he kicks the first ever 50 yard field goal at Heinz Field to give New England the win. Patriots win 20-17.

If my predictions come true, the Super Bowl will be the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the New England Patriots. But, any of the Super Bowl games would be good.

Imagine the possibilities:

Philadelphia vs. New England
Atlanta vs. New England
Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh

The possibilities of any of those games has to keep you on the edge of your seat thinking, "Just two more weeks away...Super Bowl..."

-Chris Pokorny

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