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-NFL Championship Sunday: Patriots & Packers to Prevail
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 20, 2008
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"Four teams remain."
There are only four teams left this season in the NFL, and the winners of today's games will move on to the Super Bowl in two weeks. Although I still would've preferred to see the Indianapolis Colts give the New England Patriots a run for their money, the Chargers certainly showed enough intensity on the road to potentially deliver a promising effort. The New York Giants are red-hot in the NFC, but they'll have to play well for once in a cold environment. How will they fare against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers?

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Game:  San Diego Chargers (13-5) vs. New England Patriots (17-0)
Where: Gillette Stadium (Foxboro, MA)
When: 3:00 PM EST
Announcers: Jim Nantz & Phil Simms (CBS)

Last season, the Chargers met the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. With LaDainian Tomlinson shattering the rushing touchdown record and the Chargers holding the AFC's No. 1 seed, a win seemed inevitable for them. But, the Patriots rallied against Marty Schottenheimer's "Marty Ball" to pull out a shocking victory. In Week 2 this season, the Chargers had a chance to make a statement against the Patriots. Instead, they only became a footnote in the Patriots' record-breaking season with a 38-14 loss. The Chargers seemed to hit a downward spiral following that loss, as they lost to the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs the following two weeks to drop to 1-3. People all over the league, including me, were calling Norv Turner's discipline and philosophy of the team laughable. Over the second half of their season though, things changed.

The Chargers are currently on an eight-game winning streak, including two postseason victories. Tomlinson has gone back to being the league's best running back. The defense has rebounded after some key injuries earlier in the season. And, most importantly, Philip Rivers has started to look like a "Major League" NFL quarterback the past few weeks. Still, the big issue remains: how are you going to stop the New England Patriots?

The Colts couldn't do it.
The Steelers couldn't do it.
The Cowboys couldn't do it.
The Jaguars couldn't do it.

And, even the Chargers themselves couldn't do it. However, regarding the playoff teams that failed to take out New England, the Chargers do have one advantage: they are the only team getting a second crack at them. Although it was much earlier this season, already knowing how it feels to fall behind to this team could play somewhat of a mental advantage. The Chargers know they are underdogs. They know that they just took out the Colts with their backups and are executing well. Unfortunately, as hard as they try, it's been proven to be impossible to shut down the combination of Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, and Ben Watson. Or, you can just say that it's impossible to stop Tom Brady in Bill Belichick's current system.

Final Prediction: New England Patriots 34, San Diego Chargers 24.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Game:  New York Giants (12-6) vs. Green Bay Packers (14-3)
Where: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, WI)
When: 6:30 PM EST
Announcers: Troy Aikman & Joe Buck (FOX)

In another re-match from the regular season, the New York Giants will try to use a hot streak to reverse their regular-season fortunes against the Green Bay Packers. Eli Manning has been unbelievable in this year's postseason. His quarterback rating is 123.2 over the past two weeks, throwing for four touchdowns without an interception. What has been the critical thing for Manning? Two things -- first, he hasn't had to throw the ball for a lot of yardage, showing that he's getting the support of his running game. Second, he hasn't been forced to play in poor weather conditions during that span. It'll be very interesting to see if Manning's cold-weather/high-wind struggles continue at Lambeau Field, where temperatures are expected to hover around zero degrees.

There may have been some weather concerns about the Packers themselves after being embarrassed by the Chicago Bears at the end of the regular season. However, after battling back from an early 14-0 deficit last week after the heavy snow conditions kicked in, the Packers are clearly ready for anything that is trying to stand in their way. The confidence shown by the Packers to continue giving the ball to Ryan Grant after he fumbled twice last week could benefit them in terms of facing adversity in the playoffs. Whereas the Colts were somewhat lost after a few of their top playmakers were digned up last week, the Packers stuck with their gameplan and rolled to a victory.

Manning's reads have been spot on, but because the Packers play a physical defense, I don't envision his receivers getting open often. Plaxico Burress is still hobbled, Amani Toomer has had a lot of drops this season, and Sinorice Moss is still raw. When the Packers play bump coverage at the line of scrimmage with their defensive ends rushing from the edge, will Manning have an opportunity available to make a play? Maybe sometimes, but not enough to combat Favre's scoreboard thrashing.

Final Prediction: Green Bay Packers 23, New York Giants 17.

 


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