Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We were just 2-2 last week despite feeling pretty good about all the games, and to be honest, we got lucky with the Ravens. In our defense, we did pick the exact score of the Panthers-Cardinals, and though some of you will nitpick minor details like which team was predicted for which score, I think that's a bit stingy. If a cab driver gets you to the airport on time, do you not tip him just because it was the wrong airport?
As for the Giants-Eagles, I really should have been recused from having to pick that game at all, or even writing about it in any capacity. Good thing Steve Spagnoulo did his interviewing before that game - otherwise he'd have to explain why he never blitzed in the second half even though Donovan McNabb had all day to throw... But let's not get sidetracked - there are still two more games on Sunday, and we have a job to do.
NFC Championship Game
Eagles -3.5 at Cardinals
The road to the Super Bowl goes through Arizona apparently, and why not? It's not as if they squeaked by the Panthers on some fluke play - they buried the No. 2 seed in its own building. We're not sure what to make of the Cardinals newfound running game - sometimes teams jell at the right time, and offensive lines can come together unpredictably. And the running game is important because Arizona will need to keep Jim Johnson's defense from teeing off on Kurt Warner. The Eagles haven't been able to run the ball at all in the playoffs, but it's not likely to matter as much as their pass protection is good, and the Cardinals defense had just 31 sacks on the year.
The key to this game will be Philly's ability to upset Warner's timing and harass him into making mistakes. On the other side of the ball, we expect Donovan McNabb to be effective spreading the rock around, but with a banged-up Brian Westbrook lacking his typical explosion, there's no game-breaker to worry about. (The talented but erratic DeSean Jackson is probably the closest thing they have right now, but if he were on Arizona, it's not clear he would even beat out Steve Breaston for the No. 3 job). As such, we see the Arizona offense/Philly defense matchup determining this game's outcome. Because it's in Arizona, and because the line has jumped to 3.5 (four in many places), we're going to go with the Cardinals. We think they'll come to play, and that focus and preparation should allow them to pick up and adapt well enough to the Eagles' blitzes. Back the Cardinals who keep it close and possibly win outright.
Cardinals 27 - 24
AFC Championship Game
Ravens +5.5 at Steelers
Apparently these teams need to smash into each other a third time to determine who really is the meanest bully in the AFC. Actually, we already know - it's Tennessee who knocked around Baltimore in its loss after knocking around Pittsburgh a couple weeks earlier. No matter, the second meanest team should give the winner of the NFC game all it can handle in the Super Bowl. On the one hand, the Steelers won both games, and you have to like Pittsburgh's passing game better. On the other, five and a half is a lot of points in a game where the total is just 34, and the Ravens rarely lose anything but nail-biters.
One of the keys will be whether the Steelers excellent offensive line play last week against the Chargers was a one-game anomaly against a mediocre defense or a sign that, perhaps like the Cardinals, they've finally come together. Baltimore will be a far tougher test, but if the Steelers have shored up this key weakness, they're probably the best team in the NFL right now.
In the end, we're going to lay the wood and take Pittsburgh. It's a lot of points in a game like this, but we think the Steelers are better on both sides of the ball, and Heinz Field will be a tough environment to play in for Baltimore, especially after coming off a very physical game at Tennessee. Back the Steelers who cover fairly easily.
Steelers 23 - 10
We were 2-2 in the Divisional Playoff games to put us at 3-5 for the playoffs. We were 124-122-10 on the regular season. From 1999-2007, we were 1184-1018 - not including ties - (53.8 percent).
Article first appeared 1/14/09