On football: Predictions for this weekend’s NFL conference championship games
The excitement of the NFL playoffs is building as we head towards Championship Sunday. Much like the majority of the regular season, this year’s playoffs have been filled with shocking results. Two No. 6 seeds have advanced to conference championships after knocking off two one seeds on the road, while home teams have been just 3-5 through two weeks of the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the two intriguing matchups of this weekend.
Philadelphia (11-6-1) at Arizona (11-7)
For the first time in NFL history, two teams that managed just nine wins each in the regular season will be playing for the chance to go to the Super Bowl. Also for the first time in history, a four-seed will host a conference championship game. With two playoff victories, Arizona has already matched its total number of playoff wins in its history entering this season.
Last week, the Cardinals drubbed a Carolina team who was previously unbeaten at home, despite entering the playoffs winning just two of their final six games.
Philadelphia is in their fifth NFC Championship game in eight years after dominating the Giants in the Meadowlands for the second time this season, and will be looking to capture that elusive Super Bowl title. Ironically, these two teams met on Thanksgiving night, where Philadelphia won by 28 points, sending each of these teams in opposite directions until the end of the regular season.
While it has been Arizona’s defense and the turnovers they have forced that have keyed the Cardinals’ two victories, it will be the performance of their offense that decides this game. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is known around the league for creating brilliant blitz schemes, and will likely attempt to come after Kurt Warner. Though he is a brilliant passer, Warner often panics under pressure, and is very turnover prone with both fumbles and interceptions.
It will be essential for Philadelphia to create pressure and jump out to an early lead. While I don’t see either team as a clear favorite, I do not expect the game to be won or lost late in the fourth quarter. The team that commits the fewest turnovers in the first half should have the game at hand before the fourth quarter rolls around.
Baltimore (13-5) at Pittsburgh (13-4)
For the third time this season, NFL fans will be treated to watch the league’s two best defenses, quarterbacked by the league’s two best safeties, try to rip each others’ heads off in a divisional rivalry game. In their first two meetings, the Steelers and Ravens battled furiously for sixty minutes and more, as Pittsburgh prevailed in overtime in the first game, and scored a game winning touchdown in the final minute of the second.
The stormy cold of Pittsburgh should only heighten the intensity of a matchup that has been spurring trash talk all week long. Both teams tend to depend highly on creating turnovers and turning them into points. In this aspect, I give the Ravens the edge, as Ed Reed and the Purple People Eaters are the best in the league at taking turnovers for six. However, I believe the Steelers’ offense is better at taking care of the ball than the Joe Flacco led Ravens. And it’s tough to argue with Ben Roethlisberger’s stellar history in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, this game will be a classic, smash mouth football game between two teams with almost identical blueprints that despise each other. Be sure not to miss it, because there’s no doubt that it will be decided in the final minutes (or seconds) of the game. That considered, I’ll put my money on Roethlisberger.
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