Tomorrow 's championship games feature three teams that everybody expected to be there from the get go, and one that came on late (thanks to a little help from the Colts and Bengals coaching staffs) to seal a playoff spot, and has stuck to their game plan to carry them through the playoffs.
As a Colts fan, I would have loved the opportunity for them to play the Chargers or Patriots in the AFC Championship, because a victory would be that much sweeter. Also, as a Purdue Boilermaker at heart, I love seeing Drew Brees continue to grow into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. With that said, my predictions for tomorrow's games:
AFC: Jets @ Colts, 3 PM, CBS
I have never been one to go into a game feeling overconfident. If there is one lesson I learned from coaching football this past fall, it's that anything can happen on any given day. The J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets have been the perfect example of that all throughout this year's playoff's. If you had told me that Nate Kaeding, after missing only three field goals all season, was going to miss three field goals in one game, I would have bet my entire collection of Colts memorabilia on it. Good thing I didn't because the Jets have had things going there way the last two weeks. With some good hard running, taking care of the ball, and stepping it up on defense they have played their way into the title game, and they certainly can't be taken lightly.
HOWEVER, this is the Indianapolis Colts, winners of 15 straight meaningful games, and 23 of their last 24 games that actually mattered, with the one loss to a Chargers team in an overtime in which the Colts did not get an offensive possession. This team knows how to win games with offense, defense, and special teams. Peyton Manning is quite possibly playing the best football of his career, as are Dallas Clark, and Reggie Wayne. We will also be watching a defense that has been very solid all season, executing the bend but don't break better than any team in the history of the game. Antoine Bethea, Gary Brackett, Kelvin Hayden, and Robert Mathis are four of the most underrated defensive players in the game.
Look for the Colts to stack the box early to slow down (there's no shutting down) the Jets running game. Offensively, Peyton will look to throw early and often to build a quick lead. If the Colts get up by more than 10, the Jets will have to lean on Mark Sanchez, and without a truly reliable weapon beyond his tight end Dustin Keller (Boiler Up!), I can't be convinced that this would turn out pretty for the Jets. FINAL SCORE: Colts 31 Jets 10
NFC: Vikings @ Saints, 6:30 PM, FOX
I'll keep this simple. This will be the best game that any of us have seen in the NFL ALL SEASON LONG. Two very solid offenses that love to score points in bunches go up against two defenses that love two make big plays.
This game will be all about Drew Brees making plays two everybody on the roster. It seems like they could line up Garrett Hartley (the kicker) at wide receiver and Brees would find a way to get him the ball. If the Saints can get anything from the running game combination of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, and Mike Bell they will have a slight advantage in this game. Defensively, the Saints need to make Adrain Peterson beat them, because he has been very quiet as of late, and as a result we have seen Brett Favre and Sidney Rice chewing up secondaries and spitting them out.
Offensively for the Vikings, they need to get Peterson going early so that things will open up for Favre, and he can take some shots deep to Sidney Rice. Rice has emerged this season as one of the best deep threats in the NFL. The Vikings defense is predictable in what they are going to do, but they are one of the absolute best at doing it. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards (Boilers represented well this weekend) need to get pressure on Drew Brees, and the secondary will have to play its best game of the season.
I'm thinking we are going to see this game decided on the final play. FINAL SCORE: Saints 38 Vikings 35.
Enjoy a day of exciting football, and check back on Monday for my thoughts on how the games went.