Last week: 3-1
The playoffs are down to just three games left. That makes me sad, as we'll be out of football in practically no time now. What's even worse is that I practically ignored the first six weeks of the NFL season, so it doesn't feel like it should be this late in the season right now. Again, we'll go in order of confidence in the picks I am making, from least to most.
-->Pittsburgh at Denver, 2pm, CBS
There are a few things I like about Denver. They have a ball-hawking defense (at least, it was on Saturday against New England). They have a great running game. And their QB is minimizing his own mistakes. In this game, it comes down to whose QB makes the fewest mistakes. Pittsburgh's starter, Ben Roethlisberger, has been stellar so far in two road wins, but was awful in last year's conference title game loss to New England. Denver's guy, Jake "Grizzly" Plummer, was only okay against the Patriots last week, as the defense, running game, and officials did the Patriots in.
I guess that I trust Big Ben a little bit more right now. He's been playing very well, and he's done a great job getting guys not named "Hines Ward" involved in the offense. Indianapolis seemed disinterested at times in covering Antwaan Randle El, so Big Ben threw that way. He found his tight ends, and he used play-action very effectively. The coaches and skill players look to be on the same page, and the game plans so far in the playoffs have been exemplary.
I don't trust Denver. I don't trust Champ Bailey. I don't trust Grizzly Plummer, especially after what I saw last week. And I don't think Denver's getting five more turnovers on Sunday. As a result, I don't think Denver's going to Detroit.
The pick: Pittsburgh
--> Carolina at Seattle, 5:30pm, FOX
The Panthers have Delhomme to Steve Smith, which has become the 2006 equivalent of Montana to Rice. Smith is at an unbelieveable level right now, and he's almost impossible to stop.
So I'm about to do something really stupid. I'm about to make an analogy to a basketball story I heard once.
Former NBAer Tim Legler was on Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio a few months ago. He relayed a story of how his team, then the Washington
Anyway, here's my idea for Seattle's defensive coaching staff on Sunday.
Cover Steve Smith one-on-one, with nothing more than occasional safety help over the top. I know it's a different game than basketball, and the NFC Championship Game is a bit more valuable than a meaningless regular-season NBA game, but how much can Steve Smith hurt you if no one else can do anything?
Instead of bracketing Smith with an extra linebacker to go along with a corner and safety, use that linebacker or safety to get after Delhomme. If you get in Delhomme's face, as the Cowboys proved in Week 16, Smith won't get free often enough to save his team.
Don't let Carolina run the ball. Don't let Delhomme get comfortable.
And on offense, don't forget to get the ball to Shaun Alexander. Often.
The pick: Seattle