Friday, January 21, 2005

NFL: Week 19 Picks (Conference Title games)

I'm down to my last three picks of the season. This week's games are a tough set to pick. I'm taking a bit of an upset in going with the Falcons. I really think that the Falcons, led by Vick, would make an intriguing Super Bowl entrant. In the AFC, you've got to like the ability of New England to win the big game. Basically, I'm going with trends in both games. New England generally wins big playoff games; Philadelphia can't win NFC Title games. So, there you have it. I project the February 6 Super Bowl to feature the Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots.

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles…Atlanta
For the fourth straight year, the Eagles have made the NFC Championship Game. Of course, Philly is 0-3 under coach Andy Reid in the title games. Most experts have focused on the absence of Terrell Owens. However, the most important player in this game is Mike Vick. It will take everything Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has to get Vick out of his rhythm. With Vick, it isn’t as much his passing that worries coordinators. His passing numbers have been mediocre this season. Vick’s big play ability is what has opposing defenses worried. I don’t think the Eagles will be able to stop Vick from making plays. For Philadelphia to win, they’ll have to utilize McNabb and hope to outscore Atlanta. They certainly have the offensive playmakers to score points. Philadelphia has to be burdened with losing the last three title games. Without Owens, this is primarily the same team of the past. One bad intangible for Atlanta is the weather. Snow is expected in Philadelphia on Sunday. Even though Atlanta did win in cold weather two years ago in Green Bay, they are still a dome team. Any inclement weather has to favor the Eagles. Still, I don’t believe weather will be the determining factor. Four years ago, the Falcons came in as underdogs and defeated the favored Vikings. With a new cast of characters, they can do the same thing on Sunday.

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers… New England
This is the second time these two teams will meet this season. Back in Week 8, Pittsburgh won at Heinz Field by a score of 34-20. However, Corey Dillon was injured and did not play. New England only carried the ball six times for five yards in that encounter. It was a complete domination without Dillon. Pittsburgh possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes. I was very impressed with how easily New England was able to dominate the Colts last week. If there were ever a game where New England’s weakened secondary would be exploited, that was it. This week, they face a Pittsburgh team who relies more on the ground attack. I still believe that Pittsburgh doesn’t want to rely on Roethlisberger in the big spot. They would prefer to run the ball 35 times and limit Big Ben to 20 or fewer passing attempts. I’m not sure about the exact number, but Bill Belichick is undefeated the second time he faces a QB. I fully expect him to be better equipped to handle this Steelers offense. In addition, Belichick is 8-1 in playoff games, compared to Bill Cowher’s 8-8 record in the postseason. Three years ago, when these teams last met in the playoffs, New England defeated Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium. I made the mistake last week of picking against a playoff tested Patriots team. I think the game will be close and low scoring, but the Patriots manage to pull out the victory.


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