This weekend belongs to Ray Lewis and the Ravens - my upset special against an 'on paper' better team.
After two rounds of hitting and high fives I have managed to get six out of eight playoff winners correct, and this means I did predict the Ravens, Eagles and the Steelers to reach the final four.
Where I messed up and where I suspect the rest of the world messed up was not giving enough respect to the Arizona Cardinals. Yes the Arizona Cardinals – a team historically so inept they can talk long into the night with the Detroit Lions and still feel bad.
Say it in your head, or say it out loud – the Arizona Cardinals are JUST ONE game away from the Superbowl. It sounds like some sort of joke, or maybe something that you can only witness when playing John Madden on your console, but no this is real, and in about 30 hours the Cards HOST the NFC Championship game against the wily Philadelphia Eagles, so that is where my prediction will start.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ ARIZONA CARDINALS
On the surface this is a battle between Donovan McNabb (one Superbowl played one loss) and Kurt Warner(two Superbowls played one won one loss) to show which veteran quarterback has the intestinal fortitude to lead their team to the promised land, but this game will come down to the brute strength and blocking power of the offensive and defensive lines – as they will be the guys pressurising or protecting Mc Nabb and Warner, and the ones making the gaps or shutting down the run.
Both McNabb and Warner were sacked an average of less than twice a game, so both offensive lines are solid but are able to be exploited.
The real key is that McNabb is more likely to take a sack and keep possession of the ball. Cardinals have looked awful at points this season when Warner has spilled the ball, and I think the Eagles will dial up the pressure throughout the game.
NFL FAN IN ENGLAND gives his KEYS to the game
1) The Cardinals need to get 120 yards rushing to stand any hope of winning this game, and this does not necessarily mean 100 from Edge – it could be 65 for Edge and 55 for Tim Hightower who looks to be swimming in shark infested water at the moment.
2) The Eagles WRs need to make a statement early that they can be difference makers. Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson can both have huge games but someone like Reggie Brown or Jason Avant could be the player to break the game open as they will get single coverage.
3) Neil Rackers needs to be there and come through in the clutch. He has gone from fantasy gold to an after thought, and this game could come down to a kick. David Akers has the NFL post season consecutive completed fg record. Rackers has never been to a championship game – will it overawe him or will he become a hero.
4) Brian Westbrook . He has had a rather quiet post season, so is this the game he busts out of his funk? YES in my opinion it is. Westbrook has more talent than Edgarrin James but has so far not been the multi dimensional weapon that he has been in the regular season. Providing he has 15 touches each half this could decide the game.
5) This game comes down to the Eagles secondary beating up on the Cardinals wideouts, and despite the hype surrounding Fitzgeral and Boldin this is where I think the game will be won for the Eagles, who will pick off Warner three times.
Prediction – Philadelphia 27-17 Arizona – MVP Donovan McNabb 2 passing tds
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – BALTIMORE RAVENS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The Ravens have shown that the formula of Defense Defense Defense is enough to mask any offensive deficiences. Only one problem its exactly what the Steelers have in their very own test tubes also.
On paper he Steelers have the all round talent and also are the most recent of the final four to win a Superbowl, and the last time they did it they had Ben Roethlisberger who will again be under center for this bruising affair.
The 2008 season will be remembered as the Wild Card winners Superbowl as I think the Ravens will get revenge against a Steelers team that is going to be thinking it is the better team right now. I expect this game to be as ugly as the Titans v Ravens game last week – but for the defensive purist this will be a thing of beauty.
NFL FAN IN ENGLAND gives his KEYS to the game
1) Flacco has to be a handoff robot. If Joe Flacco wants to be the first rookie qb to start in a Superbowl then he needs to be disciplined and listen to his coaches instructions. This is what has got him this far, and despite a pass rush that will be scarier than being stuck in a lift with Plaxico Burress and an AK-47, if Flacco stays disciplined this could be his ticket to immortality.
2) The emotional impact of Hines Ward. Whilst the linebackers of the Steelers have been the highlight reel champions the Steelers go as far as Hines Ward’s catches. He is destined to go to the Hall of Fame (and I am no terrible towel waver) and he can ignite Heinz Field with a crucial 3rd down conversion or a touchdown. Take him out early – no – take him out late. When the game is on the line that’s when the Ravens need to cover every blade of grass that Ward does.
3) The Steelers offensive line protecting Big Ben. Its all very well saying Willie Parker is gonna have another huge game – but you cannot get the running game going unless the pass is successful early. Look for Big Ben to try and pass the Steelers out of the blocks with some screens and te hitches. I think the Ravens D will be ready for this and an early pickoff will get Big Ben nervous.
4) Can Mark Clayton please show up. Derek Mason is a stud and deserves respect (I said last week he would be huge and he was) but he cannot win the game by himself as a WR. Fans will have Clayton as an afterthought but he does have the talent to change a game, and this in my humble opinion is where he will do it.
5) Todd Heap. It seems the real Todd Heap hasnt shown up for about 2 seasons, but when it counts Heap can be dangerous. He may not be the Todd Heap of old – but he can get 5 catches this game. If he does the Ravens win.
Prediction – Baltimore 21-20 Pittsburgh – MVP – Ray Lewis 12 tackles and 1 INT.
That leaves me with a Baltimore v Philadelphia Superbowl – Any thoughts ?????