NFL Picks: Conference Championship Games

By Tony McClean
Updated: January 20, 2005

Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb
Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Before we preview Sunday’s conference title games, lets make some brief observations from last weekend’s divisional playoff tilts.

— For those of you who thought that the Falcons were just Mike Vick and no one else, I hope you’ve learned your lesson and know better now. Good teams like Atlanta do exactly what they did to the Rams last Saturday — i.e., dismiss them and move on.

— Now that the Golden Boy (Peyton Manning) and the Golden Goose (Randy Moss) aren’t around to play anymore this year, just what is the national media going to bitch and moan about this week?

— Note to Reverend Herm: I know your offense didn’t to diddly against the Steeler D, but you’ve gotta get your kicker closer after he doinks a non-gimme field goal. Especially at Heinz Field where because of the winds, even extra points can be an adventure — Another Colts’ playoff loss to New England at Foxboro confirms just one thing. Archie Manning has only one son, because Bill Belichick is clearly Peyton’s daddy. One that makes him cry uncle. Not to mention that Indy has now become this generation’s San Diego Chargers.

FACTOID OF THE WEEK No matter who wins Sunday’s NFC Championship game, either Atlanta’s Michael Vick or Philly’s Donovan McNabb will become the third African-American quarterback to start a Super Bowl. In 1988, Doug Williams became the first when he led the Redskins to a 42-10 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII at San Diego. Then in 2000, Steve McNair led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV. The Titans fell just a yard short of victory before falling to the Rams 23-16 at the Georgia Dome.

LAST WEEK: 4-0 (6-2 during the playoffs) Since going 0-2 on Wild Card Saturday, we’ve been on a roll picking six straight winners including a perfect week during the divisional round. Hey, I’ve been very lucky. But really, I owe all my success to Doug Brien, the two Mikes (Tice and Martz), and the Manning family.

NFC TITLE GAME: FALCONS at EAGLES Will the fourth time be a charm for McNabb and the Eagles or will the Michael Vick experience set up camp in Jacksonville? The early forecast for Sunday is calling for strong winds and a possible snow shower with temperatures in the low 20s. It really shouldn’t be a factor for No. 7 and his fellow Dirty Birds. Two years ago, Atlanta went into a snowy Green Bay for a wild-card game facing a Packers team that was 11-0 all-time at home in the playoffs. Vick played mistake-free football, throwing for 117 yards and rushing for 64 while not committing a turnover, and Atlanta won easily 27-7. This year’s Falcon squad appears to be a bit better than that team who ironically was eliminated by Philly the next week. Clearly the pressure (more like a 500-pound gorilla) is on the Eagles, who are hosting the NFC title game for the third year in a row. The big difference to me is that Atlanta appears to be the better balanced team on both sides of the ball. This is where Philly will miss TO. Even an erratic Peerless Price is better than any of the Eagles’ deep threats. Sorry, Donovan. It looks like you’ll be enjoying your chunky soup on Super Sunday.

Pick: Falcons.

Go to fullsize image AFC TITLE GAME: PATRIOTS at STEELERS Weather may also be a factor in this title game as well. Forecasters are calling for game time temperatures of 20 degrees and a chance of snow showers for Pittsburgh on Sunday. There’s also a chance of heavier snowfall earlier in the day, but it is expected to stop by kickoff. Back on Halloween, Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes and the Steelers had 417 yards of offense when they beat the Patriots 34-20, snapping New England’s NFL-record 21-game winning streak, counting playoffs. The Patriots were without Corey Dillon that day. Dillon, who rushed for a franchise-record 1,635 yards during the season, had 144 yards last week and was a big reason New England dismissed Peyton Manning and the Colts.The contest is also a rematch of the AFC title game following the 2001 season, when New England went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 24-17. The Patriots then stunned the Rams 20-17 to win their first of two Super Bowl titles in three years. Big Ben’s inexperience showed in last week’s OT win against the Jets. You may be able to outsmart Bill Belichick once, but I don’t think you can do it twice in the same season.

Pick: Patriots.