BASN NFL Picks: Conference Championships

By Tony McClean
Updated: January 19, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — And then there were four. The NFL’s version of the “Final Four” brings a quartet of teams that took very different routes to the conference championship round.
The Seahawks, despite not getting a lot of national hoopla, were the NFC’s best team during the regular season. Last week, the Birds overcame the loss of several key players, including the league’s MVP Shaun Alexander, and still defeated the Cinderella Redskins in the divisional round.
During the preseason, Sports Illustrated picked the Carolina Panthers to win the Super Bowl. While they’ve had they’re ups and downs during the year, Carolina exacted some sweet revenge in Chicago last week. Just two years ago, they took the NFC crown on the road in Philly.
While the Colts got all the hype, the Denver Broncos have been playing under the radar all season in the AFC. The “New” Orange Crush ended the Patriots’ championship run in a knockdown, dragout affair at Invesco last week. Sunday is Denver’s first trip to the AFC title game since their Super Bowl season of 1998.
As for the Steelers, Bill Cowher’s bunch outlasted several bad calls and a near costly fumble by the Bus to advance. They’ve become the lastest team to send Peyton Manning and the Colts home without a Super Bowl. They and Carolina are hoping to become first team to win three road games and reach the Super Bowl since the 1985 Patriots.
Some folks say that this year’s bunch lacks the “sexiness” of the Patriots, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, and others. The only thing I can tell you is, if your looking for hype, then don’t watch the game on Sunday. If you’re into great football, Sunday will be your feast before the Super Bowl.
Go to fullsize image FACTOID OF THE WEEK
With last week’s win at Chicago, Carolina’s Jake Delhomme became the first quarterback in league history to win his first four road playoff games. Those four wins also match the all-time road playoff mark set by a pair of Hall of Famers, Len Dawson and Roger Staubach (both 4-1). By the way, Delhomme is 5-1 in his career during the postseason.
Go to fullsize image TRIVIA QUESTION
What player holds the Broncos’ record for the most receiving yards in a playoff game?
A. Rod Smith
B. Haven Moses
C. Steve Watson
D. Shannon Sharpe
The Bears defeated the New Orleans Saints 16-6 on January 6, 1991 in an NFC Wild Card playoff game. It was Chicago’s last postseason win at Soldier Field.
LAST WEEK: 1-3 (3-5 overall in postseason)
After getting a win in Seattle, the roof caved in on yours truly. To quote the late Rick James (aka Dave Chappelle), what did the five fingers say to the face? Patriots (SLAP!). Colts (DOUBLE SLAP!!). Bears (TRIPLE SLAP!!!). Coldblooded indeed. I feel like I was Peyton Manning in the third quarter: dazing, confused, and running for my life. Unlike No. 18, I still have three more games to pick including Sunday’s title game and the big one in Motown two weeks from now. And I promise I won’t blame my fellow writers if I go 0-3.
Last regular season meeting: 10/12/03 at Denver (Broncos 17, Steelers 14, Denver leads all-time series 11-6-1).
Last postseason meeting: ’97 AFC Championship at Pittsburgh (Broncos 24, Steelers 21, Denver leads all-time postseason series 3-2).
Keys: Vince Lombardi would love this game. While both quarterbacks are decent passers, this game will be won by the team who can control the running game.
Intangibles: Will the Steelers’ D rattle Jake The Snake? Can the Broncos secondary handle Hines Ward or Antwaan Randle El?
Did you know: On Christmas Eve in 1977, the Broncos intercepted three of Terry Bradshaw passes and defeated the Steelers 34-21 in the franchise’s first ever postseason game.
Pick: While I respect what Shanahan has done with Plummer, I think the Steelers are on a roll. Plus, the Black and Gold have less pressure on them by playing this game on the road. I like the Steelers to win on a late touchdown.
Last regular season meeting: 10-31-04 at Seattle (Seahawks 23, Panthers 17, All-time series is tied 1-1).
Last postseason meeting: First ever.
Keys: This has the makings of a showcase between two underrated offenses. Not a 38-35 shootout, but more of a strategical 27-24 game. Don’t be surprised if a last-second field goal decides this contest.
Intangibles: Will Shaun Alexander recover enough to dominate the game? If not, can Matt Hasselback carry the load for a second straight week? Can Seattle’s improved D be able to deal with Steve Smith?
Did you know: Seattle’s only other trip to a conference title game came in 1983 when they lost to the then L.A. Raiders 30-14. This will be the Panthers’ third conference championship game, their second in the last three seasons.
Pick: Seattle’s win last week was very impressive considering the obstacles. As was the Panthers’ victory in Chi-Town. Ever so slightly, I think that Carolina can squeeze another road victory.