BASN NFL Picks: Conference Championships

By Tony McClean
Updated: January 18, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, say hello to the NFL’s Final Four. In the AFC title game, it’s a regular season and longtime postseason rematch. But this time, the Indianapolis Colts get to play the New England Patriots at the RCA Dome.

As for the NFC, the conference’s best two teams will slug it out at Soldier Field. The Saints proved last week that they’re much more than a Cinderella story while the Bears held off the pesky birds from Seattle in overtime.
While all four teams have their own contrasts, one thing is certain. They’ve all earned the right to be playing two weeks before the big one in South Beach. In fact, the combined winning percentage of the championship teams is .757 (53-17).
These four teams are also a resilient bunch. They come off a weekend in which all four games were decided by a total of 18 points — the fewest since the divisional round began in 1970. Three of the four games were decided by three points or less — the first time ever in the divisional round.
We can only hope for a repeat this Sunday.
The 2006 playoffs through the first two rounds have been the most competitive since the NFL went to the 12-team format in 1990. The average margin of victory in the eight wild-card and divisional games was 7.3 points per game. That is the lowest point margin since 1990. The previous low was a 9.8-point average in 2003.
With a win Sunday, the Saints can become the sixth team in history to go to a Super Bowl after finishing last in its division the previous season. Which team was the first?
A. Rams
B. Bengals
C. Steelers
D. Giants
(The answer comes at the end of the column).
LAST WEEK: 2-2 (5-3 during playoffs)
Thanks to some lousy offense in Baltimore along with miscues and other gaffes in San Diego, we completely missed both AFC games. We’ve gone against the Colts in both rounds, so at least I’m consistent. Give the Brady Bunch their due, you just can’t keep them in the game late. It’ll kill ya. As for the NFC, hopefully now all the vultures will leave Rex alone for a few days (NOT!!). As for the scene in New Orleans, I know somewhere my buddy Stan Verrett is smiling. But will he be smiling this Sunday? Stay tuned.
The NFC’s top offense (Saints) versus the NFC’s top defense (Bears) for a trip to the Super Bowl. Now judging from last week’s escape with Seattle, the questions in Chi-Town this week are more about the defense than the offense. If the Seahawks can put up 24 points against them on the road, what will Drew Brees and his bunch do? On the flip side, will the Saints’ D continue to rise to the occasion. For what it’s worth, New Orleans has won three of their past four visits to Soldier Field, and five of the past seven overall. Out of all the four remaining teams, to me the Saints have been the most consistent. With the exception of the loss to Washington, New Orleans has been more than competitive in all of their games. On Sunday, they will prove that they are truly the NFC’s best team.
Pick: Saints.
Even the great Gil Scott-Heron would find himself enjoying this “rerun”. And by all rights, we should have seen this coming. New England plays in its third championship game in the past four years. Indianapolis plays in its second in that span. While the Colts out uglied (No, I’m not sure if that’s a real word) Baltimore, the Patriots stole one in San Diego and left LT very PO-ed. Now as I mentioned earlier, I’ve picked against the Horseshoes in both of their previous playoff games and they’ve made me look like J. Edgar Hoover in a dress (Sorry for the visual). Now they’re back at the Dome and they should handle their business. Right? I really wanna see Tony Dungy (as well as Lovie Smith) get to the Super Bowl. But just get the feeling that the Pats will spoil the end of the movie like they always seem to do against Indy.
Pick: Patriots.
TRIVIA ANSWER: B. After going 6-10 in 1980, the Bengals (under Forrest Gregg) went 12-4 a year later and advanced to Super Bowl XVI. Cincinnati would later pull the trick again after a strike-shortened 4-11 mark in 1987. A year later, the Bengals (under Sam Wyche) would again go 12-4 and advance to Super Bowl XXIII. They would lose to the 49ers in both instances.