BASN’s NFL Sunday Preview

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: January 19, 2008


PHILADELPHIA — “Championship Sunday” for the 88th season of the NFL is upon us and the match-ups interestingly enough will be a “Back to the Future” moment from week 2 of this season — it is the 16th time since 1970 that both championship games are rematches.

The undefeated New England Patriots (17-0) will be hosting the surprising San Diego Chargers (13-5) again and the upstart “road warrior” New York Giants (12-6) will be facing the historic Green Bay Packers (14-3) again this time at frigid Lambeau field (expected game time temperatures of between one and six degrees Fahrenheit).

Non-media friendly New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick summed up the upcoming weekend’s games by saying, “One team moves on. One team goes home” — No duh coach.

Whatever happens in this weekend’s games they truly are special since the conference championship trophies (George Halas Trophy for the NFC and Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC) are close enough to touch and two football teams and their fans will be realizing their dreams on Sunday of going to the Super Bowl.

But everyone especially the players need to remember Championship Sunday will end in rejoicing for the winners and the losers facing the jolting agony that their off-season has begun. The key factor for the participants in the AFC and NFC Championship games is to focus on winning this week before looking ahead to the confetti laced on-field celebration and playing in Super Bowl XLII in Arizona.

Belichick described his team’s upcoming AFC Championship Game against the San Diego Chargers as “Our whole season is at stake and so is theirs”. The same can be said for the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Trust me, as someone that has experienced the ultimate high and low from Championship Sunday while following the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise from a very early age, I can attest to both potential drastic endings.

In terms of winning I can still feel the goose bumps from 1980 when the Eagles exorcised their demons against the hated Dallas Cowboys as running back Wilbert Montgomery, quarterback Ron Jaworski (Jaws), coach Dick Vermeil and the rest of the Birds finally could call themselves a “winner” and were making the ultimate trip to Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans — I have never felt a city and a team more elated and gratified by one win… too bad after the conference championship game win everyone including the team forgot about the Super Bowl and they lost badly to the Raiders, but that is another story.

I also can still feel the gut-wrenching pain from 2002 when our beloved Veterans Stadium’s last football game was a Championship Sunday loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers known as “The Day Gruden, Barber, Sapp, Keyshawn, and the Bucs Drove the Bulldozer Over the Vet”.

The loss was crushing for the number #1 seeded Eagles and the entire city, many of whom had already had their plane tickets in hand after the opening kickoff by Eagles venerable return man Brian Mitchell almost went to the house. But it was not meant to be and the finality came extremely quick — remember the crossing pattern to Joe Jurevicous and the game ending Ronde Barber interception return for a touchdown.

Alright that is enough remembrance of the good and bad times of the Eagles as now is the time for the Packers, Giants, Patriots, and Chargers to show their mettle.

The great thing about all of the teams playing this week they all have some kind of streak going into the weekend — We all know the Pats are unbeaten season at 17-0, San Diego has won eight in a row, New York is 9-1 on the road (no road team has ever played in a championship game with that road record), and Green Bay has won eight of its nine home games this year.

These extraordinary teams also have a combined regular/postseason winning percentage of .800 (56-14). And did I mention this Sunday’s action on the field will feature the NFL’s career leader in quarterback wins and touchdown passes (Brett Favre), the season TD-pass record-holder (Tom Brady), the season sack leader (Michael Strahan), and the running back who has led the league in rushing the past two years (LaDainian Tomlinson).

Everyone including yours truly will be pontificating on what will happen, but luckily the games will be played on the field and anything can happen — Any Given Sunday, right??

My predictions are below and I have very strong feelings on both games. But as with any game I believe pressure on the quarterback and turnovers will be the key determinants in all of the team’s fortunes this Sunday.

Now onto my game notes and predictions.

NFC Championship GIANTS (12-6) at PACKERS (14-3)

(6:30 PM ET, FOX: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Pam Oliver)

This game is not only a rematch from a week two grudge match – BTW: In that game at the Meadowlands, Packers quarterback Brett Favre was efficient in leading the Packers to an easy 35-13 win over the reeling Giants, who fell to 0-2 — but it is also the first playoff meeting between two NFL franchises with 600 regular-season victories apiece.

Green Bay has 637 victories and New York’s G-Men have 606 wins (ranked second and third, respectively on the NFL’s all-time regular-season win list, behind the Chicago Bears with 677).

This will be the first playoff meeting between the two teams since they met in back-to-back NFL title games in 1961-62 with the Packers taking 1962 NFL Championship 16-7 to win their second consecutive league title — For the historians out there, NFL Network will be running a half-hour replay of the New York-Green Bay 1962 NFL Championship Game this weekend.

The aforementioned week two match-up featured a pushing and shoving type game that included 14 penalties and three turnovers combined. Old greybeard Packers Brett Favre (3 TD’s in the win) out dueled young-buck Eli Manning (a touchdown and two INT’s in the loss) as the Giants faithful let the Ole’ Miss product have it in the bad home loss that dropped the G-Men to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.

But as Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said about the September game, “We are a different football team than we were in Week 2, and definitely the New York Giants are a different football team”. At the time the Packers couldn’t run the ball and now that is history with the emergence of running back Ryan Grant (201 yards and 3 TD’s last week). The Giants especially Manning (four touchdowns and no Interceptions in the Post season) have also turned the corner behind embattled head coach Tom Coughlin and they are truly road ready at 9-1.

This is definitely a new tougher version of the Giants team since week 17 when they gave the Patriots more than they could ask for. The Giants be aiming for an amazing 10th consecutive win when they enter Lambeau — already have a team-record nine consecutive road victories — and they have a family type feeling where they hunker down and know how to win in a hostile environment.

The Giants will be trying to join the 2005 Steelers (3 road wins) as improbable road wild card winners to win a Super Bowl. We all know the key for the Giants offense will be their ability to run the ball in bad weather and limit turnovers by Manning. But their defense coached by Steve Spagnuolo (NFL leading 53 sacks in the regular season) and led by defensive end Michael Strahan — 8.5 sacks in eight career playoff games – will need to get pressure on immobile veteran Favre.

They must get pressure from Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Strahan, because we all know about the injuries in their secondary to Sam Madison (abdominal) and Aaron Ross (shoulder). If given time Favre will get the ball to dangerous targets Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.

LV’s Pick: I don’t care what anyone says the biggest factor in this game will be the chill in Lambeau field. The Giants turn around has been one of the best stories of the 2007 season, but the magic carpet ride ends this week. Favre is playing a lot like John Elway at the end of his career, leaning on younger legs especially Ryan Grant. Green Bay hasn’t had an NFC Championship game since the 1996 season, when they beat Carolina 30-13 on another cold bitter day. Favre — with a multi-TD game this Sunday can tie Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana with 14 such postseason games — loves the fans and the snowy atmosphere and you never know this could be his last game – Doubt it. Look for “bad” Eli to show up in the cold (two picks) as the Packers head to Arizona to thaw out. Favre and his young’ins continue their improbable run with a close 23-20 win over the G-Men.

AFC Championship

CHARGERS (13-5) at PATRIOTS (17-0)

(3:00 PM ET, CBS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

This may not be Colts-Patriots II, but the two interesting combatants combined for 30 wins this year, including playoffs. That total is tied for the second-most combined victories in an AFC Championship Game. We all remember their week two game was supposed to be a revenge grudge match with Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson promising to pay the Patriots back for their behavior after their 2006 Divisional win, but the week two battle never produced revenge for LT (43 yards on 18 carries in the loss).

The Patriots put “spygate” and the Chargers to rest by building a 24-0 halftime lead on the way to a 38-14 blowout. If LT and his team are to finally get their revenge, the warm weather Chargers will need to adapt to the frigid New England weather while nurse injuries to Tomlinson (knee), TE Antonio Gates (Toe), and QB Philip Rivers (knee) quickly.

The Chargers victory led by backups QB Billy Volek, TE Legedu Naanee, and running backs Michael Turner and Darren Sproles defeated the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts ruining the much-anticipated rematch of the Super Powers. Now they will be looking to complete “Mission Impossible” by causing the Patriots vaunted offense to turnover the ball –finished in the top 10 with 48 regular season turnovers with a league-leading 30 interceptions.

But let’s not forget that the Patriots had only 15 giveaways, best in the league with only an NFL third best nine interceptions. The problem for the Chargers is that the Patriots are truly historic setting season records for points (589), touchdowns (75), and scoring at least 24 points in 16 of their 17 games.

The Patriots of course have a roster of future hall of famers led by Associated Press’ 2007 NFL MVP quarterback Tom Brady (completing 26 of 28 throws last week versus the Jags) and Moss (NFL season-record 23 touchdowns). But in order to continue their easy winning ways, the Patriots must find a way to have balance in their offense by leaning on inexperienced running back Laurence Maroney and getting pressure from DE Richard Seymour, LB Mike Vrabel, and LB Junior Seau — the 38-year-old linebacker will be playing in his first championship game since 1994, when he was with his opponent this Sunday, San Diego.

The Chargers are 12-2 since starting the season 1-3 and when healthy (keyword). They have a plethora of talent on offense led by quarterback Philip Rivers (3,152 yards passing with 21 TDs and 15 Ints), 2006 MVP LaDainian Tomlinson (1,474 yards rushing), TE Antonio Gates (75 receptions for 984 yards and 9 TDs), and new weapon acquired at the trade deadline receiver Chris Chambers.

But if they are going to pull the monumental upset, they will need to have all of their top players available and get more pressure on Brady than the two early sacks that LB Shawn Merriman (12.5 sacks in the regular season) produced in the lopsided loss. Another interesting battle will be Chargers Pro Bowl corner Antonio Cromartie (10 INTs in regular season) going against Patriots receiver Randy Moss (only 1 catch last week).

LV’s Pick: Unfortunately for the beat-up Chargers, I don’t think this will be a close game. The Patriots have proven week in and week out that they are up their with the all-time greats and I don’t anticipate this changing this week. For starters you have all of the injuries to their starters and don’t forget that they are a warm weather team traveling many miles to play in the cold. Did I mention that the Patriots are 5-1 in their Championship Game appearances — the highest winning percentage (.833) of AFC teams (minimum five appearances). The Patriots have won ten straight in the postseason (second longest streak in NFL history) and I don’t see this changing. Expect the big-mouth Chargers to finally keep quiet as the fiery Rivers throws more picks (three turnovers in the first game against New England). Look for the perfect Brady Bunch to knock on the 1972 Dolphins “Perfection” front door as they trounce the Chargers 31-10. After the win, the Patriots will surely increase their NFL Films record 500,000 feet of 16mm film for the season.