I’m sure that you were wondering if I had suffered a heart attack from the Bears’ eventual win in overtime last week since there hasn’t been a post all week. It’s been a little nutty around here, but I have a few moments to put down my picks for the weekend, with the home teams in CAPS (my bonus upset special is Illinois defending the honor of its home court against #2 Wisconsin tomorrow – as long as we avoid making Warren Carter three-pointers the centerpiece of our offense, I feel inexplicably good about the Illini right now):
(1) AFC Championship: New England Patriots (+3) over INDIANPOLIS COLTS – In a twist, the much-maligned Indy defense has looked great over the past couple of weeks while Peyton Manning has been rattled. This gives hope to all of those Colts fans that have suffered through some ugly defensive playoff performances in the past, right? However, we’ve been down the Indy vs. New England playoff path before with the conclusion the Colts are simply cursed against the Pats in the postseason. This means that being actually being able to take 3 points with New England is more than gravy – Tom Brady is pulling off the straight “upset” again.
(2) NFC Championship: CHICAGO BEARS (-2.5) over New Orleans Saints – I was nervous enough in anticipation of the Bears’ game against the Seahawks last week, so the fact that my team is now playing for a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years is going to wreck my sleeping habits for the next couple of days. The national media has been obsessed with the Saints all week since they have superstars at the offensive skill positions along with the “comeback from Hurricane Katrina” factor, but the fact remains that they only won by 3 points to an inferior team at home last week just like the Bears.
Am I horrified that the Saints’ speed on offense could tear up a suddenly ordinary Bears defense in the same manner as Steve Smith last year? Absolutely. However, as I’ve said before, there isn’t a better motivational tool in sports than the feeling that you’re being disrespected, and the Bears are definitely feeling it this week on both offense (i.e. Rex Grossman can’t hang with Drew Brees and the Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson tandem isn’t in the same constellation as Deuce McAllister plus Reggie Bush) and defense (i.e. the absence of Tommie Harris means the Saints will run the ball with impunity and the New Orleans speed at wide receiver will cut up an average secondary). If the Saints are as unstoppable as people are making them out to be, then they should have destroyed the Eagles in the Superdome last week, which definitely didn’t happen.
Despite popular opinion, “Bear” weather isn’t going to be a factor on Sunday (in the 1988 NFC Championship Game, the surfer crowd from San Francisco came into Soldier Field and blew out the Bears with sub-zero wind chills) and, in the end, this is about as evenly matched of a game as you can get. Yet, I do believe that the Bears have a more balanced attack on both sides of the ball and when it comes down to it, I still trust the Chicago defense to make the key stops that are integral to winning in the postseason than the New Orleans defensive unit. So, we could be looking at a Bears vs. Patriots Super Bowl – doesn’t that sound familiar?
Go Bears, Go Illini, and have a great weekend!
(Image from Deadspin)