Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Championship Round Preview

While the divisional round is my favorite week of the NFL season, there is something very special about the Championship games. Certainly all three weeks of playoffs are more compelling than almost any Super Bowl. But what I love to do in the week leading up to the Conference Championships is to examine all four teams for what kind of story they would be in the big game.

For the Saints, it's obvious. They have become America's Team this season in a way the Cowboys could never touch, and a Super Bowl win, even just an appearance, could be a serious boost to the city's economy and spirit.

For the Bears, it's a return to glory for the NFL's oldest team and a shot of respectability for a franchise that's been treading water since not long after the "Super Bowl Shuffle" video was filmed.

For the Colts, it's a chance to get the monkey off their back, and a chance for Peyton Manning to do something more important than MVP awards and a Hall of Fame bust: a chance to play for a championship.

For the Patriots, it's the possibility of being called the greatest dynasty in modern NFL history. Four Super Bowls in six years is a pretty compelling argument.

There's absolutely no reason to believe that these two penultimate playoff games will be any less incredible than the rest of this amazing postseason has been. So let's take a look-see.

NFC Championship: New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears. There are a lot of reasons to pick the home team here. The one-two ground punch of Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones is a testament to the stoutness of Chicago's offensive line. Being a Redskins fan from years past, you can imagine how much I love O-linemen. Soldier Field (the ugliest stadium in the NFL ever since the mothership from Close Encounters landed on top of it) eliminates a lot of the Saints' advantages, particularly their offensive speed, and I worry tremendously about the New Orleans secondary.

But I'm going with the Saints for a third straight week. It's largely a question of my confidence in the quarterbacks. Drew Brees has never been anything but great, and seems to have lifted his game ever since the removal of that weird hairy mole on his face (good use of your signing bonus, Drew). Steve Spurrier has said that Rex Grossman is the best quarterback who ever played for him. Looking at the track record of ex-Gator QBs in the NFL, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. But there's more to it than just Grossmanphobia. I simply don't trust the Bears yet.

Sean Payton will unleash yet another dazzling offensive game plan, which will befuddle the Bears' thinning D and put Rex Grossman behind early. Grossman having to press and come from behind is a frightening concept if you're a Bears fan. The Saints will get a lead early and then spend much of the second half grinding down clock behind a 150+ yard performance by Deuce McAllister. Sorry, Bears fans. Sexy Rexy's got a lot of growing up to do before I'll pick him in an NFC Championship game against anybody. Saints 30, Bears 17.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts. Looking at this game makes me feel like Tevye the milkman. The Colts' defense has looked dominant this postseason. On the other hand, they looked bloody awful for most of the previous sixteen weeks. Indy has been winning without great performances from Peyton Manning, and he's due for a better game. On the other hand, Manning struggles against 3-4 defenses, and absolutely stinks against the Pats in January. The Colts are 9-0 at home this year. On the other hand, the Chargers were 8-0 at home until the Patriots came a-knocking. The Colts have home-field advantage with that crowd noise and speedy turf. On the other hand, Tom Brady is 10-0 in domes.

Here are some more compelling stats: Tom Brady is 12-1 in the postseason; Manning is 5-6. Bill Belichick is 13-2 in the playoffs; Dungy is 7-8. But of course football is played on Sunday, not on the previous Sundays, and there are tons of intangibles that make stat-mongers look stupid on a weekly basis.

Maybe this is the game where Manning and Dungy get over the Foxboro hump. Maybe the Indianapolis defense is for real all of a sudden, and maybe Joseph Addai + Dominic Rhodes = Edgerrin James. But I can't help but think that the very worthy and likable Colts' road to the Super Bowl comes in a year when someone else eliminates the Patriots. You know, like last year. The Colts are to Tom Brady what the Niners were to Aikman's Cowboys. I don't care if the Colts are 16-0 and the Patriots squeaked into the postseason at 8-8; I'm picking the Patriots until proven otherwise. Patriots 31, Colts 23.

So I'm picking both underdogs to win, a New Orleans-New England Super Bowl. However, I kind of secretly hope I'm dead wrong. Bears vs. Colts would feature the first two black head coaches ever to reach the Super Bowl.

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  • At 1/19/2007 1:17 PM , Blogger CHIC-HANDSOME said...

    good year

  • At 1/19/2007 1:37 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Um, okay.

  • At 1/19/2007 4:52 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    ...AND Vinatieri has never missed in a Dome; He's 26-for-26 in the RCA Dome in particular. He's downright scary-- but something's gotta give here... I would love a New England FG or PAT block to come into play. Adam missed twice against the Pats in a november Colts win at Foxboro; Two of his three misses all season.

    The Pats have to contain Bob Sanders & Dwight Freeney. Sanders can hit like a LB & go step-for-step with any WR in the league. he freaks me out. I think the Pats try to run it down their throat. Brady's throws have been erratic as of late as well, I think his right shoulder is really hurting.

    The really great thing is, from the Pats' perspective though-- the Colts absolutely HAVE to win this game, and I think that that is lingering in Peyton's mind. The pressure is all on them.

    I personally have no idea how the Pats keep doing it week after week with the no-name receiving corps they have and the spare-parts secondary they seem to cobble together every year.

    They're like the Millenium Falcon of the NFL.

    "...This baby's still got a few surprises..."

  • At 1/19/2007 5:45 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    I'll agree with the Pats beating the Colts, both as a New England fan and a haver of some common sense.

    I'm not so sure about the Saits and the Bears though. I'm not sure why, but something is telling me that the Bears will win it. The stats and general public might disagree with me, but something tells me that the Bears just might take it.

    Now, let's take these matches to a more literal sense.

    A fight between a Patriot and a Colt is a no brainer, i mean, a colt can gallop pretty fast, and will porbably knock you flat on your ass, but a patroit has a gun! I don't care how fast that horse is, a gun wins.

    As for a saint versus a bear, well the bear would win. Saints are generally peaceful and non fighting, not to mention long dead, so the bear takes the cake.

  • At 1/19/2007 8:26 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    "The Millenium Falcon of the NFL." BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!

  • At 1/20/2007 9:58 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    So I come home from a stressful job and lots of office crap to deal with and I read about comparisons between NFL teams and Star Wars spaceships. And THAT, Andrew, is why I read your blog!

    But to the point: Both games tomorrow will be interesting, though the AFC matchup is the marquee event, it would appear. Very interesting comparison between Eli and Tom in today's T-D sports section. They make a good point that if the Colts go down tomorrow, it could seal Manning's legacy as this generation's Dan Marino...and Brady as this generation's Joe Montana. This is the drama NFL films are made of. You can almost hear the voice of the late John Facenda intoning: "As the crazy-quilt patchwork that was the 2007 New England Patriots entered the RCA dome, a thing of beauty was about to unfold..." (background music to VO narration is "What do you do with a drunken sailor?")

  • At 1/20/2007 2:58 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Ah, now I'm going to have NFL Films music stuck in my head all week... And I'm going to have to talk like Harry Kalas all day.

    I'm going to keep talking about New England sports if that's what it takes to keep Scotty posting.

    I totally agree with the Manning/Marino Brady/Montana thing. But I think Tom Brady already is Montana, with a very real chance to be even better.

    Manning has several years to avoid being Marino. No one pays any any more attention to the fact that John Elway famously lost BIG in three Super Bowls before winning two at the end of his career. Peyton Manning has lots of time, and I think he's got the right coach and the right organization. But I can't help but think that someone is going to have to knock the Patriots out of the Colts' way before it happens.

  • At 1/20/2007 5:25 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Dude-- go to and check out the Sportsnation poll "Who Will win the AFC Championship Game??" The entire country is against us. I LOVE IT.

  • At 1/21/2007 7:39 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Wow, 60/40 with 200,000+ votes. Congratulations, Scotto. Your Patriots are the new Cowboys.

  • At 1/21/2007 7:41 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Ha ha ha. The entire ESPN Football crew is picking the Saints. To a man. And all but Theismann and Allen like the Colts.


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