NFL Outlook: Bandit's Blog
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 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

San Diego @ NEW ENGLAND

Line:         NEW ENGLAND minus 13.5
Ov/Un:       46

First off, I would like to congragulate Norv Turner for turning around this resilient Charger team after a bleak 1-3 start in the regular season, leading most of everyone to prematurely cast them out of any postseason hopes.  Much of San Diego's success have usually been derived from LT and occasionally Rivers, but now there is no denying that the emergence of their defense has positoned them for a shot at the AFC Championship.  The stout frontline that includes the likes Merriman and Phillips will have the imperative task of disrupting Brady in the pocket.  They cannot afford to give the NFL's MVP sufficient time as he is master of dissecting any defensive secondary regardless of how good they are.  Brady is very methodical, not to mention mistake free, when given time and such has been the case courtesy of an outstanding Pats offensive live that has protected him in the pocket all season.  Having a talented receiving corps that includes Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and Watson presents Brady a variety of options.  Such receivers posess the quickness, agility, and the ability to follow good routes should no doubt give the Chargers talented secondary a very difficult task.  The flamboyant play of Cromartie has been one of the main reasons for San Diego's success. He, along with McCree and Jammer, has been making the big plays at crucial points in the game.  Despite their success, the secondary has been vulnerable at times and it should be exposed in this game. Moss, Welker, and Stallworth are deep threat receivers who can change the pace of a game, and they the are weapons Brady's passing attack. 
The Charger D cannot overlook the run as Maroney has stepped into the spotlight admirably despite being underutilized for much of the regular season.  This balance makes the New England offense even more dangerous than they already are, as if opposing defenses aren't already overwhelmed with Brady's arm, now the rushing attack of Maroney is thrown into the mix .  If the Chargers have a shot at victory, they must force Brady and the offense  to commit mistakes wherever and whenver possible via turnovers, which is unlikely.  Belichick's squad has minimized their mistakes all year long as evident of their perfect season. Should they manage to force turnovers, it is essential that the Charger offense capitalize otherwise they won't have enough to hang with the NFL's number one offense.  LT must have a breakout performance, Rivers must be aggressive through the air and be on the same page with receivers Gates, Chambers, and Jackson. In the process, he cannot make ill advised decisions as this Patriots D is certainly as good as anyone committing turnovers.  Gates and Rivers status is yet to be determined due to their injury, but I believe they should be ready come game time because the magnitude of this contest is too great for them to miss.  Belichick has made himself an artist of taking away the opponent's biggest threat, which in this case should be LT. However, LT is on a mission to bounce back and would love nothing more than to run all over Bruschi and company.  Something has got to give, and although I believe LT will have a great performance, Brady and company are just too good, too talented, and not to mention too perfect all season long.  The Patriots move on towards making history.                                                           Patriots    34       Chargers      22

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

New York Giants @ GREEN BAY

Line:          GREEN BAY minus 7
Ov/Un :       40

The weather forecast Lambeau this Sunday calls for frigid temperatures in the single digits with a chance of snow.   That's just fine for the home team, who seems to thrive under extreme conditions while opponents seem to be left out in the cold.  The Packers were able to overcome a quick double digit lead by the Seahawks not to mention their unrelenting pass rush towards an unheralded 42-20 triumph.  Give credit to the hardworking O-line for devoting themselves, despite the snowy slippery field,  on neutralizing an agile Seattle pass rush and in the process presenting the open lanes for Grant to exploit.  In the end  the sturdy undrafted RB, who came out of nowhere, more than compensated for his lackluster ball handling early in the game by compiling over 200 yards to go along with 3 scores.  Seattle's early lead courtesy of Grant's miscue did not hold up as Green bay turned on the juggernaut switch on its way to 6 consecutive scores.  As the snow started to fall, so did the faith and hope of the Seahawks. Due to Grant's success on the ground, it inevitably opened up the passing attack for Favre who made the most of available opportunities in the snow, hitting a couple of TD strikes to Jennings.
Although the Giants may present a better overall defense, expect more of the same as McCarthy will likely stick to what has been working.  A balanced ground attack to compliment the pass.  Couglin's defense has stepped up remarkably in their playoff run, in spite of being banged up somewhat in the secondary.  Their main focus will be on containing Grant and keeping Favre in the pocket where he will be most vulnerable to the pass rush.  Grant will likely get a frequent load of carries on early downs to set up a manageable 3rd downs conversions for Favre.  Such time consuming sustained drives should expose an exhausted Giants defense while keeping Eli and company on the sidelines.  The Giant frontline has to maintain their aggressiveness and disrupt any rhythm Favre might compose because their secondary is very susceptible to the big plays.  The sackmasters of the NFL must make their pesence felt against the veteran quarterback, in addition not to overpursue the run in a slick field because Grant can excel on backside cuts as well as up the middle.  In short, Strahan and company must at least thwart either Favre or Grant in order for the Giants to have a chance. 

On the Giants offensive side of the ball, their key to success will obviously fall on how well they establish the run with Jacobs.  The big, bulky back must find a way to break through a stingy Packer frontline that has been splendid against the rush for much of the regular season.  Unfortunately, Kampman and company will be set on negating the rush in hopes of letting the game fall on Eli's arm.  Giant fans won't seem to mind, as Eli has been terrific during the course of their playoff run.  But somehow I believe that Eli's true self will rear it's ugly head at some point in this game, and will eventually do the Giants in for a defeat.  I've been saying that for a couple of weeks now, and Eli is way overdue to self destruct.  Although he has been coming into his own and has everyone talking about "the other Manning", his cinderella run should come to a halt at Lambeau. If he manages to tack in another commendable game with precision, error free passing in such frigid weather especially against a decent Packer secondary, then I would have to believe he has developed into one of the leagues premier QB's and should only improve by next season.  He is gradually making the most out of his receivers by spreading the ball around.  Eli has a new weapon in Kevin Boss to go along with Burress and Toomer. Unfortunately, the Green Bay pass rush  provided by Kampman, KGB, and company has been making life frustrating for QB's and Eli will be no exception.  I like the home team to win a physical, smash mouth battle in which the cold temps will cetainly be a factor as it will takes its toll on the players.  I expect a low scoring game where both defenses will hold up their end of the task, but I believe Favre's magic will elevate the Pack just enough to acquire a hard fought victory.   He is destined for Arizona.                                                                                                                    Packers  20      Giants    16

Thanks for reading my blog.  Feel free to comment as always and let me know what you think.  Thank you.

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