A trio of of future Hall of Fame signal callers who play monkey in the middle with secondaries and an All-Pro cornerback leading the NFL's top pass defense headline the tantalizing Super Bowl possibilities. Vikings-Colts offers a glimpse of the ghost of Super Bowl's Future for Manning who is in hot pursuit of the gray bearded Favre's records.
Jets-Vikings reunites the Brett Favre reunion tour bus with his former band, the New York Jets.
The Brett Favre revenge tour reunites him with the franchise which discarded him after he soldiered stealthily through a torn biceps injury and drug him through the mud in the press after the season. In the end, the aftershock of the Favre saga toppled the Mangini regime and paved the road for Rex Ryan to stamp his attitude all over the Jets football team.
Colts-Saints has enough offensive starpower to electrify the nation and re-animate the dead. Not only does Peyton get to exact revenge on the franchise which kept dad, Archie out the Hall of Fame but with Tom Brady and the Pats renovating their roster, Peyton Manning needs a new foil. Drew Brees needs a rival. Eharmony couldn't have arranged a better meeting.
With those matchups, Jets-Saints seems like the equivalent to Pacquiao-Clottey after the bout with Floyd Mayweather fell through. This matchup is everyone's third string backup. While it would prove entertaining to the faithful fans, casual observers view this as the Ralph Nader of Super Bowl matchups.
Did J.J. Abrams collaborate with the football gods on a script for the NFC Championship? The playoffs have been drama free for the most part but the high scoring affair had more surprise twists than a LOST recap special. Flea flickers, fumbles and even a guest appearance by (defensive end)Will Smith. It began with a scoring barrage so quick out the gates, I thought the officials would call in Stephen Hawking to devise an equation to calculate the yardage totals.
On the first play from scrimmage Tim Hightower sliced like a juice grinder through the New Orleans defense and into the Arizona desert where he hid for the ensuing 3 quarters.
Then, the Saints defense went raving mad and the offense clicked on the switch outscoring Arizona 45-7, the rest of the way. Hightower produced 1 run for 70 yards in the first 15 seconds. In the final 59:45 Hightower had 6 runs for 17 in the final.Saturday against the Cardinals defense, the Saints had 184 yards in the 1st quarter and 307 by halftime. On their first offensive play, Arizona took a 7-0 lead. By their 6th, they trailed 21-7.
Somewhere in his playbook Sean Peyton, the premier offensive guru in the NFL has the blueprints for a theoretical 9 point play.
Through 8 playoff quarters, the Cardinals defense served as an escort service for opposing offenses allowing 90 points. Take 200$ against the salary cap when you pass GO, because that's 11 courtesy points a quarter if you met the Cardinals in the 2010 playoffs. Against the Vikings defense, the Saints won't be staring at a landing strip in the secondary.
Eyes on the SuperDome will be watching and waiting for Percy Harvin or Reggie Bush to bust a hole . In my view, Harvin and Bush could trade positions and be better off because of it. Percy has prototypical running back size at 5'10 and Reggie Bush is 2 inches taller at 6'0.
I've always had the impression that Percy Harvin would make have a more productive career as a full time tailback/part time receiver. Winning Offensive Rookie of the Year put a stake through the heart of my argument but don't forget the short term success Reggie Bush had before defenses zeroed in on him.
Prior to Sunday's game, I also thought it would be beneficial for Bush's career to make the switch to wide receiver and become a slot guy like Wes Welker. I've seen Reggie Bush pull in passes Percy Harvin has never made. Alternatively, Percy Harvin runs between the tackles with more decisiveness than Bush. Someday soon this trade has to happen unless Reggie Bush can run with the same ferociousness he did against Arizona and salvage his career.
FOX's Darryl Johnston, made one of the keenest observations after noting Reggie Bush's maniacal pre-game preparation as he wielded a bat inscibed with "Bring the Wood" . Bush had the pre-game sweat and stare of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. By next week, against Minnesota he'll be trotting out the tunnel gripping an ax with "redrum" etched in the handle.
Reggie Bush may have been pacing the pre-game sidelines with a black and gold bat, but who allowed him to pack a hammer in his shoulderpads? On more than one occasion this season, Reggie Bush has been ending his runs with some devastating blows to defenders and on multiple first down runs or screens he showed the consequences of attempting to wrap him up. Imagine Reggie Bush's trademark elusiveness and east-west running style incorporated with a power element. On the rare occasions Bush was brought down, they were leg tackles from behind or by defenders planted in the turf.
However, the most explosive playmaker on the Saint's averaged 41 yards per touch and ignites the Saints secondary. His name is Darren Sharper and despite being considered dispensable by the Vikings last season, Sharper picked off 9 passes and shattered Ed Reeds' INT return yardage record in his first season as a Saint.
An NFL suspension and a restraining order on behalf of the football loom over future Hall of Fame safety Darren Sharper, who has been in the immediate vicinity of loose balls and errant throws all season. I wouldn't be surprised if on weekdays he followed the footballs back to the ball rack and watches them from the lawn under the sprinklers.
If Sharper follows protocol, sometime in the next 8 hours the Cardinals should receive a poorly worded ransom note written in sloppy magazine lettering and accompanied by a dated polaroid for proof of life, a bloody lace or a slice of leather. Next Sunday, Darren Sharper will line up opposite his previous employer and the quarterback, whom he scrimmaged in practice for the first 7 seasons of his career.
Sharper should get plenty of fastballs coming his way as Brett Favre's last two NFC Championship game appearences are remembered for his untimely interceptions.
On the Vikings defense Jared Allen arrived at the MetroDome Sunday dressed as the Undertaker, with intentions of burying Tony Romo beneath the turf and left tackle Flozell's Adams' injury openned up a 4 lane highway for Allen to the quarterback. On consecutive plays Allen slipped into the backfield to tackle Marion Barber for a loss and made a beeline for an unsuspecting Tony Romo, which forced a fumble and recovery by the Vikings deep in Cowboy territory. It was like watching a Ferrari Enzo chase down a Volkwagen with wooden wheels on the Autobahn.
Watching Leslie Frazier's defense pillage the Cowboys offense makes you wonder how the Buffalo Bills could hire Chan Gailey less than 48 hours later. The only possible explanation is Buffalo's low self esteem prevented them from asking Frazier, so they payed a homeless woman who once made it to the Apollo.
Sometime during the first half of the season, the Vikings offense made a gradual, yet subtle transition from a conservative run-first philosophy into a shotgun based, downfield passing system.
With award season on the horizon, an Academy Award for best CGI should go to the Vikings offense for making Brett Favre look like a 25 year old quarterback tossing bullets at the speed of light. From Sydney Rice's angle on FOX, the 45 yard bomb from #4 in the 1st quarter appeared to be abducted by a UFO tractor beam and returned into our atmosphere in the safe arms of Rice.
It's also no coincidence that the four conference championship teams have one trait in common; a gamebreaker at tightend. Of the 8 divisional playoff teams, 7 had a Pro-Bowl caliber pass catching tightend including Dallas(Witten), New York(Keller), San Diego (Gates), Baltimore(Heap), Indianapolis(Clark), Saints(Shockey) and Minnesota (Shiancoe).
Of the 17 players who have caught at least 10 career touchdown passes from Favre, five have been tight ends. Bubba Franks caught 29 touchdowns from Favre, Mark Chmura caught 16, Tyrone Davis had 12 and Keith Jackson had 11. And this season, Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had 11.
However, it won't be the tight end play, Favre and Brees' game of pitch and catch or Darren Sharpers pick pocketing skills which will decide the outcome. With that said I present...
John Carney's Carma(Karma?) Theory
The theme of these playoffs has been missed field goals. I can't be the only conspiracy theorist out there who believes the Jets have been experimenting with a device which emits a piercing frequency only kickers can hear. In the 2010 playoffs opposing kickers have gone 0/5 against the Jets special teams.
Somewhere on the steps of Congress as the Senate discusses Boise State or the BCS, Marvin Lewis and Norv Turner are lobbying for legislation which would ban placekicking in the NFL. Sure in the short term, it would subtract 32 lucrative jobs from the ailing job market but it could provide a boon to the financially strapped brand of Major League Soccer.
At the very least Commisioner Goodel should launch anl investigation into the Jets special teams strategies.
Speaking of missed field goals, the Vikings have been to 2 other NFC Championships in the last 12 years and lost both in contrasting styles.
There was kicker Morten Anderson's overtime kick to vault Atlanta into the Super Bowl contrasted with their 41-0 vanishing act against New York in 2000. Both times they were heavy favorites on the eve of the matchup.
This brings me to my John Carney karma theory and that the decision to waive the 42 year old John Carney, one of the most efficient kickers in NFL history-- 14 weeks into the season! Why mess with a good thing?
What if we applied the logic to replace Carney to similar decisions in recent NFL history. What if Trent Green experienceds a miraculous recovery midway through the 1999 season and returns under center for the St. Louis Rams? In an alternate reality, Drew Bledsoe recovered from his car wreck with Mo Lewis in 2001, and Bill Belichick abides by the philosophy that a player cannot lose his spot to injury. By proxy, the world never learns the name Tony Romo either.
Carney's first stint with the Saints stretched from 2001-2006. After releasing Carney, the Saints shuffled through Olindo Mare, Martin Gramatica, Taylor Mehlhaff and Garrett Hartley.
It is my theory that the Saints Week 14 victory over the Washington Redskins, the week they benched Karney for Hartley maxed out the Saints karma credit. Robert Meachem's miraclous fumble return touchdown before the half, Redskins kicker Sean Suisham's missed chip shot to put Washington up 10 and Mike Sellers' overtime fumble as the Redskins advanced into field goal range. 5 weeks flew by before New Orleans won another game.
In Week 16 against Tampa Bay, Hartley missed a 37 yarder against Tampa Bay at the end of regulation, costing them a win.
The NFL's writing staff likely saved all the drama for the NFC Championship. With New Orleans dodging over-the-limit karma fees, fate will default on the Saints account Sunday. The Vikings win on a missed FG by Hartley, 24-27. Mark it down.
The AFC Championship pits the least sacked quarterback ace and Colts top ranked air attack against the best pass defense in the NFL led by their their human air missile defense drone, Darrelle Revis. The Jets will blitz Manning and blanket Wayne with Revus but don't have a linebacker to cover Dallas Clark in coverage.
The Jets offer the closest similarity to the Baltimore Ravens. Rex Ryan's footprint is still visible on the Ravens and Jet. Both revolve around a conservative offense, with a young quarterback under center, reliant upon a power rushing attack. Like the Ravens, shutdown defense is the backbone of the Baltimore Jets success. Sanchez has the wheels to extend plays outside the pocket but the Jets vertical offense is about as much of a threat as Rex Ryan in a triathalon. In Year 3, Joe Flacco is will have to evolve into something more than a store clerk for the Ravens offense. In Flacco's defense it's absolutely vital for the Ravens to supply Flacco with some explosive receivers behind the counter.
Like Baltimore, New York's offensive philosophy is to treat the football like it's the last egg of an endangered species. Rex Ryan can design blitzes all day but Jets pass rushers will find it quicker to complete a Halloween maze through an Indiana cornfield than navigating through the Colts offensive line in pursuit of Peyton Manning.
In the coaches corner, the Ryan's have quietly become the Mannings of the coaching club. The gregarious Rex Ryan is a verbal bomb hurler with no security measures between his brain and mouth.
On the losing end of the weekend, Wade Phillips and Norv Turner resemble identical breed of pedestrian head coaches, who return more often than Freddy Krueger. They give hope to unemployed underachievers like Chan Gailey. Both make great coordinators, however, they are prime examples of the Peter Principle.
For the non-sociologists out there the Peter Principle is a principle which states that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent, and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter's Principle adds that work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
Somewhere in they're DNA, Turner and Philips lack the leadership chromosome. Norv Turner and Wade Phillips couldn't inspire a bull to rush in a china shop. They couldn't rally Pac-Man Jones to Friday 5$ Wings and Thighs night for VIP's at an Atlanta gentlemen's club.
Then, there is Colts coach Jim Caldwell who sits in the most comfortable no win situation in NFL history. The perception of coach Jim Caldwell is that he is the protoypical George Seifert/Barry Switzer type caretaker for Peyton Manning's prime. Pulling the starters against the Jets last month didn't earn him any supporters/ To regain the trust of Colts fans he'll have to carry their success past this season. 2010's success will get chalked up to Peyton Manning's 4th MVP campaign and Tony Dungy's . Has their ever been a head coach with a less impressive resume thrust into such a fortunate position? Caldwell's past before Dungy named him the successor in 2008 is eerily mysterious.
The only thing known about him is that he served 8 forgettable seasons as Wake Forest's head coach. His record at the end of his 6 year tenure was 26-53. His successor Jim Grobe has gone 59-51 in 9 seasons and in 2006 the Demon Deacons earned an Orange Bowl berth. Forget Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, Lane Kiffin or Bobby Petrino. Someone in the NFL needs to sign that guy up!
In 60 years when the FBI opens their files to the public, I've already anticipated the bombshells their memos will unearth about Jim Caldwell's Lost Years in order of likelihood.
1) Former Colts Head Coach Was KGB Sleeper Agent
2) From 2001-2008, Ex-NFL Head Coach Vacationed in Same Cave as Osama Bin Laden.
3) Jim Caldwell Swayed Bill Polian To Draft Manning Over Leaf in Series of Phone Calls Before '98 Draft. Why FBI Tapped Head Coach of Wake Forest's Phone Remains Unclear.
With all that said, the Colts have been caught off guard on too many occasions to remove their bulletproof vests now. For the New York Jets, defense is their offense. The Jets rely on turnovers to unwrap a short field for their offense. Peyton Manning is not Philip Rivers. He will not chuck it upfield like it's a NERF football and giftwrap great field position for the Jets and the Gang Green's quest for a ring will fall short. I predict the Colts win in blowout fashion, 24-10.
On the eve of the Winter Olympics, it's only fitting for Brett Favre to pass the torch to Peyton Manning in the final game of his career.