AFC/NFC Championship Points
On HBO’s championship edition of “Inside the NFL”, before Bob Costas had his panel (of Chris Collinsworth, Cris Carter, and Dan Marino) pick this weekend’s games, he presented a graphic. That graphic was a summation of Marino’s picks in playoff games involving the Patriots over the last five years. Of the 13 games New England has played, Dan picked against them seven times, including all three AFC Championships and two Super Bowls.
Marino is one of the few personalities in football who has actually had the Patriots’ back throughout their glorious run. The caveat being that his premier gig is alongside traditional Pats-haters, Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe, on CBS football’s flagship show, “The NFL Today”. Since football analysts would prefer to be “not wrong” than “right on”, Marino’s HBO picks have essentially been cover picks. Which is to say his faith has never totally been with the Patriots, but hey, the guy’s gotta keep his day job, ya know?
LACES OUT DAN!!!!!!! (Just thought that quote would emphasize the brevity of Marino’s film career.)
In my opinion Marino is the most steadfast Patriots supporter among his TV colleagues, as well as throughout the national print media. So for the purposes of this column we’ll disregard Dan the businessman, because his CBS picks have clearly been more consistently from the heart.
Why is it that Marino’s heart frequently tells him the Patriots will prevail? A few reasons. First, he knows through painful firsthand experience that teams win championships. He was an outstanding quarterback on some very good Dolphins teams under Don Shula, but his corps were never the likes of Joe Montana’s 49ers (the Dolphins lost to San Francisco in Super Bowl XIX, 38-16) or even Jim Kelly’s Bills (Marino lost twice to Buffalo in the playoffs, 1990 and ’95). He’s also a product of the AFC East, which has been the NFL’s most hard-nosed, trench-football, defense-heavy division over the last two decades and change.
Historically, the warm weather Dolphins fade in December and January, when the Northeast becomes a bitterly cold and snowy mess. Marino himself would be the first to tell you that the elements had quite a bit to say about more than a few Dolphins seasons. So he understands the kind of toughness the Patriots embody.
The other principle reason Marino’s heart is usually with New England is Peyton Manning. Dan Marino is petrified that Peyton’s career will end up erasing his own. Manning has already trumped some of Marino’s trademark NFL records while becoming the new face of the league.
Peyton Manning is a statistician’s best friend, a publicist’s dream, and Dan Marino’s worst nightmare. But he hasn’t won a Super Bowl. And that, my friends, is the one thing keeping Marino from pulling a full-fledged Ray Finkle of his own.
While Peyton Manning is truly Marino’s arch nemesis, Tom Brady is his buddy for life. Brady won more Super Bowls in his first five years than Marino has in his last five Madden seasons. Never will Brady threaten any of Marino’s (hopefully) timeless records. He doesn’t in the least bit crave the spotlight. But, thankfully for Dan, Tom Brady beats Peyton Manning in the playoffs, and will continue to do so.
The Colts hype and exposure is so documented and ludicrous, I’m not even going to take time to address it. Instead I’ll stick with righting the pathetically and perennially wrong national media. In 2003 and ’04, it was the Peyton Manning is just too good to lose argument. This year it’s the well the Colts have really dominated the Patriots in the last two meetings, and those were at Foxborough case.
Okay, the 2005 meeting on Monday night at Gillette was the one game in this era of the Patriots that they entered with absolutely no shot of winning. Yes, they got dominated. They got dominated after a seven-game stretch to open a second consecutive defense of their crown that included four games against 2004 playoff teams, all on the road. It was deemed the hardest opening schedule in league history. Nuff said.
As for the November 5th game at Gillette this year, I need not emphasize the fact that the Patriots played their worst game of the season while the Colts played their most complete game ever against the Patriots. Tom Brady threw four picks yet probably would’ve tied the game at 27 on the Patriots final drive had Kevin Faulk not missed an easy pass at the Indy 32, forcing Brady’s fourth and final interception.
(If you want to see my thoughts from after that game go to the vault: http://ballgamespoints.blogspot.com/2006/11/pats-colts-points-of-shame-aright.html)
In short, the Colts did everything they could have hoped for to put themselves in a position to win that November game. Yet the game was undoubtedly decided by Brady’s implosion. Which begs two questions: 1) How likely are the Colts to twice play a perfect game against the Patriots? And 2) how likely is Brady to twice mess himself against the Colts defense? Early results are 1) highly unlikely and 2) over Brady’s dead body.
Patriots 29 Colts 23
I picked against the Bears last week because of Rex Grossman, and he played well enough and the Bears won. Barely. Had Matt Hasselbeck not tripped on an attempted handoff to Shaun Alexander in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter it would’ve been the Seahawks traveling to New Orleans for the NFC Championship. Grossman played a deceiving game. The throws he made were long, authoritative, and game changing. But he was also pressured at times, and the old Rex came out, as he threw an interception and lost a crucial fumble.
The Saints offense is essentially a high-octane college offense run by a cool, effective professional. Their offense is college-like because of the versatility and athleticism of their skill players. On any given down Reggie Bush could be lined up in the backfield, as a wing, in the slot, or split wide. There’s always the threat of Deuce McAllister splitting defenses open with runs up the middle, but then again he could be split wide or offset himself.
The Bears are depleted on the defensive line after the loss of Tommie Harris. And no secondary is suited to account for the speed and versatility of the Saints passing game. Thus not only with New Orleans move the ball, but they will score with relative frequency. I don’t doubt that Grossman will once again connect on some big deep balls, but the Saints offense will keep applying the pressure, and Grossman will make a crucial mistake in the fourth quarter.
Saints 27 Bears 23