NFL Playoffs: Conference Champ. Predictions

So this will be a short(er) one this week, because (shameless bragging time) I actually got 3 of the 4 NFL games right last week.

Frankly, I should have known better on the Patriots. Bill Belichick is the biggest NFL football freak (in a good way) that there is. He loses coaches, scouts and players every season – but still he manages to find a way to win with whatever he’s got.

I heard one of the NFL announcers on Sunday say (something like) that Belichick manages the bottom of a roster better than anyone in the NFL. That he has a plan and tactics for each and every one of those players. I never thought about it quite like that, but that’s exactly right. As a former Director of Player Personnel myself, I can attest that those who do the best job managing each and every slot they have will always do better over time. If a player doesn’t have a specific use, then it’s your job to replace him with one that does.

In football, it’s a game of really 3-4 plays most of the time. You punt, play defense, move back and forth on field position. But there’s 3-4 plays that, if you can get them to go your way, you’ll win pretty much every time. It’s a slim margin – and everything you can do to tip the balance in your favor is worth doing.

Enough of football philosophizing. If you really want to hear more, sit me down with a bottle of whisky and we’ll have a real conversation.

SAN FRANCISCO AT SEATTLE
My pick doesn’t change here. I was very impressed with San Francisco last week; they certainly seem to have gotten over some of their early season lethargy and dispatched the Panthers in convincing fashion. That said, and I’m repeating myself here, Seattle is the most balanced team in the tournament right now. Their defense proved itself (again) against the powerful Saints attack, their rushing game is one of the best in the NFL and, oh yeah, they have Russell Wilson at QB. Balance means wins at this stage of the game.
Pick: Seattle

NEW ENGLAND AT DENVER
It’s completely true that the Patriots almost always find a way to win with their backs to the wall. Denver’s defense became even more problematic this week with the loss of cornerback Chris Harris to a torn ACL. The Broncos secondary must now rely on Champ Bailey, Quentin Jammer and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. While that might have been a great secondary five years ago (or even three), Belichick and Patriots QB Tom Brandy will clearly find ways to exploit that with the few weapons they have. The same goes true for Denver. QB Peyton Manning will be licking his chops to face the next-to-last ranked Patriots playoff pass defense. I said it before: balance is the key to victory in the NFL playoffs. But neither of these teams is truly balanced. But Manning and his WR Wes Welker have something to prove, they’re playing at home and the Broncos’ offense is healthier. The scales tip to them.
Pick: Denver

SUPER BOWL
Still sticking with Seattle. But check back two weeks from today to get my final update before the big game.