Dr. J's NFL Conference Championship Outlook

<i>Last Week:</i> 3-1 <br> <i>Playoff Totals:</i> 7-1 <br><br> Uno mas. That is all it will take to get to the big show, the Super Bowl. Last week was some of the most exciting football in years and this week's matchups are promising. Indianapolis will be in New England, while Carolina is in Philadelphia in Conference Championship weekend.

Sunday, Jan. 18th
Indianapolis at New England
The AFC Championship is a matchup between the often overused, but in this particular case, quite appropriate cliché of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. The Colts, as you may have already guessed, are the unstoppable force, mainly due to Peyton Manning who is on a roll for the ages: 8 touchdown passes, 681 yards, no interceptions, and no punts by the offense through two playoff games. On the other side, Bill Belichick has turned the New England Patriots into the immovable object. Their defensive schemes are well disguised, deep in personnel, and have not been subject to blown coverages, missed tackles, or defenders playing out of position. This defense isn't the Armor Division like the 1985 Bears, but stealthy and dangerous like the "No-Name" Miami Dolphins of 1972.

Despite the Colts' inability to stop the run last week, I expect the Patriots to throw the ball around the smaller Indianapolis defense. I look for Tom Brady to throw it around the field, dinking and dunking and taking the occasional shot down the field. If Tony Dungy has any defensive magic in him, he'd better hope that his defensive line can put more pressure this week than last week.

This should be an extremely entertaining game watching the Manning shift the Colts offense looking to see if the cloaked Patriots defense will reveal something about their play. And as much as I love Manning and the roll he's been on, my pick is the New England Patriots 28-24. I love what Belichick and Romeo Crennel have been able to do with their deep personnel on defense and their ability to disrupt the timing of offenses.

Carolina at Philadelphia The Eagles and Panthers can thank Mike Sherman and Mike Martz respectfully for their conservative nature at the end of their games last week that helped catapult their teams to the NFC Championship. Now, that is not to say that each team earned their way here. The Panthers lost their Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis to an injury in last week's game against the Rams and leaned on untested quarterback Jake Delhomme and a very underrated defense to lead them to a victory. The Eagles looked to the beleaguered but resilient (and triumphant) Donovan McNabb to get them out of an impossible 4th and 26 and make them the latest "team of destiny".

The biggest question in my mind is how the Eagles offensive line will handle the Carolina front four, perhaps the best the NFL. The Packers unspectacular defense was still able to sack the elusive McNabb eight times! Conversely, the Panthers offensive line has opened big holes for Davis and DeShaun Foster and has provided adequate protection for Delhomme and the passing game and the Eagles defensive line has had its share of injuries and problems.

Against my better judgement, I'm still picking the Eagles to beat the Panthers and finally win the NFC Championship 23-20. I know that the Eagles are banged up along the lines and have lost perhaps their best linebacker Carlos Emmons, but I just have the feeling that the 3rd time is the charm for the Eagles.

Dr. J

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