NFC and AFC championship predictions: Green Bay, New England advance to the Super Bowl

Kevin Wandra's picture

There is nothing like the NFL playoffs. The first two rounds have been exciting, with the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers pulling off big upsets, defeating the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, and the undefeated New England Patriots’ march to the Super Bowl.

This week’s games will decide who advances to the biggest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl. I picked two out of four games correctly for the second straight week last week. I still seek perfection. Here are my picks:

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

I’ve picked against the Giants the last two weekends, and, of course, both times they came out victorious. That means I’m picking he Ginats this week, right? Well, I thought about it, I really did, but it’s difficult for me to pick against Green Bay at Lambeau Field, where it’s 10-1 in its last 11 home games. Yes, the Giants have won nine consecutive road games, and they led the league in sacks this year. But games revolve around the most important position on the field, quarterback, and that’s why Green Bay, with Brett Favre leading its offense, has a significant edge.

Favre plays behind a solid offensive line — Favre has been sacked only 16 times this year — and he’s comfortable playing in freezing-cold Green Bay. Running back Ryan Grant, who has rushed for an NFL-high 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns, could help slow down New York’s imposing pass rush and give Favre ample time to pick apart New York’s injury-riddled secondary.

Two things must happen for the Giants to win: Defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora and the rest of New York’s defense have to put heat on Favre, who’s mistake-prone under duress, and Eli Manning will have to play one of the best games of his career. If it snows and its hard for players to gain traction, New York’s pass rush will suffer.

The frigid conditions could negatively impact Manning, as well. He’s admitted in the past that he dislikes playing in cold weather. Manning has thrown for four touchdowns, with seven interceptions, in cold-weather games this season. Not good for the G-Men.

Also keep in mind that Green Bay and New York met earlier this season. Green Bay won convincingly, 35-13, at Giants Stadium.

Winner: Green Bay.

San Diego Chargers at New England Patriots

The Chargers are the most battered team left in the playoffs, and four of their top players are injured: running back LaDainian Tomlinson (knee), quarterback Philip Rivers (knee), tight end Antonio Gates (toe) and nose tackle Jamal Williams (ankle). Even if the Chargers were at full strength, it would be difficult for them to knock off the Patriots.

New England quarterback Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career; he completed 58 of 70 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions, in his last two games. Brady has the league’s best group of receivers — Randy Moss and Wes Welker are a formidable duo — and running back Laurence Maroney has come on strong. Plus, New England has arguably the best offensive line in the league.

New England loves playing at home at the Razor (Gillette Stadium), where it is averaging an astounding 34 points per game and allowing less than 14. The cold weather in New England could adversely affect San Diego, which is accustomed to playing on the balmy West Coast.

San Diego must force turnovers early and often to hang with the Patriots. The Chargers were the No. 1 team in the league in forcing turnovers, and their defense lead the league with 33 interceptions in 18 games. Moreover, the Chargers have given up only nine points a game in their eight-game winning streak.

Look for New England to stack the line of scrimmage to shut down Tomlinson and put immense pressure on the hobbled Rivers. On the other side of the ball, Brady practices against a 3-4 defense, which San Diego runs, every day, so he should have no problems turning in another spectacular performance.

The Patriots pummeled the Chargers 38-14 in Week Two. There is a good chance that another New England blowout could occur this weekend.

Winner: New England.

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