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Conference Championship Weekend

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I gave myself four chances to look dumb last week, though my predictions fared reasonably well. The Chargers and Steve McNair sort of imploded, but I was reasonably close on laying out last week's games. Close enough, anyway, to come back for more.

So, let's do it! Conference championship round! Four teams fightin' for two spots in Miami.

AFC Championship Game: New England at Indianapolis

Tom Brady is lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky. My Lord, that man's gotten some good breaks. And he owes Marlon McCree a new Lexus for Christmas.

The Chargers outrushed the Pats by a nearly 3:1 margin, outgained the Patriots overall, and picked off Tournament Tom Brady three times. And they lost? Seriously?

Let's face it - fumbles are, almost entirely, a matter of good fortune. Sure, players "cause" them, but it is, more than anything else, a combination of luck and good timing. Three Chargers fumbles just killed them and let the Patriots escape with a win. Credit, I suppose, to the Patriots for getting it done, but let's no kid ourselves about what happened last Sunday. The Pats caught some good breaks and made 'em count.

As for Indianapolis, well... they're sort of surving in spite of Mr. January. Now, before I get on Manning too hard, he's doing his usual good job of managing the offense and the game. But there's simply no denying that he's not as comfortable in these playoff games, and it shows. He makes the wrong read too often in January - year in and year out. There's no denying that he's the game's greatest regular season quarterback, but he's got to do something in January to help his team get to the Super Bowl.

Frankly, if he did it against any other team than the Patriots, it would seem a little less than fulfilling. Folks would still clamor, "Yeah, but you didn't have to go through New England."

Well, he does get New England. Lucky for him, it's in Indianapolis, an advantage for the Colts that shouldn't be underrated. And with all this, Peyton gets a chance to bury all his demons at once. Bury the Patriots. Bury Tom Brady. Bury the No Super Bowls. All of it. One game. At home.

If he chokes, well... he may never recover. This is a Win Now Indanapolis team. This is as good a shot as Peyton may ever get. He simply has to win.

And I think he, and the Colts, will. Here's my theory: Peyton usually has a good game early in the playoffs before collapsing in a later round. My thought? He's already had two crummy games. And the Colts survived! He's saving his good game for this one. He'd better hope so, or it won't just be me that looks stupid. Colts 30 Patriots 20

NFC Championship Game: New Orleans at Chicago

For all the hoopla surrounding the Saints and the home fans in the Superdome, New Orleans played its best football on the road this season, where they went 6-2. Of course, the Bears, including last week's win, are 7-2 at home. So, yeah: something's gotta give.

If I'm coaching Chicago, I want to limit the number of possessions in this game and make this thing a slugfest. The Saints are a big play offense and Rex Grossman is a big mistake quarterback. Chicago's got to grind out this win and make New Orleans earn every yard for every score.

This is a tough one to figure, but I'm of the mind that this is a pretty good matchup for New Orleans. I don't know that Rex Grossman is the guy to take advantage of the Saints' weaknesses, and I do think Drew Brees is capable of moving the ball on the Chicago secondary. Again, Chicago's best bet is to slow this game down to a grind - if New Orleans gets in a rhythm, this could get ugly like Chicago's home playoff loss last year to Carolina.

I'm taking Brees and the Saints. New Orleans 24 Chicago 23

Get all your team coverage for three of the four participants in the conference championship games from our sister SBN sites:

New England: Pats Pulpit
Indianapolis: Stampede Blue
Chicago: Windy City Gridiron

--PB--