SAN DIEGO (13-5) AT NEW ENGLAND (17-0)
WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m. MST
WHERE: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Philip Rivers is resolute and defiant. Those two characteristics have made him seem a tad possessed in recent weeks — particularly in his rapport with Colts fans last Sunday at the RCA Dome — but are often to his credit, and in a different manifestation helped him become the No. 4 overall pick in the draft after a fairly phenomenal matriculation at North Carolina State.
But with the San Diego Union-Tribune reporting that he suffered a partial tear of his right anterior cruciate ligament, one wonders if his defiance might get the better of him.
What is more significant than Rivers’ official “doubtful” status is the fact that he was limited in practice. It’s tough enough to go against the Patriots with a full week of preparatory work. Can one really expect to be ready when that work is truncated?
San Diego’s best bet might be to go with Billy Volek, who led them to the game-winning score in the fourth quarter last week and played with a crispness that kept the Chargers’ offense at its typically productive pace in spite of the absences of LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates.
Volek can pile up some numbers; in three games as a starter leading up to a Christmas Night loss to the Broncos in 2004, he averaged 30.0 completions in 46.0 attempts, 395.7 yards and 3.7 touchdowns per game. If the Chargers need him to throw, he can be a mad bomber indeed.
I haven’t written much about New England. But why should I? Dennis Green might say the Patriots “are what we thought they were.” They kept a stellar Jaguars team at arm’s length last week; the game was competitive but the New Englanders never gave Jacksonville ample reason to believe it could pull the upset.
New England’s second playoff verse will be the same as the first. (Henry the VIIIth I am I am, Hen-uh-ree the VIIIth I am.)
MASON’S PICK: New England, 31-23. San Diego’s backups are good enough to ensure there’ll be little drop-off. The quality of Volek and Turner give the Chargers a chance, and Turner and Darren Sproles are quick enough to exploit the lone, slight weakness of New England’s defense — lateral speed from a savvy yet aging linebacking corps. But how can one pick against the Patriots now?
OTHER PICKS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE:
MIKE RICE, NEWSRADIO 850 KOA: New England, 31-16.
KYLE MONTGOMERY, BRONCOTALK: As much as you hate to say it, these really are the two most talented teams in the NFL. The Chargers defense that is firing on all cylinders now may be the best the Patriots have faced all year. But 26 completions in 28 attempts last week for Tom Brady … it’s obvious this team is so focused that they won’t let themselves lose this game. Patriots 24, Chargers 14.
JOHN BENA, MILE HIGH REPORT:: New England, 34-17.
JONATHAN DOUGLAS, BRONCOTALK: I can’t believe I’m pulling for the Patriots … but I just want the Chargers to loose soooo bad, I’m willing to sell my soul and rout for New England this weekend, which is also the pick.
N.Y. GIANTS (12-6) AT GREEN BAY (14-3)
WHEN: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. MST
WHERE: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
It seems there’s been as much talk about the weather for the NFC Championship as about the game itself.
Sunday’s high temperature in Green Bay is forecast to be two degrees above zero. Anytime that the temperature must be suffixed with “above” or “below,” you’ve got problems. By kickoff, the mercury is expected to rest at zero, plunging into negative integers as the evening progresses.
Yes, this is Packers weather, although even this kind of chill is away from the norm. The average high for this time of year in Green Bay is 24 degrees; the average low seven (above, by the way). It’s slightly chillier in Minneapolis than in northeastern Wisconsin, which benefits slightly from the presence of a body of water — the one for which the Packers’ home city is named.
But it can get pretty frigid in New York, too. It’d be one thing if the football Giants had followed their baseball brethren and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area a few decades ago; then the climatological conditions would be as foreign as Malagasy currency.
When factoring in the winds that buffet Giants Stadium and the team’s nearby training facility, the Giants often practice in conditions that feel as raw as the ones they’ll face at Lambeau Field Sunday night.
Besides, the Giants actually won one of the more notable cold-weather games in NFL annals — the 1934 NFL Championship Game in which the New Yorkers donned sneakers to compensate for the slick, icy footing afforded by the Polo Grounds field.
The Giants had traction; the Bronko Nagurski-led Bears didn’t. The result was a 30-13 rout for the home team.
Of greater significance Sunday night is the fact that the Packers aren’t a great matchup for Big Blue. That bore itself out in New York’s 35-13 home defeat back in Week 2. The Packers’ running game was in flux back then; Ryan Grant has since not only stablilized it, but made it flourish.
Oh, and were I Giants quarterback Eli Manning, I wouldn’t be rankled by the decision to preempt Seinfeld. That’s what laptop computers and DVD sets are for. Watch any episode — free of both commercials and syndication edits — whenever you want. If I can afford to own all seasons of Seinfeld, Eli, so can you. Then you can truly be master of your domain.
But being master of the Packers’ home domain? That might be a little tougher. The Packers are unbeaten at home in five championship games dating back to 1939, when they won 27-0 at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, just outside of Milwaukee (and home to the famed Milwaukee Mile racetrack).
The opponent that day? The Giants.
MASON’S PICK: Green Bay, 24-20. I think Brett Favre has at least one more great playoff moment left in him.
OTHER PICKS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE:
MIKE RICE, NEWSRADIO 850 KOA: Green Bay, 34-17.
KYLE MONTGOMERY, BRONCOTALK: This remarkable streak the Giants are enjoying comes to a halt in the freezing Green Bay weather. The icy terrain will make it hard for their defense to pressure Brett Favre, and their bright young cornerback Ross probably won’t be 100%. I think the Giants running attack can keep it interesting, but in the end the Packers will win decisively. Packers 31, Giants 17.
JOHN BENA, MILE HIGH REPORT:: Packers, 23-13.
JONATHAN DOUGLAS, BRONCOTALK: Another repeat of Week 2. Green Bay wins.
Vaya con dios, and I’ll talk to you again from near Mobile as we get set for Senior Bowl week.