With the conference championship games set for this coming Sunday, we’ve entered that briefest of seasonal windows during which I care to be informed about the NFL. Big, vague, and potentially dubious perceptions serve me well through most of the season in maintaining casual fandom; you know, big ideas like betting against the Mannings in big games, picking the road underdog judiciously, and a fundamental belief that Winning begets Winning most of the time (this stems from having my spent formative football years on the teat of the Bill Walsh 49ers).
But I needed to read up a little to maximize enjoyment from both games this week. Remember, I’m a lifetime football fan who, since Steve Young’s retirement, watches start-to-finish about 3 pro games per year. The conference championships are the first two. Assuming I’m going to invest upwards of 6 hours into this, I want some context. Answers to the below questions should determine the winner of the Bears vs. Saints…
Can New Orleans win outside in January? Specifically, does Chicago retain a significant home-field advantage in the absence of traditionally brutal conditions at Soldier Field in January? Conversely, does the mere fact that this game is outdoors negate any potential speed advantage the dome-dwelling Saints offense might possess over a Bears defense that peaked far too early?
How valid is the Bears’ +8 status in turnovers? Does competing twice annually against the hapless Lions, the alarmingly un-menacing Vikings, and one history’s greatest interceptees, Brett Favre, inflate this number?
Will Gross Rexman play a critical role in the Chicago offensive game plan? Can he turn in consecutive non-disastrous outings? Remember, the Saints had the #23 rated run defense decidedly non-elite. This is critical because if da Bears can run the ball, Grossman’s performance (good or bad) becomes less relevant to their offensive success. This is a good thing for Chicago.
Finally, don’t overlook the Saints’ turnover ratio MINUS FOUR. This strikes me as high number for a two-seed. And of course, New Orleans has never won an outdoor playoff game in the history of the franchise. Though the 2006-07 Saints will (to a MAN) deny the relevance of this, they will all be aware of this in time for kickoff — which means it will be in their heads, like it or not.
The 2006-07 Chicago Bears are a microcosm of the NFC: wholly underwhelming. That they would be the most fitting representative of this forgettable conference in the Superbowl is too poetic to deny. Football is theater for boys, after all. And kids, seriously now can you picture the (S)Aints playing for the World’s Championship?
And since you asked, why do I eschew in-depth analysis the Colts/Pats? Because the Pats own Peyton. Until it is broken, this remains a football truth. I will not hear any arguments on this. Remember naked ignorance of ANY quantitative data allowed me to remain reasonable and not dream of picking against Brady/Belichick vs the Snakebitten Bolts. If you’re not careful, you can overthink these things sometimes. You know the Colts will lose. I know the Colts will lose. There is no discussion.
John Ramey is a musician and broadcast journalist in Los Angeles and contributes featured pieces to larrybrownsports.com. You can hear some of John’s music at www.myspace.com/alanbshepardGoogle+