King Says, Benji Says (Conference Championship Edition)

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benjigiveshimselfanothervitaminwaterbathwhilekingremainsindisbelief

In my experience, there is only one activity more exhilarating than giving yourself a Vitamin Water bath after a successful playoff picking round…giving yourself a Vitamin Water bath for the second consecutive week! His Majesty and Brian have gone the way of the Giants and the Chargers while the Craftsbury “Cardinals” continue their quest for the postseason picking championship. In last week’s column, Brian made a point of revealing our playoff picking twins in the sports media, and I would like to continue that line of thought. This week, The King and Brian have chosen to forge another picking alliance (their second in three weeks) while I have abandoned the almighty “Don” (Banks) and thrown my support behind the venerable Chris “Boomer” Berman. What does all this rumbling, stumbling mumbo jumbo mean? Read on and discover what all three of us have to say about what should be another exciting weekend of football…

Last Week:

Peter King (2-2)
Benji (3-1)
Brian (2-2)

Playoffs:

Peter King (4-4)
Benji (7-1)
Brian (4-4)

Regular Season:

Peter King (162-93-1)
Benji (155-100-1)
Brian (166-89-1)

Philadelphia Eagles (11-6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (11-7)

The King says:

The longer the week goes, the more reason I find to like Arizona. The defense has been reborn in January, the players have perfected the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect rant, Larry Fitzgerald is playing like Superman, and they’ll be home, inside their weather-controlled dome. However, what this pick comes down to is my late-season belief in Donovan McNabb … 217 yards passing in the Meadowlands wind tunnel last week, 68-percent passing in Minnesota’s noise machine the week before, and a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception differential in the five games since Andy Reid pulled the plug on him in Baltimore. And though I trust the Arizona defense to stop the Eagle run, I trust McNabb to make the right decisions and move the Eagles consistently against Arizona.


On the other side, I don’t think Kurt Warner will have the time to throw that he’s had in his first two playoff games, which means he probably will have to throw more checkdowns than he likes. The Eagles linebackers ate up the checkdowns against the Giants last week. McNabb’s out for redemption, whether he says it or not, and he’ll get it near his winter home in the desert.

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles 24, Arizona Cardinals 19

Benji says:

I’m not buying the “rebirth” of the Arizona running game—the Panthers and Falcons ranked 20th and 25th in rushing yards allowed per game during the regular season. I have been impressed with its passing offense, however, especially given that the team was without the services of number-two receiver Anquan Boldin. Still, the Cardinals have yet to face a real defense in the playoffs and the Eagles have been playing exceptionally well in that department. Ignore His Majesty’s obsession with the Donovan McNabb “redemption” storyline—McNabb has played well but the team’s playoff run has happened first and foremost because of its defense. The Eagles held the Giants’ vaunted running game in check last week (stopping New York on two key fourth and short plays) and made quarterback Eli Manning look like the incompetent Eli of two or three years ago (15 of 29 with two interceptions and no touchdowns). Philadelphia should be able to shut down Arizona’s running game, and force the Cardinals to revert to the one-dimensional passing-based offense we saw for much of the season. Arizona’s receivers are very talented and Warner is a playoff-proven quarterback, but the Eagles pressure the quarterback better than any other team in the league (with a variety of blitz schemes) and have the personnel at defensive back to play honest defense on those receivers.

Finally, I’d like to turn your attention to a recurring storyline during this postseason: regular season meetings between teams DO matter. The Chargers lost to the Colts on a last second field goal in Week 12; San Diego “shocked” Indianapolis in overtime in the first round of the playoffs. The Cardinals lost to the Panthers in Carolina by four in Week 8, after committing costly turnovers in the second half; Arizona had “one of the biggest upsets ever” when it beat Carolina in the second round of the playoffs. Sorry, Cardinals fans, it works both ways: the Eagles trounced the Cardinals 48-20 in Week 13. History is poised to repeat itself…

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles 27, Arizona Cardinals 13

Baltimore Ravens (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4)

The King says:

As a reporter, or a fan, when you get to the big games, you just hope both teams come in healthy so when the ball’s kicked off, you can say, “Let the best man win.” In this game, I’m afraid it’s about the healthiest team winning. The Steelers’ running game has come alive with a healthy Willie Parker gashing the Browns and Chargers for 262 yards on 50 carries in his last two starts. And Roethlisberger has made a real alternative out of Santonio Holmes in the passing game, so he now has three guys — Holmes, Heath Miller, Hines Ward — he trusts implicitly when he throws.

I fear the Ravens will have to play the pass with Fabian Washington and Frank Walker — good, hard-trying guys but not shutdown corners — playing most of the snaps at corner with Chris McAlister long-gone and Samari Rolle likely out with a thigh injury. Two huge Ravens in this postseason, McClain and Terrell Suggs, will either be out or severely limited with injuries. I loved the Ravens two weeks ago. I still love their gumption, but I don’t think that’s enough to beat the hottest team playing, and playing at home.


Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 20, Baltimore Ravens 13

Benji says:

While His Majesty is correct to point out that injuries may play a part in the outcome of this game, he has, per usual, chosen to embellish his point artificially. Even if running back LeRon McClain cannot play, Baltimore has plenty of depth at the position. The Ravens’ replacement cornerbacks have actually played better than Chris McAlister (who has also been out for several months) and seemed to have no trouble covering for Samari Rolle last week. The strength of Baltimore’s team is its front seven, so I do believe that losing linebacker Terrell Suggs will hurt the defense a bit. What His Majesty fails to mention in his injury analysis, however, is that safety Troy Polamalu, one of the Steelers’ best defensive players, will also be out or hampered by injury. In my mind, the injury situation is basically a wash. My concern with Pittsburgh, as it has been all season, is its pass-blocking. The Steelers’ offensive line protected Roethlisberger well against the Chargers, but that may have been a misleading performance as San Diego has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks all year. Baltimore will do a much better job of rushing the passer and will force Roethlisberger to make tough plays all afternoon. That being said, the Ravens are relying on a rookie passer, Joe Flacco, who is already in uncharted postseason territory (the first rookie quarterback to win a playoff game on the road).

What swung this pick for me was my novel theory that regular season match-ups * gasp! * actually matter. The Ravens played the Steelers close in two regular season games, losing one in overtime and the other on a controversial replay reversal. What are the chances that a team (the Steelers) wins three toss-up games against the same team in the same season? It very well could happen, but I’ll go with the odds here…

Prediction: Baltimore Ravens 19, Pittsburgh Steelers 16

brianthinksheiscoolbutnotethatheisnottheoneunderthevitaminwatershower

Okay, now it’s Brian’s turn:

Well in Happier News, Circuit City Got Liquidated…
Peter King likes to tell random stories, so I feel like I’m allowed to too. Back in high school I went to Circuit City to buy some headphones—these special over the ear, ear-bud hybrids. I was all set to buy them, but on the off chance they didn’t fit my ears, I asked an employee if I could try them on to make sure that they fit. The man said, “No”. I explained that I just wanted to make sure they would stay in my ears, but he would not let me. So I stormed out of the store, but before I left, a nice young consumer service representative stopped me and asked if I would like to take a survey about customer service at Circuit City. I said, “You caught me on the perfect day,” and I explained to her that the man would not let me try on the headphones, even though I had already made up my mind I was going to buy them. I then told her that I would be walking across the street to The Good Guys electronics store and buying the exact same pair from them. I told her I would never shop at Circuit City ever again, and I would tell my friends to do the same. Today I read that all of Circuit City’s stores are closing and the company has been obliterated. Brian 1, Circuit City 0.
Now on to my picks:

Eagles win.
Steelers win.

I’m not copying Peter King, I’m just sticking with my picks from Week One…you know, the picks that said the Eagles and Steelers would play in the Super Bowl. Now that doesn’t mean I’m going to root for those two teams—I like the Ravens (There’s a Middlebury player on the team) and I like Flacco’s unibrow—but there’s no way I’m abandoning my preseason picks after watching them advance all the way to the Conference Championship Round.

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