Silver Chips Online

NFL - conference championships '08

And then there were four...

By Andrew Kung, Online Sports Editor and Copy Editor, Nitin Sukumar, Online News Editor and Copy Editor and Anshul Sood, Online Sports Editor
January 20, 2008
We're down to just four teams remaining in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy, with San Diego and New England battling in the AFC and New York and Green Bay duking it out in the NFC. Storylines for conference championship week include a injury-ravaged Charger offense, the return of legal troubles for Randy Moss, Eli Manning finally emerging from his brother's shadow, and a remarkable run from Brett Favre at 38 years old. Two of the top four picks from the 2004 draft, quarterbacks Manning (first overall) and Philip Rivers (fourth overall), take on two of the finest field generals of our generation in Favre and Tom Brady. Who will win out, youth or tradition? We'll find out on Sunday with a pair of entertaining matchups on tap.


San Diego Chargers at New England Patriots
Sunday, January 20, 2008 3:00 p.m. on CBS

The Word: The Chargers have a shot at reaching their first Super Bowl in 13 years, but have to get through the undefeated Patriots in Foxboro first.
This season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has targets to throw to, especially star wideout Randy Moss.

<i>Photo courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images via Yahoo! Sports</i>
This season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has targets to throw to, especially star wideout Randy Moss. Photo courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images via Yahoo! Sports

Offense: Looking at the injuries to the Charger offense, it's a surprise they beat the Colts last week. Starters Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates are all nicked up and their status for Sunday's game is in doubt. Yet suddenly other players on the Chargers are making big plays. Receivers Chris Chambers (a mid-season trade from Miami) and Vincent Jackson have stepped up huge in the playoffs and have been key for the Chargers' success. With Gates - normally the main receiving target - hampered, these receivers need to come up big for San Diego this week.

Then there is the Patriot offense which has been perfect all season long. Tom Brady went 26 for 28 against Jacksonville last week, not to mention the record 50 touchdowns in the regular season. Meanwhile running back Laurence Maroney has emerged as of late, scoring five touchdowns in his last four games. But the domestic violence allegations surfacing against Randy Moss may end up being a huge distraction for the team. Moss's behavior has been nearly perfect all season long and now this may cause the star receiver, and indeed the entire team, to lose focus.

Advantage: New England

Defense: Antonio Cromartie continued his dominance in the secondary, picking off Peyton Manning last week in the divisional playoff game, aside from his league-leading 10 interceptions during the regular season. But this is Tom Brady he's going to be playing against and Randy Moss he is trying and cover. Brady has only thrown eight interceptions all season long and Moss is the elite receiver of the NFL. The Charger pass-rush has been great too, behind outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman.

On the Patriots' defensive side, age is going to be a huge factor. The trio of linebackers in Junior Seau (playing against his former team), Teddy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel is getting old and are going to be facing some speedy players in the Charger offense, including LT if he plays, or his lightning-fast backups Michael Turner and Darren Sproles. They have held up fairly well all year, although David Garrard and the Jaguars were able to find some seams last week. Cornerback Asante Samuel, who finished the regular season with six picks, will be another key to the Patriots defense, as will former Charger Rodney Harrison, who has been money in the postseason his entire career.

Advantage: San Diego

Player to Watch: Billy Volek/Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Whichever quarterback under center for the Chargers will have everything on his shoulders. Rivers proved that he can survive without a 100 percent Antonio Gates by hitting Vincent Jackson, but there's a chance that LT won't be there to distract the defense for 60 minutes. We all know Rivers can talk a big game, but we'll see if he can back it up if the best player in football isn't accompanying him in the backfield. If he cannot go, the burden falls on backup Billy Volek. Volek engineered a key drive to win over the Colts last week, but under the main spotlight of the AFC Championship game, it's an entirely different story.

Bottom Line: Injuries to the offensive starters of the Chargers are what are going to hurt their chances the most. The Patriots are still rolling in their pursuit of perfection and their high-powered offense is too much for the Chargers to match.

Prediction: New England 27, San Diego 17


New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Sunday, January 20, 2008 6:30 p.m. on FOX

The Word: One Manning has made it further into the playoffs but it isn't Peyton. The Packers defend Lambeau once again after an incredible rebound performance by Ryan Grant.
How Eli Manning responds to the playoff pressures will determine the fate of the Giants.

<i>Photo courtesy of AP Photo/David Duprey via Yahoo! Sports</i>
How Eli Manning responds to the playoff pressures will determine the fate of the Giants. Photo courtesy of AP Photo/David Duprey via Yahoo! Sports

Offense: The magic of Brett Favre continues. He has been dominating the passing game and Greg Jennings has emerged as a legitimate threat. Jennings is able to rack up huge amounts of yards after the catch, turning short dump-offs into long gains. And now the Packers have something they have been desperately needing - a running game. Ryan Grant has been playing well as of late, exploding last week for 201 yards after a rough start (two lost fumbles on the first two drives of the game). The presence of a running game will allow Favre to ease off a little bit on the passing and maybe run some more believable play-action passes.

The Giants' Eli Manning is playing consistently well and outshining his brother Peyton for the first time in his entire life, most likely. But New York receiver Plaxico Burress has been quiet this post season. Luckily for the G-Men, veteran Amani Toomer has stepped up to make some big plays and helped push New York further in the playoffs. Their running game has been quiet recently, giving Green Bay a slightly more balanced and explosive offense.

Advantage: Green Bay

Defense: The front seven for the Giants have been golden all season long, but faltered a bit against the Dallas Cowboys last week. It wasn't until the final quarter that they were able to put any real pressure on Romo. Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck need to keep at it for the whole game to fluster Favre and make their combined 32-sack season worth something. The rest of the Giants' defense has been plagued by injury. Their secondary has been spread thin with Sam Madison and Aaron Ross questionable for the game and cornerback Kevin Dockery already out.

The Packers on the other hand have been playing at a high level - cornerback Charles Woodson and Al Harris are itching to bring back the Eli Manning we all know, while A.J. Hawk and Eli Barnett lead a talented linebacker corps that will have its hands full trying to stop the rumbling Brandon Jacobs and speedy Ahmad Bradshaw.

Advantage: Green Bay

Player to Watch: Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay Ryan Grant had a huge game last week against the Seahawks, making up for his two fumbles early in the game. If Green Bay wants to win this game and make it to the Super Bowl, Grant is going to need to play well again. Brett Favre is a good quarterback, but every quarterback's best friend is a good running game that can help him make plays and tighten the defense up for big plays.

Bottom Line: The Packers are 13-2 in playoff games at Lambeau Field, and the last time Brett Favre played an NFC Championship game at Green Bay, it was en route to the only Super Bowl victory of his career. The Giants just don't have enough to take down the Packers at home in the tundra.

Prediction: Green Bay 28, New York 24

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