AFC Championship Game Preview
The game I would like to see is a re-match of last year’s Championship Game, pitting the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens. They have yet to meet this regular season and whatever happens in those two games will set the stage for this contest.
These teams genuinely dislike one another and there are few rivalries more physically brutal than this one. The Steelers top-ranked rushing defense (76.6 yards per game) will be tested against the 10th ranked (124.9 ypg) Baltimore Ravens rush offense featuring points per reception fantasy monster Ray Rice. Throw in Willis McGahee for goal-line carries and a smattering of LeRon McClain and the Steelers will have their hands full. The Ravens 4th ranked rush defense (87.6 ypg) matches up well with the inconsistent Steelers rushing attack (107.0 ypg). In the passing game, Joe Flacco has really come into his own this season directing the Ravens 10th best passing offense. Ben Roethlisberger is having a Pro-Bowl caliber season himself and has propelled Pittsburgh from a rushing team to a 5th ranked passing team (276.0 ypg).
Given that each team’s pass defense is mediocre at best (Bal-19th, Pit-16th), this game could end up a high scoring affair. This game could very well come down to the team with the last possession scoring to win the game.
NFC Championship Game Preview
Two teams that would make for a great Championship battle are the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. After all, winning another championship is what Brett Favre claimed as his reason for returning this season. If his team makes it this far, the storyline writes itself.
Through eight weeks, these teams have won 14 out of 15 games. Drew Brees has been the catalyst for the Saints turnaround. He has galvanized the team’s resolve and helped to re-build Saints fans pride in their team and community. The Saints boast the league’s top offense (4th rush, 6th pass) and have scored more touchdowns than the Redskins, Rams, Browns and Raiders combined.
Their defense has had it’s moments but they are still middle of the pack (15th) in yards allowed per game. The Vikings have the league’s 10th best offense and have the league’s 7th ranked rush defense, giving up 94.8 yards per game. Brett Favre has reminded teams that they simply can’t stack the line to stop Adrian Peterson. He has utilized his talented receiving options in the passing game, including leading Rookie of the Year candidate Percy Harvin. Harvin has also added another dimension to the Vikings special teams.
Both of these teams give up their fair share of points (about 22 per game) so an offensive explosion is not out of the question. The quarterback stories, the strength vs. strength matchup of the Saints running game vs. the stout Minnesota run defense and the potential of a very high scoring game make this a battle I’d love to witness in January.
Shootout of the Week
This is a little different than a regular game of the week column because the focus here is for fantasy purposes. Start as many players as possible in this one because the fantasy points will be plentiful.
The game in Week 9 features the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the Baltimore Ravens in a re-match of their Week 5 contest. In that game, a rejuvenated Cedric Benson became the first player in 40 games, dating back to 2006, to rush for more than 100 yards against the Ravens defense. Carson Palmer was his usual effective self passing for 271 yards, with 94 of them going to fellow comeback player of the year candidate Chad Ochocinco. Baltimore still remembers that game for the way it was lost, when Andre Caldwell caught the game winning pass with 22 seconds left. This is a must win game for the Ravens to avoid falling two games back of potentially two teams in their own division. Baltimore will pull out all the stops with young stars in the making Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Ray Rice is quickly becoming one of those players opponents can’t stop but only hope to contain. The Bengals pass defense is rated 30th in the league. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Todd Heap make good starts and each will receive his fair share of targets. The Bengals will counter with the formula that worked the last time these two met, run Benson down the Raven’s throats and pass when they have to.
I expect the Ravens will do a better job containing Benson so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bengals passing game play a more prominent role against the Ravens 19th ranked pass defense. Guys like Caldwell, Laveranues Coles and Chris Henry will be counted on to produce more than usual in this contest.