I know which way I think I am leaning in both of the NFL conference championships, but there is still a long time before the games kickoff, and that means I have lots of time to drive my self crazy with speculation and analysis. Before I can be totally comfortable with my picks, there are several questions I have to wrestle with. Among them:
1. How big of a factor is Flacco? On one hand, it doesn’t make me comfortable to trust a rookie when a rookie has never won three playoff games. Heck, none had won two before this year. On top of that, Flacco’s numbers don’t exactly jump out at you – 14 TDs to 12 interceptions, and the 28th best passing ofense in the league. On the other hand, the rookie stat doesn’t mean much because rookies rarely get to helm playoff caliber teams, never mind Super Bowl caliber teams. And Flacco doesn’t have to put up big numbers in order for his team to win. My favorite stat – Flacco has had fewer than 150 yards passing in seven games this year. He is 6-1 in those games.
2. Is the Arizona bubble ready to burst? My instinct is that the Cardinals aren’t a great team. They struggled down the stretch, they were lousy outside of their terrible division, and they were awful on the road. Yet, they have been a totally different team in the playoffs. They have more takeaways than Baltimore. Kurt Warner has looked good, and he hasn’t been forced to do everything. Larry Fitzgerald has been a beast. The team is motivated and focused. Can they keep the dream alive for another game. Do they need to be at their very best to beat the Eagles, another team riding on the wave of a late season resurgence?
3. Is the Baltimore defense healthy enough to be near their best? Is Roethlisberger? Or Polamalu?
4. Why are both of the lines moving in the opposite way I expected them to? And why did the Ravens go from +5 to +6 when more than 60 percent of bets have been placed on them? And why is the bet volume much higher on Eagles game when the Ravens game has a higher profile?
5. Does anyone have a coaching edge? Andy Reid is the grizzled veteran of the group, but he’s never won the big game. Mike Tomlin won a Super Bowl as an assistant in Tampa Bay, and Ken Whisenhunt was an assistant when Pittsburgh won the Cup. John Harbaugh doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring, but he spent a long time under Reid’s wing in Philly, so he has lots of Championship game experience. Who comes out on top? Does it matter?