There is only one offensive juggernaut remaining in the playoffs, as the San Francisco 49ers (above) knock off the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants roughed up the Green Bay Packers. The New England Patriots will face the Baltimore Ravens, who have one of the best defenses in the league. Photo by Jeff Lewis By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
Defense wins championships!Even in a pass happy offensive league, some people still say that old cliché. Those people are in the minority nowadays because people have fallen in love with the explosive offenses of today’s NFL, but like it has been written in this NFL column the past few weeks, defense does win championships!Three out of the four remaining teams in the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Giants, all play tough defense. The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints were offensive juggernauts, but they played horrible defense, and now they are sitting at home. The New England Patriots also have an explosive offense with a horrible defense, but even though they are in the AFC Championship game, they have not defeated a team with a winning record this season.That cliché has never been proven wrong, and the Patriots will have to play two of the best defenses in the league to buck the trend. Now, defense wins championships does not include teams who cannot produce points on offense, and for three quarters last Saturday, it looked like the 49ers did not have enough offense to go all the way and win the title.The 49ers defense held the Saints offense in check, but they could not pull away because offensively the 49ers were not doing much of anything against a bad Saints defense. But that fourth quarter, that was like magic. The 49ers were no longer able to keep the Saints offense in check, and surprisingly the 49ers offense came to life to save the day, as they scored two touchdowns in the closing minutes of that game to win what turned out to be a shootout. Being two wins away from a Super Bowl title, the 49ers are going to need a little more than one quarter of good offense to win it all, and with the Giants coming to town, putting points on the board will be necessary. This Giants team is very similar to their 2007 team, which won the Super Bowl. Both teams had their share of struggles in the regular season, and both teams put it all together to make a run at the Super Bowl. The 49ers are the favorite in this game, but the Giants may be the ones who advance because they do play defense, and they have more than enough offense to win the big games. The Packers found that out the hard way, as the Giants defense stopped their offense all game long and forced a number of turnovers, and offensively, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was money. For the second week in a row Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks torched defensive backs for touchdowns.The Giants have the offense to go all the way, where as the 49ers are still lacking on that side of the all. Don’t let one magical quarter against a horrible Saints defense fool you, the 49ers do not have a good offense. The best thing going for them is that they do not turn the ball over, mostly because they take the ball out of quarterback Alex Smith’s hands by running it a lot.If the Giants put some early points on the board, the 49ers may not have the offense to comeback. But as good as the Giants offense is playing now, it may be hard for them to get out in front of the 49ers because of San Francisco’s lights out defense. Manning likes to take chances, and if he is careful with the ball they will be able to move up and down the field against the 49ers, but San Francisco has a knack for producing turnovers. On the AFC side, the Patriots are the lone offensive juggernaut remaining, and their run may come to an end against the Ravens.
Two years ago the Ravens went into New England and beat the brakes off of the Patriots. The score was 24-0 by the end of the first quarter. The current Ravens and Patriots are not much different from the 2009 versions.
The chances of quarterback Tom Brady throwing six touchdown passes like he did last week against the Broncos are slim because the Ravens have Hall of Fame players on their defense. The Broncos had a good defense, but there was really nothing special about them. They got more credit than they deserved because many people did not want to give quarterback Tim Tebow credit for anything. The Patriots have taken advantage of the rules that have created these high powered passing offenses, but the Ravens finished fourth in passing defense. They were second in the league in lowest opposing quarterback’s completion percentage, third in lowest yards per attempt, first in fewest touchdowns allowed, third in sacks, and first in lowest quarterback passer rating. In other words, the Ravens pass defense is nasty, and seeing that the Patriots have a one-dimensional offense, things may not go so well in New England for the home team. In that 2009 playoff game, the Ravens intercepted Brady three times.If the Patriots have the bright idea to catch the Ravens off guard by running the ball, which they do not do well, they better think again. The Ravens are second in the league in rushing defense.
As for the Patriots defense, they were ranked 31st in the league (the Packers were the only team worse), and they allowed opposing rushers to average 4.6 yards per carry, which was 24th in the league. In that 2009 playoff game, Ravens running back Ray Rice ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and as a team the Ravens rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
Super Bowl prediction: Giants vs. Ravens… again!Colts continue to clean house
The Indianapolis Colts fired head coach Jim Caldwell (left). Caldwell led the Colts to the Super Bowl after the 2009 season, and to a 10-win season last year. His dismissal, coupled with other key front office firings, may lead to the release of quarterback Peyton Manning (right). Photo by Gail Burton (AP) Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning misses the season with a neck injury, causing the team to finish 2-14, and now heads are rolling. Right after the season ended long time vice chairman Bill Polian, who built the team into a winner after drafting Manning in 1998, was fired. Now head coach Jim Caldwell has lost his job too. Caldwell led the Colts to the Super Bowl after the 2009 season, and the Colts won 10 games under his leadership last year. The Colts are going through an over haul, which may be setting them up to release or trade Manning while drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft. Manning will be owed a $28 million roster bonus if he is still with the organization in March, and he was in support of keeping Caldwell. Manning was also good friends with Polian. It appears that the Colts are dumping all of Manning’s allies, which could be a sign that they will part ways with the future Hall of Fame quarterback. They are firing key front offense members who would be in favor of continuing with Manning.
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