I've been skipping SportsCenter all week because, well, I live in Pittsburgh. It's a penitent time here. We're all wearing Polamalu-hair shirts and flagellating ourselves. If only we'd cheered harder or bought one more Terrible Towel, maybe Ryan Mundy wouldn't have bit so hard on the play-action. You know how it is.
Although I haven't watched any of it, I'm sure the ESPN guys are doing their matchups and key factors and so on. What follows... is not that.
Denver at New England
POINTLESS COMPARISON: WORSE AIRPORT: Denver. Logan is a hole, but at least it's convenient to the city itself. Last time I was there, DIA was in the middle of nowhere and nothing worked. Maybe things work now but I bet it's still out in the wastelands.
Houston at Baltimore
POINTLESS COMPARISON: NATIVE CELEBRITY: Houston, going away. Beyonce is the queen of everything. Baltimore's got... Hasselhoff? I mean, bonus points for Frank Zappa and John Waters, guys, but you're falling behind.
New York Giants at Green Bay
POINTLESS COMPARISON: STUPID COMMERCIALS: Aaron Rodgers "discount double-check" Allstate commercial versus Eli Manning "double stufs racing league" Oreo commercial. God, I hate them both. But this isn't the first terrible commercial for Manning ("Eli Manning is... unstoppable"), so I'm giving the edge to Green Bay.
New Orleans at San Francisco
POINTLESS COMPARISON: SUMMERTIME CLIMATE: Gotta give the edge to San Francisco here. Give me cool and damp over, in the words of Owen's Momma, "sultry."
Actual Football Talk
Denver - New England: While watching my beloved Steelers get kicked in the junk this past weekend, I was impressed by the general quality of Denver's offensive line play. They got a good surge and controlled the line of scrimmage on running plays. This may have had something to do with the Steelers' Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel being out hurt, but Football Outsiders ranks Denver's O-line in the top third of the league on rushing plays.
It will surprise no one to learn that Football Outsiders ranks Denver's O-line in the bottom four in pass protection. (The real miracle this year is that Tim Tebow is still alive.)
Against the run, FO ranks New England's defensive line 29th. (They're in the bottom half against the pass.)
Saturday night we may see a pattern we've seen before -- when Denver gets the ball, they eat clock like crazy with rushing plays. It won't be enough against the Pats -- but I bet it'll be fun to watch.
Houston - Baltimore: Wow, the Oilers at the Colts!
No, that's basically all I have. This one's Baltimore going away. Flacco is middling at best, but TJ Yates ain't even middling.
New York - Green Bay: Some commentators are making noise about this game being very similar to the 2007 Super Bowl. I guess because no one gives New York a shot? I disagree that it's like the 2007 Super Bowl, primarily because the Packers are the embodiment of all that is good and right in football, while the 2007 Patriots were hideous otherworldly monsters who needed to be stopped at any cost.
A quick look at stats tells us that the Giants' offense and defense are both adequate playoff units. The Packers' defense isn't uniquely bad, although it isn't great. The league's conventional stats suggest that it's terrible, but those stats don't reflect the clear purpose of the Packer defense. The Packers seem to be designed to win shootouts rather than to win skull-grinding punishment low-scoring ("classic") games. They don't mind giving up yardage, field goals, and even a TD or two, because Rodgers is still going to get to do his car-insurance dance twice more before the end of the quarter.
I'd say that the Giants's best strategy is to keep the ball away from Rodgers. Try to win the time-of-possession game.
New Orleans - San Francisco: San Francisco's takeaway-giveaway differential is best in the league, at +28. This comes in part on the strength of 23 interceptions for the year, but also by virtue of having an offense that gives away very few balls.
New Orleans is a more pedestrian team in this regard. The Saints have a fairly average number of interceptions and fumbles taken away this season.
I have no idea if this will matter. Fumbles and interceptions are pretty random things and the sample size is awfully small. But I'm sure, after the game, someone's going to credit/blame a turnover for sealing a victory/loss.