What a great weekend it was last weekend. After hearing all week how the Vikings had no chance against a Dallas team that had been playing very well, the Vikings came out and dominated all 60 minutes of that game and left little doubt as to who was the better team. The Vikings defense was exceptional, and that 40-year-old QB played pretty well too.
I am more excited for this Sunday's game than I have been for any sporting event in my life to this point. I was just 9 years old in '98, which is probably a blessing, because if that game happened now I would spend the next few months doing nothing but being depressed and not moving. Honestly. In '01, when the Vikings were embarrassed by the Giants 41-0, I was a little older (12) but still didn't fully understand the importance of the game. I was at an out of town basketball tournament, and I remember as I dribbled down the court a few times getting an update on the score of the game.
To this day, I've never seen a single highlight or play from that game. It was all things I heard from other people, or the radio broadcast for most of the second half. Of course, at the time, I expected the Vikings to get the NFC Championship quite a bit. They had gone in '98, really the first year I was a sports fan, and again in '01. (Which was actually the '00 season) Going twice in three years undoubtedly gave me unrealistic hopes for the Vikings, but nine years later those unrealistic hopes are long gone. Watching my favorite team in the NFC Championship, after watching them fail twice, the Twins lose in the ALCS, the Wolves lose in the Western Conference Finals and the Wild lose in the same spot, has made me realize how difficult it is to win a championship. The only team to even make the World Championship in my lifetime is the '91 Twins, but I was two years old at the time and needless to say I don't remember it one bit.
I truly hope the Vikings can upset the Saints and get to their first Super Bowl in my life. Will it happen? Nobody knows, but here are my picks for this weekends Conference Championships:
Jets +7.5 over COLTS
This is a very tough game to pick. If I would have bet on any of the Jets games prior to this one, I would have lost a lot of money. I thought the Bengals would beat them fairly easily, but I really expected the Chargers to blow them out. Obviously, neither happened, and the Jets seem to have a legitimate chance to upset the Colts and play in the Super Bowl.
I don't expect that to happen. I do think it will be a close game, but the fact is the Colts haven't lost a game in which their starters played the whole game. Peyton Manning is the greatest QB in the history of the game, and I don't see anyway he doesn't lead this team to the Super Bowl. The Jets defense is great, and their running game is elite, but the fact remains they have a rookie QB who is finally going to need to make a play or two to get to the Super Bowl. Can Sanchez do it? Maybe, but if my life depended on it I would say no.
Final Score: Colts 23, Jets 17
SAINTS -3.5 over Vikings
This was even more difficult to choose. This game could honestly go in any direction. The Vikes could continue to struggle on the road, play a very poor game, and get blown out of the Super Dome very very early. They could also come into the game with more focus than any game all year, play their best game yet, eliminate the crowd noise very early en route to, well, a route.
Personally, I think it'll be a high scoring game that turns on a major play. The Saints have made big plays all season, and while I hope I am terribly wrong, I do think the Saints will be the last team standing after all the punches thrown. I expect a one score game with six or seven minutes to go, and the Vikings D will need to come up with a big stop to give their offense one more shot. I don't see Brees being stopped in a potential game ending drive, which is why I think the Saints will win.
Obviously, I hope I'm wrong. Skol Vikes.
Final Score: Saints 35, Vikings 27
The betting angle: If betting were legal, or if I lived in Las Vegas, I would suggest the 7-point teaser this week. I would take both the Colts and Vikings in that scenario. While the Saints could blow them out, it seems much more likely to me the game stays within 10 points either way. If you take the Vikes, you get 10.5 points, if you take the Saints, you're only getting 4 points. I really like the Jets +14.5, and there could be quite a bit of money to be made even on a 7-point teaser.