What to look for in the NFC Championship game.

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nfl

Vikings @ Saints

Vikes

QB Farve has brought the passing game that has been missing from the team for years. Prior to this season, the team had the D, the O line, and the running game of an NFL Champion. The one thing they didn’t have was a championship quality passing game. Farve has not only provided the passing, he has helped the receivers develop. WR Rice has gone from “great potential” to one of the best receivers in the league in 1 year. In 08 Rice caught 15 balls. In 09 he caught 83 with a 15.8 yard average for 8 TDs. The rookie that the Vikes drafted Harvin who didn’t have an NFL position. Not only did he become a WR, he caught 80 balls for a 13.2 average and 6 TDs. That didn’t happen by accident. Farve didn’t help them develop out of a desire to be a good team leader. He did it to win a championship. The Vikes have a key injury on O. WR Harvin is questionable for the game. I think he will play.

The problem was that as the passing game developed, the running game withered. RB Peterson is one of the most skilled backs in the league. After his season of 1760 yards, a 4.8 yard average and 10 TDs, he fell to 1383 yards, a 4.4 yard average and has not had a 100+ yard game in the last half of the season. So what is the problem? There are actually a couple of problems. First, there is not nearly enough push by the O line up the gut. The guards are not able to slide off double teams and get to the second level. The line is too often pushed back into the backfield allowing the backs to be hit before they get to the line of scrimmage. The second problem is leakage around the edge. The TEs are receivers more than blockers. In the Dallas game the OLB got to the runner off the edge by pushing past the TE. Those problems are not the kind of thing you can solve in a week.

The D has been solid all year ranking 6th in yards and 10th in scoring D. After holding the Bengals to 10 points in week 14, the D had a pair of bad games allowing 26 and 36 in consecutive weeks in losses to the Panthers and Bears. But they turned it on again and have allowed just 10 total points to the Giants in week 17 and to the Cowboys last week in the Divisional round. The Cowboys were one of the best offenses in the league. The Boys scored just a field goal against the Vikes D. The key to the D is the line. The Williams boys at DT are the best pair in the league. They crush the run and push the O line back into the QB. The DEs Edwards and Allen are as good as any pair in the league. The D has 48 sacks, 23 fumbles forced and 11 picks this year. The D does have injuries as well. Pat Williams and Edwards are both questionable with injuries. The Vikes need both to slow down a great Saint O. CB Sapp is also questionable.

The key to this game may be if the Vike LB can drop off enough to clog the seams and prevent the quick seam pass. The Saints live off of quick passes to the short seam and run after the catch. No catch no RAC.

Saints

The Saints have the top O in the league. They are 1st in yards and points, 4th in passing yards and 6th in rushing. QB Brees is as good a QB as there is in the league. He is under the radar because this is the first time in a while that the team has made it this far. The Saints have 3 WRs, a TE and a RB that each have more than 40 catches. Brees’ favorite receiver is whoever is open. WRs Colston (70 catches) Henderson (51) and Meacham (45) are all dangerous. TE Shockey (48) stretches the D down the middle and RB Bush (47). Bush is perhaps more dangerous as a receiver than a runner. He can take a 1 yard pass out of the backfield and take it to the house. Shockey is questionable as is pro bowl C Goodwin. If Goodwin can’t go it would be a problem for the O. His replacement Leckey struggles to handle big active DTs.

The team has 3 RBs with more than 300 yards. Bush (390, 5.6 average) is Mr. Outside and RB Thomas (793, 5.4) is Mr. Inside. RB Bell (654) can do both. The O line has done a good job blocking the run and the pass. Every lineman can get outside to block the sweep and screen.

The D has been as good as necessary but that is all. They rank 20th in points allowed, 25th in yards, 26th in passing yards and 21st in rushing yards. The D depends on the O to score more points. The loss of DE Grant early in the year hurt the pass rush. DE Smith gets double teamed often. The one weapon the Saints have in the DB is S Sharper. He is a ball magnet and played with Favre in Green Bay. Farve must know where Sharper is. MLB Vilma heads up the second line of defense. If the Vikes can take advantage of a below average Saint D, they can win.

The Bottom line: The Saints are the 3.5 point favorites with an over/under of 52. The Vikes have and outstanding D and an O the equal of the Saints. Despite their D, I think the Saints win but I am not willing to put my money on that. If the game was in Minnesota, I would probably pick the Vikes. I would bet the over as the only pick here.

Your fantasy football doesn’t have to be over. Run a pro football franchise all year long for free at . Tell them Coach Smith sent you.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He is a regular contributor on Cleveland Sports Radio http://www.sportstalkcleveland.com/ Monday morning at 11. He has also published several novels on

and edits .

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What to look for in the BcS Championship game.

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bcsX

#1 Alabama

This is the year that Bama needs to win it all. They have 14 senior player that will be given serious consideration in the 2010 NFL draft 9 of whom should be drafted. They have as always some nice underclass talent but with that many guys leaving, a number of the key juniors will likely declare for the draft as well. They can not replace that many front line guys without taking a step back next season. This is their best chance to win the big prize.

Bama O

Bama can throw the ball but make no mistake about it—They need to run the ball to win. RB Ingram (So.) won the Heisman trophy and is outstanding. He has great vision and a very quick first step. He has decent speed and very seldom goes down at first contact. He is patent and uses blocks as well as any back in college. Those qualities are not developed. You either have them or you don’t. He is a good receiver and gets to the edge on screens often. He has 30 catches this year for an average of 10.2 yards which is a lot higher than most RBs.

QB McElroy has a passer rating of 142 but that is a little misleading. He has taken advantage of Ds that played 46 guys at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. He has thrown 17 TDs and has had just 4 picks. He throws a catchable ball with accuracy. He does not throw well under pressure and that could be a problem against Texas.

The Tide has good but not excellent receivers. Soph WRs Jones and Maze are the stars. Jones (6-4) is the big guy over the middle and has 42 catches and 4 TDs. Maze (5-10) is the speed guy with 30 catches for a 17 yard average and 2 TDs. TE Peek (3rd round) is a combo end with the ability to catch and block for the run. He has 26 catches and 3 TDs.

The O line is outstanding. It is led by All American Johnson (2nd) and Davis (6th). The team run blocks as well as any O line in recent years. They pass block well but were recruited to block the run.

Bama D

The D that stopped Florida is led by 2 All Americans (AA)—Butkus winner LB McClain (Jr.) and S Arenas (2nd). Arenas and SS Woodall (3rd) give the Tide the best pair of safeties in college. McClain was suffering from stomach problems but he is fine now. DT Cody (top 20 1st round) anchors the D line. He is the 4th rated DT in the draft. He fights through double teams to create havoc in the O backfield.

The D stuffs the run and lets the back line make up for any mistakes covering receivers. Given the quality of the back line, that has worked well. But against Texas, they are going to have to be more concerned about getting pressure on the QB and stopping the pass.

Texas

Texas will go as far as AA QB McCoy (1st) takes them. The team has depended more on his arm than on the run and the D put together.

Texas O

McCoy came back this year to win a championship. Texas was 18th in passing but 55th in rushing on O. McCoy has thrown for 3512 yards with 27 TDs and 12 picks. Because the running game has under produced, this year McCoy has taken more chances throwing the ball into coverage than he did last year. That accounted for more picks this year.

McCoy had more rushing attempts than leading RB Newton. Newton averaged 5 yards per carry on 102 attempts. AA second team WR Shipley (late 1 early 2) is by far the leading receiver with 106 catches and 11 TDs. The next highest is WR Williams (So.) with 38.

The O line is led by AA C Hall (4th), OT Ulatoski (3rd) and late round prospect G Tanner. The line pass blocks very well. They have not been as successful run blocking. This year the running game has not been up to usual Texas standards. When they have had a close game, they have struggled to close out the game by running.

Texas D

The Texas D may be the most under rated part of this game. The D held Oklahoma to 13, and T exas Tech to 24. They also saved the year for the Horns by keeping Nebraska to 12 points when the O struggled big time. The key to the team on D is the line. DT Houston (2nd) is the key along with DEs Jones and Acho who are both juniors. Houston keeps at least 2 OL guys busy and that frees up the LBs to attack the ball. OB Kindle (1st) is a force rushing the passer or stopping the run. He is also dangerous in pass coverage. His running mates Norton (late or FA) and Muckelroy (2nd) are returning starters and are under appreciated.

The D backfield is good but not great. CB Beasley (FA) is the bell cow but all 4 starters returned this year.

Prediction

I expect a low scoring game. I don’t see either team exploding offensively. The over/under is 45 and the under is the best bet. The line is Bama by 4. I expect them to win but it may be closer than that.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .

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