Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Power Rankings - Conference Championship Breakdown

I am extremely impressed by Bruce Pearl. And it’s not just because of his penchant to pose with talented Volunteer fans. It’s not even because he once bought me a beer in the Gasthaus Bar in the union at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee right after he got the head coaching gig there (I was hanging out there with friends, I congratulated him on the job, and wished him luck and he bought me a beer, shook my hand and went back to his friends – very classy). He suspended 4 of his players after an incident involving guns, drugs and alcohol. He dismissed senior Tyler Smith, and has kept senior Brian Williams suspended indefinitely while recently reinstating Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum. While working with only 6 scholarship players and 3 walk-ons, Pearl rallied his troops for wins over then-top-ranked Kansas, Charlotte, Auburn & Mississippi (and they beat Alabama last night after Goins & Tatum returned). They’ve ascended to #8 in the rankings and are playing great.


Memo to Jim Calhoun (& it also applies to Urban Meyer): Put your ego in check and hang up the whistle. Your health and being there for your family are much more important than anything you do on the field or court. Calhoun just took a leave of absence from his UConn basketball team for medical reasons supposedly not related to his battle with cancer or past heart issues. Coaches always talk about being smart, teaching their players to be better people, and to think about their teammates. Well, coach, your family is your most important team. Be smart, step down and get healthy. Neither of you needs the money or the fame more than your kids need their fathers.


My official picks for the Conference Championship games this weekend won’t be made until Degenerate Friday, but it’s time to start breaking the games down. And since Wednesday used to be the day for Power Rankings of the NFL teams during the regular season, I figured the best way to analyze the games was to rank the different components of each team: Coaching, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Receivers, Defense, & Special Teams. Then we’ll total up the rankings for each team and determine who has the talent edge.


(1) Sean Payton, (2) Rex Ryan, (3) Jim Caldwell, (4) Brad Childress
It’s not the most distinguished group of coaches, with a total of 1 playoff win among them before this season (Sean Payton in 2006). Payton gets the nod because of his offensive creativity and the way Gregg Williams has transformed the Saints defense this year. Rex and his big talk have the Jets believing they are the best team in the league and that bravado has completely changed the attitude at their Jersey headquarters. Caldwell is untested, as we have no idea what to expect from him – he has Peyton Manning, so does he really need to do anything? And Brad Childress comes from the Andy Reid School of Choking, so there is no confidence there. If the NFC Championship Game is close at the end, expect to see Childress looking like Jim from American Pie when Shannon Elizabeth is taking care of herself: He has everything in front of him for a grand slam, but he has no idea what to do with it.


(1) Peyton Manning, (2) Brett Favre, (3) Drew Brees, (4) Mark Sanchez
Manning & Favre have combined for 2 Super Bowl titles and 7 league MVP awards. Brees has put up huge regular season numbers, and Sanchez is the rookie who has demonstrated tremendous poise thus far. If Favre can win the Super Bowl, he will be the only quarterback in history to win the Super Bowl with two different teams. If I have the ball, down 5 with two minutes left in the game, I want Manning under center for me – his intelligence, mastery of the offense and calm under pressure are as good as anyone since Joe Montana. Sanchez has played well in the playoffs, but you have to wonder how long he can keep it going. Sanchez is off to a Ryan Phillipe start to his career, with good movies - I Know What You Did Last Summer & Cruel Intentions, etc., tons of adulation, and he gets Reese Witherspoon. We'll see if he crashes back to earth like Phillipe, who hasn't been in a relevant movie since Flags of Our Fathers in 2006.


(1) Jets, (2) Colts, (3) Vikings, (4) Saints
Given that the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, you may be surprised to see the Vikings so low, but despite Peterson’s angry style of running, he fumbles too much and has been held in check for 8 consecutive games. It’s hard to say he’s overrated, because he rushed for 1,383 yards and scored 8 TDs. He’s more like Penelope Cruz, because when she’s in the right role, she’s able to put her assets to work. The Jets have the best rushing offense in the league. Thomas Jones has been the most underrated running back in the league for the past 5 years (5 straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards). And rookie Shonn Greene is a battering ram and might be the sturdiest runner left in the playoffs. While Addai is not as explosive as Reggie Bush, he’s more reliable between the tackles and also dangerous as a receiver – did you know that Addai scored 13 TDs this year and had over 1100 total yards?


(1) Colts, (2) Saints, (3) Vikings, (4) Jets
This might have been the easiest groups to rank because Reggie Wayne is the best receiver in the playoffs, and Dallas Clark is the best tight end still playing. Add in Pierre Garcon, who is dangerously fast and smart (as evidenced by his strip of Ed Reed last week) and you have the most dynamic group to go with the best quarterback. The Saints have a ton of solid weapons with three guys getting more than 700 yards receiving (Colston, Henderson & Meachem) and weapons like Shockey & Bush. The Vikings receivers have really blossomed receiving passes from Brett Favre as Sidney Rice exploded for over 1300 yards and 8 TDs, and Visanthe Shiancoe had 11 TDs himself. And that doesn’t take into account the dangerous Percy Harvin, who gets involved in receiving, rushing and the kick return game. The Jets are at the bottom of this group because their #1 receiver got called out by his own father for dropping too many passes. I think that’s all you need to know about that.


(1) Jets, (2) Vikings, (3) Colts, (4) Saints
This was another easy ranking, as the Jets have the best defense in the league, the Vikings have the 2nd best rush defense, the Saints are not above 20th in any defensive ranking, and the Colts are in the top ten for scoring defenses. It will be a great chess match between the Jets pressure and Peyton Manning. The Saints have given up a lot of points and a lot of yards, but they are opportunistic, and it will be interesting whether Favre can keep his “Inner Hulk” in check and take what is there.

Special Teams/Kicking

(1) Saints, (2) Vikings, (3) Colts, (4) Jets
The Saints return game with Reggie Bush earns them this top spot as he is a threat to take any kick to the house. The Vikings are highly rated for their reliable kicker in Ryan Longwell. The Colts have a reliable veteran kicker in Matt Stover and a solid return man in Chad Simpson. The Jets have an accurate kicker, but have missed Leon Washington’s dynamic return game for most of the season.

OVERALL TOTALS (Lower is Better):
Jets = 16
Colts = 13

Vikings = 16
Saints = 15

So what does this all mean? Probably nothing. While there is a lot of analysis to still be read and researched before plopping down a mortgage payment at the window, it looks like I’m leaning towards a Colts and Saints Super Bowl. Peyton goes to battle against the team his dad quarterbacked for many years. Then again, it doesn’t look like the gap between the Vikings and Saints is very big, so maybe we’ll have a matchup of two great quarterbacks trying to get their second title.

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