• Another Electrifying NFL Weekend? Pigskin Pundit’s Picks, Conference Championships

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    Surge Summary: Conference Championship contests coming up. Here are Pigskin Pundit’s picks.

    by Pigskin Pundit (Nate Clark)

    Last weekend was football as good as it gets.  Three underdogs won on the road, both conference leaders got eliminated, every game was decided on last second plays including one in OT, where the leadup saw 27 points scored in the last two minutes and the lead change hands with every possession.  You couldn’t make this stuff up, and no matter who you root for, it was outstanding football.

    I do have a few random observations.  I love James Brown on NFL Today.  JB’s a great host, affable, even-tempered and funny.  But the spray-on hair has got to go.  Looking at the incredibly crisp, sharp hairlines and jet-black shiny scalp catching the studio lights on Sunday, I kept looking for the Steelers logo on the side of that helmet.  It was that bad, and JB needs to come to grips with normal male hair loss and stop drawing our attention to it by the shoe polish method.  The man is a superb broadcaster – this just detracts from that.

    Roethlisberger has left the game, on his own terms and in the playoffs, so kudos to him.  I went back and watched highlights from his career this week, and was reminded how great a career he has had.  Hall of Fame, no question.  One of the best to ever do it.

    It appears Tom Brady will be joining him in the rocking chair section imminently…. but only after Brady sullied the most storied career in NFL history by bruising the tender emotions of referee Shawn Hochuli with sharp words of complaint, drawing his only Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty in 22 years as a pro.  Brady can be salty at times in the heat of competition, but Hochuli disgraced himself (and his legendary father by association) when he flagged Brady for grousing about a bleeding mouth, compliments of Von Miller’s helmet.  Hochuli Senior would have either laughed it off or granted the flag on the contact, but Junior is a Gen-Xer and they’re made of less stern stuff.  It’s a man’s game, Shawn.  Grow a set or take the stripes off.  You’ll be forever remembered as the sensitive wimp who tarnished the greatest career ever.

    Anyway, after a flawless Wildcard Week, I whiffed on every outcome of Division Week, LOL.  I’m sure I am in good company, as wagerers and pundits alike took a beating on upsets.  The game that really hurt was Bills-Chiefs, as twice I thought Buffalo locked it down in the waning seconds of the game on unbelievable heroics by Allen and Gabe Davis.  Why McDermott opted to let his kicker boot the kickoff into the endzone with 13 seconds left proves to me he is not ready for prime time yet.  The 2-3 seconds that ball traveled downfield kicked in bounds, combined with another 4-6 seconds at best that it would have taken to either get out of bounds or tackled, would have left Mahomes with time for one play – Hail Mary or nothing.  Pretty low odds against the Bills defense.  Instead, he had enough time to hit Kelce for a big gainer that put them in field goal range, and Buttkicker did what he does so well, setting up the OT victory for KC.  McDermott lost that game for his team, when he failed to read the situation and make a simple adjustment.  Games like this come down to little details like that.

    Anyway, here’s the picks.

    Bengals at Chiefs
    The ImprobaBengals have arrived at the Conference party early.  The addition of Ja’Marr Chase accelerated their burgeoning offense, but it is the Bengal defense that snuck up on people this year, getting much stouter in the second half of the season.  That defense broke Ryan Tannehill and stuffed King Henry, while most of us sat mouth agape watching Mike Vrabel’s top-seeded team buckle under.  Mixon didn’t have his best game.  Burrow didn’t have his best game.  Nor did Chase.  But they didn’t need to, as the sum total of their efforts produced a late field-goal victory by kicker McFearless, which is all they needed at the end.  This is a team with a LOT of grit…and their defense has really stepped it up.  Burrow got sacked NINE times, and his demeanor never changed.  Gotta love that.  Trey ‘Light’ Hendrickson has been voracious on QBs and running backs, bookended with Sam ‘Old Mother’ Hubbard and with Logan ‘Wolverine’ Wilson patrolling the middle.  Need to clamp down on a fast wideout?  Say it with Flowers, as Tre and Jalen Davis helped establish an orange-&-black no-fly zone.  This is NOT a team that’s dazzled by their own success and just happy to be here.  They are going to give the Chiefs all they can handle, having beaten them in Week 17.

    Here’s the problem.  The Chiefs are coached by three VERY good, experienced coaches, who learn and adjust from playing other teams more than once in a season.  Andy Reid is a certain Hall of Famer, Eric Bieniemy gets to cook up new plays for the most versatile offense in the league, and Steve Spagnuolo is the evil genius who delights in eviscerating the best-laid plans of opposing OC’s, and who has pulled together what was one of the league’s worst defenses at midseason into the AFC Championship game.  This man’s ingenuity has driven me crazy over the years, and I love and respect him for it.  The Chiefs are still rated as the 27th defense, but you wouldn’t think that after the last three weeks.  They are healthy, they are seasoned (last four AFC championship games, Super Bowl), and they are at home, where the decibel level is measured with a seismograph.

    It’s cliché to say that Patrick Mahomes is the most electrifying QB in the league.  It’s also completely true.  Tyreek is indeed a freak, as his meteoric run through Buffalo’s entire defense last week confirmed.  This guy has a gear that no other player in the NFL has, and if he gets into open space….just wave goodbye.  Kelce is a super-reliable target for must-have 3rd down catches, as well as a huge red zone threat.  Hell, he’s a huge threat anywhere on the field at any time.  If KC’s ground game bogs down, they’ll do something different.  They just adapt so well to every situation, and of course there is their record in late innings, when they seem to be at their most uncontainable.  Buffalo matched them blow for blow, but could NOT stop them.  This is their most dangerous quality, as the fewer ticks left on the clock, the more lethal they become.  I can’t ever remember a team being such a threat to pull ahead with two minutes or less on the clock, even the great Peyton Manning Colts teams, which did it often, or my own Patriots under Brady.  For this reason mainly, I am going with Kansas City.  I saw what they did to Buffalo last week, and while that game was there for the taking by the Bills (see my earlier comments), they left as losers.  So will the Bengals.

    Forty-Niners at Rams
    San Francisco has certainly made a name for themselves this season, rallying from a mediocre start to get hot at the right time, and now beating the best teams left in the NFC scrum.  The Packers still don’t know what hit them, as the sunny surfer boys of Frisco kicked Green Bay’s frozen butts at home in a snow storm.  San Fran is a very talented team, with weapons like Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Kyle Juszczyk, Li’l Nicky Bosa, not to mention how the 49ers struck Gould with Robbie.  Add to this the league’s third-best defense, and you have a very worthy contender.  The biggest question in everybody’s mind is whether ‘Glass Jimmy’ Garoppolo will throw a bad pick or two, handing the game’s outcome to the other team.  His decisions week to week are the stuff of tightly-clenched buttocks for Niners Nation, which may explain why their fans have shapelier figures, after all those glute crunches.  This team is very good, and worthy of being in this game.  If the ground game is as big a factor as it could be here, the field tilts towards northern California.

    The Rams have arrived…again.  This stacked team has underperformed in recent years, and now with Stafford hurling the pig, it looks more complete.  They boast the best defensive player in the league, and one of the top 2-3 cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey.  They have the top wideout in Cooper Kupp, which makes it quite a statement to say that your SECOND-tier receiver is Odell Beckham.  That’s like saying ‘My other car is a Ferrari also.’  Wretched excess – it wouldn’t be LA without it, just ask Randy Newman.  There really looms two big questions for the Rams.  First, will Stafford pull a Jimmy G and throw a bad pick or two?  If Bosa and Armstead get enough pressure on Staffie to drop his QB rating under 100, he might.  The other question is whether Trent Williams will be healthy enough to be a factor protecting Garoppolo.  If his ankle is still a liability….well, we know what Von Miller and Aaron Donald did to Tom Brady when Wirfs went out.  Both teams have been to Super Bowls in recent years, coming away empty.  I don’t put any stock in the Niners’ win record over LA, nor in the Shanahan dominance of McVay.  This is a new game, a clean slate, and McVay knows his reputation is on the line.  As the old joke goes, ‘What happens when the smog clears in southern California?…UCLA!’  Blue & Gold tops Red & Gold, by a nugget.

    Enjoy these amazing games!

    -PP

    The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge.

    Image: Adapted from: AlexanderJonesi – https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexanderjonesi/50645056777/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97167583


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