NFL conference championships open thread

Jazz: I’m still stuck in the .500 rut. My post season went to 4-4 last week when the game I wanted to be right about (the Seahawks match) went south, and the game I wanted to be wrong about (the Steelers) went the way I predicted. At this point, with both the Jets and the Steelers gone I have nothing left to live for in the NFL but my bitter, undying hatred of the Patriots. In any event, let’s see how things go on these last, staggering steps toward the Superbowl.

Ed: I too went .500 last week, so I have landed in the championship round at 5-3 and a decent chance of a winning percentage in the playoffs. I have to say goodbye to the Steelers, though, who played a far better game against Denver than they did against Cincinnati (and classier, too), but came up short when Peyton Manning finally got hot late in the game. The Seahawks put on a great second half, reminiscent of the Panthers’ near fade against the Giants earlier in the season, but just ran out of time.  Fortunately, we’re not out of time on this great season, and today we will get the answers to who gets to play in the 50th Super Bowl, and who gets to watch it from home.

Jazz: The aforementioned, gods forsaken Patriots travel to Denver to play the Broncos. (3:05 pm CBS) New England is a three point favorite and they’ve clearly earned their shot at the big game, as much as it pains me to say it. But the Broncos looked very good last week and writing off that team at home is a mistake. I may be perpetuating the Jazz Curse here, but I’m going to put my chips on Denver’s side and take the home field advantage, sending Tom Brady and company home for the season, 34-21 in a stunning knockout.

Ed: I can’t deny that I’ll be rooting for Denver in this game. I’d love to see Peyton Manning make it back for one more Super Bowl before he retires, because that is almost certainly coming up soon. Denver has the better defense, and showed it last week, but the Patriots gave up only 1.2 more points per game than Denver did in the regular season. New England’s offense scored seven more points a game than did Denver’s in the regular season. With all of their offense getting back to the field (or enough of it to matter), the Patriots should be able to send the Broncos to the couch with a 24-17 nailbiter. I hope I’m wrong, but … it’s tough to pick against the Pats now, even on the road.

Jazz: The Arizona Cardinals travel to face off with the almost undefeated Panthers in Carolina. (6:40 pm, FOX) Carson Palmer vs. Cam Newton is almost a Clash of the Titans at this point and the weaknesses of both teams are too minor to mention. But the Panthers have come through the post season with a few more injuries in key positions than their opponents. They have pickup free agent Cortland Finnegan on the corner and some iffy safety coverage. It will probably all come down to the pass defense for this matchup and Carson Palmer can take advantage of that. I’m going to go against the grain here take the minor upset with Arizona ending the Panthers’ dream run in an air war shootout, 37-28.

Ed: This game pits the top two scoring offenses in the league, in a game buried in Winter Storm Jonas. In points allowed, Carolina and Arizona are just as closely matched, with the Panthers getting a 0.3-point edge in points per game allowed. The key for Arizona will be to hold the Panthers’ offense down in the first half and to keep the game close at the half. Carolina is not a good second-half team, and an explosive offense can wear down their defense quickly. The ground in Carolina plays into that strategy, too — neither team is a cold-weather team, but the soggy surface will slow down Cam Newton more than the Cardinals. I’m also going to pick Arizona on the road for a win, but with a lower score — 28-24.