Twenty eight million viewers remained sated after two college semi-final matches had come and gone. Will the numbers pop even more for a national title true champion this coming Monday night? It is an outstanding match-up that will not feature the teams that a BCS type of scenario, or regular bowl tie-ins prior to the BCS, would have given us. Oregon vs. Ohio State for the undisputed title, and it could be one of the best title games ever. Of course, it’s a short list as most championship (or bowl type championship) games are closer to Alabama vs. Notre Dame finishes than Auburn vs. Oregon, both within the past five years. That stated, we have had close outcomes recently, and I think this one will be of that ilk.
I believe key to the game is Oregon’s tempo, and if they can push it full throttle like they desire to, or if Ohio State can manage that, by sustaining long drives when they have the ball, and forcing Oregon to manage long drives of their own. The Ducks lone loss came when an athletic team (Arizona) could apply sustained pressure to Marcus Mariota resulting in sacks and negative plays, either in yardage or turnovers. Teams can get to Mariota, but if you don’t bring him down, he extends the play and burns you (and he rarely turns the ball over). Ohio State has a good front seven and corners that are solid tacklers, which should keep the screen and horizontal passing game somewhat in check. The problem tends to be when Oregon’s snowball starts, they score three TD’s in a couple minutes and you go from up 3 to down 18 or 20 before you know what hit you. Ohio State will not be fazed if they fall behind, but I don’t think they want the full shootout type of contest, moving into the 40’s or 50’s on the scoreboard. They can handle this one in the 30’s, if they keep it there. This is new territory for Mark Helfrich, though I believe he’ll be fine. Urban Meyer is another beast, though, as he is 8-2 in bowls and 2-0 in national title games. Major advantage there if this one is close late, which I think it will be. If OSU can run the ball and maintain those long drives, I think they control this game, and win by a TD late. However, if the tempo pushes (OSU can push the temp offensively, but I think that lends to wearing their defense down over the entire course of the game; remember FSU in the Rose anybody?), Oregon is poised for that moment when they really seize control. This feels like a “last possession to win or lose” type of game. I think whoever wins the first few minutes and last minutes of each half wins the game. My pick is Oregon by a field goal, but I would not be shocked at all if Ohio State wins this game outright. I’m only .500 with bowl picks this year (my worst pick percentage ever), so I really need this one to finish with a winning percentage.
Moving to the big boys, we’ll start with the NFC:
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks
There will be an earthquake test done during this game, and it may or may not have anything to do with the noise emanating from the stadium. The Seahawks are playing their best football at the best time and have a tremendous home field advantage. The Panthers have an awesome defense and “D” always travels, so they should be in this game. Cam Newton is talented at QB and makes some big plays, but can be turnover prone and make some mistakes. The opposite is said of Russell Wilson, who also is big play prone but is smart with the football and rarely makes back-breaking mistakes. I expect this game to be close throughout and Newton to make mistakes in the fourth quarter which either opens the door for Seattle to win, or seals the victory for the home Hawks.
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers
This one has high entertainment value written all over it. Both teams have prolific offenses, and decent, but not great defenses. There is more star power on Green Bay’s “D” and most interesting might be that this is a first time ever scenario in an undefeated home team hosting an undefeated road team. The big question is Aaron Rodger’s injury and not if he’ll play, but how well he can and will play. I expect Dallas to dial up a lot of pressure in an effort to hit Rodgers a lot and disorient him, even get him knocked down and out, if possible. Eddie Lacy running well could help off-set that. Dallas showed good moxie last week, regardless of the blown flag pick-up debacle, to come back after laying early stink against Detroit. I love everything about Green Bay at home, but this feels like the kind of game that this Dallas team will just find a way to steal. I take the Cowboys with a late score to win.
Onto the AFC ballgames:
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
It’s funny how one team can just seemingly have the “number” of another team. Everybody seems to think that is Baltimore on the road against New England, but that’s simply because really nobody else beats the Patriots at home in crucial situations. Baltimore has done that twice in the past six years, though one game was solely won by the Ravens defense as Flacco threw for a whopping 34 yards in the win (2009-2010 season). New England bested the Ravens by a field goal three years ago, and the Ravens got the win en route to the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco already has seven road playoff wins which is two more than any QB ever, which seems to indicate that this team just manages to get by all season long and then wins the important games. That’s probably true, but I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. Baltimore is good but New England is much better, and I think hungry to fully re-establish themselves as the big dog. The Pats assert themselves as Brady blows up with a bid day and that Pats win.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
This game simply does not appeal to me, though the storylines are making a lot of fans gush. Old regime vs. the new regime, both Colts one-time QB’s, blah blah blah. Manning is fading and had a poor December, John Fox fades in the post-season, and a million other maybes. How about this important factor? Indianapolis’ defense is not very good, they are average on the road, and Andrew Luck has never (yet) won a road playoff game. This is close early, but Denver manages the entire game and wins with little trouble.