FR: Conference championships

Here is our Football Relativity comparison of the 4 conference-championship teams. Note that these teams fell between the 9 and 1 levels in the Divisional round comparison of all teams. We leave some levels blank to show the gap between teams. We’ll make actual picks of the conference championship games Friday.

And as we post it, we pause to say thanks to Martin Luther King. May we all embrace his legacy by finding ways to bring justice and help to someone today – whether in Haiti or next door. People today also need to be able to say “Free at last,” and we specifically pray for that kind of freedom today.

10 – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts threw off the bye-week monkey of their recent history with a solid 20-3 victory over the Ravens. The Colts’ offense wasn’t great against a relentless Ravens D, but it made enough plays to get the job done. The Colts defense, meanwhile, clamped down on Joe Flacco and held Ray Rice in check. If the Colts D plays like this, they’re a dangerous team. Remember that during the Colts’ Super Bowl run a few years ago, they had a so-so defense in the regular season that stepped up in the postseason. Could that be happening again? And on offense, the Colts have a depth of targets they haven’t had since Brandon Stokely was in town. Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon have added tremendously to Indy’s offensive potency, and they make this offense even better than recent editions. This team looks to be clicking.

9 – New Orleans Saints – The Saints really needed the bye week to get guys like Reggie Bush and Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter rested and healthy. That made a huge difference, as the Saints O was back to its high-flying self and the D was able to beat down Kurt Warner and clamp down on his receivers. That led to a blowout victory that restores the Saints confidence and reinvigorates the Superdome crowd. It’ll be hard for anyone, even a dome team, to go into that building and win next week. Drew Brees continues to play at a high level to keep the team running, and Bush’s explosiveness added an X-factor to an already dangerous offense. The Saints looked like the team from the first half of the season on Saturday, and that’s a strong statement from a team that looks ready to make the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

8 – none

7 – Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings stumbled down the stretch, but like the Colts and the Saints they came back well from the bye week. Minnesota’s defensive line absolutely destroyed the Cowboys, to the point that I tweeted this: Rented mules must be looking at the Cowboys offensive line and saying, “Man, they’re getting rough treatment today”. That performance by Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Jimmy Kennedy, and top star of the game Ray Edwards (three sacks plus a tackle for loss) was the difference in the game. Minnesota’s offensive line, which struggled down the stretch, did a good enough job of stopping the prolific Dallas pass rush to give Brett Favre time to throw. And regardless of the sportsmanship of Favre’s final touchdown pass, his performance was strong. The run game is still sputtering more than the Vikes would prefer, and I’m skeptical about whether Favre can keep up with Brees and the Saints in a shootout, but the Vikings are a real threat if they can generate this kind of pressure again next week.

6 – none

5 – none

4 – none

3 – none

2 – none

1 – New York Jets – Maybe we’re completely wrong on the Jets, who went on the road for the second straight week and help an opponent to 14 points. Maybe rookie Mark Sanchez has the kind of personality that allows him to thrive under pressure despite his inexperience. Maybe the Jets will continue to put the whammy on opposing kickers (who are 0-for-5 against them in the playoffs thus far). Maybe losing Kris Jenkins at nose tackle won’t cost them in the long term. Maybe their blitz will get to Peyton Manning and force him into the kinds of mistakes that the Ravens forced too infrequently. But the Jets don’t have nearly the skill-position weapons of the other remaining playoff teams, even with the emergence of Shonn Greene. Their defense is terrific – it held the Chargers under 20 points for the first time this season – but can they do that against Peyton Manning? For some reason, this team reminds me of last year’s Baltimore team, which rode a rookie quarterback to the AFC championship game but didn’t have the firepower to get into the Super Bowl. There’s still a big gap between the Jets and the rest of the final 4, and that doesn’t bode well for them on Sunday.

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