Conference Championship Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEWS

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Championship Weekend is here!

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will start off the festivities today with a veritable explosion of college and pro basketball MONSTER releases. The money we win today can be reinvested Sunday when our top release so far in the NFL postseason highlights the Conference Championship doubleheader. Maybe it will come in the NY Jets/Indianapolis game Sunday afternoon. Maybe it will come in the Minnesota/New Orleans matchup early Sunday evening. Rest assured, you'll get big play releases in BOTH games that will make Championship Weekend 2010 one of your most memorable ever.

Today we'll run our statistical previews for the big games. You regulars know we focus on DRIVE POINTS scored and allowed per game (from drives of 60 yards or more), turnover differential, and strength of schedule. We use regular season performance in our playoff previews to make sure everyone's on the same playing field. Sixteen games, eight on the road, eight at home. We'll add in some notes from the playoffs when relevant. There of the four remaining teams have only played once in the postseason (at home), so the regular season sample size is more relevant anyway.

Once we've gone through the two previews, we'll talk about some college hoops matchups that are getting serious attention from us today. It's TWO DAYS of non-stop action. WHAT A WEEKEND!

Let's start with the early kick in Indy...

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
NY Jets: 10.5 on offense, 7.1 on defense, +1 TO's, 8th schedule
Indianapolis: 18.3 on offense, 9.1 on defense, +2 TO's, 23rd schedule
Las Vegas Spread: Indianapolis by 8, total of 39.5
Notebook: Both teams have strong defenses. The NY Jets are fantastic on that side of the ball, and that's been well-publicized. Indy has been stronger than people realize. Everyone remembers a few high scoring TV shootouts from the regular season. Over 16 games, Indy still kept opponents under double digits on average even with those TV shootouts in the mix. The Colts reminded everyone last week how great they can play defensively when fresh, rested, and healthy. Baltimore scored just three points on 270 yards..losing the ball four times in the process. Indy won DRIVE POINT scoring 14-3 in that, compared to the 14-7 deficit the Jets suffered at San Diego.

The Jets will have to hope their recent modus operandi will still hold up. Try to run clock. Try to make big plays defensively. Hope to bust a big play offensively on a surprise pass or a busted run up the middle. Win a low scoring game and get out of town! Can they do that at Indy?

It's an approach that can work against anybody, or one that can backfire and explode in your face if it doesn't control the flow of the game. New York has made it work in two playoff victories. Baltimore is a very similar team though (second year QB instead of rookie), and they lost 20-3 on this field last week and never seemed like a threat to win. If the QB has to win the game because the point of attack has been shut down, that leads to turnovers and field position woes.

Jets/Ravens similarities last week:
Total Yardage: Ravens 270, Jets 262
Third Downs: Ravens 38%, Jets 37%
Rushing Yards Allowed: Ravens 42, Jets 61
Passing Line Allowed: Ravens 30-44-1-233, Jets 27-40-2-283

Their offenses struggled in similar fashion in terms of overall volume. Their defenses against the run were stellar, and were adequate against the pass considering the high number of times Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers threw the ball.

Jets/Ravens differences last week:
Rushing Yardage: Ravens 87, Jets 169
Turnovers: Ravens 4, Jets 1
Points Scored: Ravens 3, Jets 17
Result: Ravens lost by 17, Jets won by 3

That sets things up very simply. If the Jets can get the ball moving on the ground and avoid turnovers, they will be in position to win a defensive struggle. If they can't, Mark Sanchez will probably have some interception issues...and the Jets will have trouble even staying in the game. Sunday's AFC Championship showdown will be a replay of one of those two games!

We do want to note that these teams met on this field a few weeks ago. That was the famous game where Indy pulled its starters with a 15-10 lead. The Jets would go onto beat the Indy backups, then win their way to this rematch. What's important to remember from that afternoon is that Indy really led 15-3 in terms of offenses vs. defenses. The Jets had a kickoff return to get close. Peyton Manning was having a nice, if not spectacular day. New York wasn't doing anything offensively until the Colts backups were on the field.

THAT suggests a replay of Indy/Baltimore. But, you know what? The Jets have a way of wearing you down over 60 minutes. They trailed San Diego at the half last week before winning the final two quarters 17-7. If the Jets win the second half again here, they'll likely be in position to cover that high spread of +8.

We can't give you NETWORK'S official selection here in the NOTEBOOK. That information is for paying customers. We can tell you we expect a comfortable cover margin. There's a good chance the final result will miss the spread by double digits.

In the late game...

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
Minnesota: 17.5 on offense, 10.3 on defense, +6 TO's, 30th schedule
New Orleans: 19.4 on offense, 12.8 on defense, +11 TO's, 22nd schedule
Las Vegas Spread: New Orleans by 3.5, total of 52.5
Notebook: We have very similar teams here. Both have great quarterbacks. Both have defenses who know how to pressure the other side in shootouts. Both looked to have peaked several weeks ago before limping home. Both made good use of their bye weeks to get rested for Divisional Round blowouts. Heck, both play in domes. Both are trying to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history. There are probably 50 of them!

What do the numbers above suggest? They suggest the Saints are the slightly better side. Though New Orleans is +6.8 in DRIVE POINT differential, compared to +7.2 for Minnesota, they played a tougher schedule....and they forced more turnovers. When you adjust for that...the Saints come out slightly on top. Give them three points for home field, and you can see why Vegas has the spread where it does.

Does that mean we're passing the game? Hardly!

We have good indicators suggesting a surprisingly one-sided cover. As in the opener, we wouldn't be surprised if the winner gets the money by more than a TD, or even by double digits. It's going to be one of these two scenarios:

*New Orleans AT ITS BEST faces the Minnesota team that FLOUNDERED on the road against Arizona, Carolina, and Chicago.

You remember those games for the Vikings. All were big TV affairs. All were disasters. All came on the road. All were the result of Brett Favre not getting enough time to throw the ball. Minnesota didn't look at a playoff team in any of those games, and were badly outclassed by Arizona and Carolina squads who were basically playoff caliber (Carolina closed strong), but not championship caliber. New Orleans runs away and hides from teams who can't protect their quarterback. That's where the +11 in turnovers came from this year. That's how they scored 35 in a half against the Cardinals last week.

*Minnesota uses its RUNNING GAME to re-create the UPSETS on this field scored by Dallas and Tampa Bay against a SOFT New Orleans underbelly.

New Orleans looks unstoppable when things are clicking, but surprisingly mortal when opponents are controlling the tempo of the game by running the ball and keeping Drew Brees from finding an early rhythm. Can Minnesota keep them from clicking by ruining their rhythm? If Brett Favre can handle Adrian Peterson being the star of the game rather than himself...the Vikings can easily replicate what Dallas and Tampa Bay pulled off in the SuperDome.

The Vikings scored 34 points against Dallas last week in a game where Favre only threw 24 passes. That gives them clear hope tomorrow in the Big Easy.

We're set for a very interesting NFL weekend needless to say...and two weeks away from a Super Bowl that will have a very interesting storyline no matter which two teams survive tomorrow.

Call 1-800-323-4453 right now to sign up for CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND! Build your bankroll with some BASKETBALL BLOCKBUSTERS on the Saturday card. Games we're devoting extra attention to because we know how much our clients love watching themselves win on TV:

Michigan State at Minnesota an CBS
Villanova at St. John's on ESPN
Kansas at Iowa State on ESPN
Ohio State at West Virginia on CBS
Michigan at Purdue on ESPN
Texas at Connecticut on CBS
Duke at Clemson on ESPN

Those last two games in particular are MUST-SEE games this afternoon and this evening. Don't be surprised if one or both show up in this week's TV EXTRAVAGANZA!

Game day releases and packages can be purchased here at the website with your credit card. Some fans prefer to take care of business over the internet. We're here to serve whichever your preference.

This CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND could go down as one of the most memorable in league history. As we've been telling you for years, WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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