PEWTERREPORT.COM STAFF STANDINGS

Scott Reynolds
164-100

Jim Flynn
154-110

Hugh MacArthur
145-119

LAST WEEK

Jim Flynn
3-1

Hugh MacArthur
3-1

Scott Reynolds
2-2

New Orleans at Chicago (Sunday 3:00 PM ET)

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MacArthur – It’s going to be cold and might even be snowing in Chicago on Sunday, right? The Saints play in a dome, so they should be decided dogs to a number one seed at home in the elements, right? Well, maybe, but the Bears have gone as far as they are going to go this season. The reinforcements have helped on defense, but it is clear this team still misses Tommie Harris and that the corner and safety play is not up to par. Seattle put up 24 points last week and Shaun Alexander had plenty of running room to pile up 109 yards. The worry for the Bears is that the Saints’ version of the West Coast offense is even more potent than Seattle’s. Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush will look to put up rushing numbers, and the match-ups suggest that they will succeed.  Drew Brees has a knack for finding the right receiver in the clutch, and the Saints don’t drop as many balls as the Seahawk receivers do. The Bears should be able to run the ball, but the Saint defense is underrated. Brian Westbrook ran circles around most teams this year, but Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson won’t be as elusive. In the end, the Bears will need to put the ball in Rex Grossman’s hands to win. It says here that he won’t do it two weeks in a row.  Jambalaya! New Orleans

Reynolds – Here’s what I like about the Saints offense – they have a nice one-two punch at running back with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, in addition to a diversified passing attack. McAllister is a chain-mover and a power runner. Bush attacks the flanks of defenses with his speed and is a threat in the passing game with a great set of hands. At wide receiver, rookie Marques Colston is a big target with great leaping ability. He’s dangerous on the outside downfield, winning most jump-ball situations. Speedster Devery Henderson can go deep and stretch the field vertically. Veteran Joe Horn is a smart possession receiver who picks up first downs and is dangerous on slants. The Bears have a similar setup with Bernard Berrian as the speedster, Rashied Davis as the first-down producer and veteran Mushin Muhammad as a physical receiver who out-battles defensive backs for the ball. Chicago also has a talented tandem of running backs with the speedy Thomas Jones and powerful Cedric Benson. But the Saints’ skills position players are better than the Bears, especially at quarterback where Drew Brees is clearly a superior passer over Chicago’s Rex Grossman. That gives New Orleans a decided edge. The Bears defense is quite good, and better than the Saints, and homefield advantage will make this game closer than it should be, but the Saints go marching in … to Miami for the Super Bowl. New Orleans

Flynn – Chicago’s defense had some trouble stopping Seattle’s offense last week, and the Saints are bringing a potent offensive attack to Chicago for the NFC Championship Game. Although its defense allowed 355 yards of total offense to Philadelphia, New Orleans will call up enough blitz packages to rattle Rex Grossman, and the Saints offense will move the chains by attacking Chicago’s run defense, which surrendered 127 yards vs. Seattle. The Saints have a nice one-two punch in Duece McAllister and Reggie Bush, and that, along with steady play from Drew Brees, will have the Saints marching to Miami for the Super Bowl. New Orleans

New England at Indianapolis (Sunday 6:30 ET)

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MacArthur – My friends, we have finally come to the penultimate game. As readers of this space know all too well, I have been saying since the beginning of the season that these Patriots are marching into history towards a fourth Super Bowl title in six years. The Colts are even chipping in three points to this party! Marty Schottenheimer couldn’t get past the Patriots to get to his first Super Bowl, and Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning won’t be able to either. Sure, the Colts defeated the Pats in Foxborough this year, 27-20.  However, the Patriots had five turnovers in that game and still lost by seven. Anybody think the Pats will be turning the ball over five times this week? These old foes know each other well, however, and it will definitely help Indy to play at home in the Dome … yeah, it will help about as much as it did San Diego to play at home last week. Manning has thrown one TD pass and five INTs during his last two playoff games vs. New England.  He’s playing much better now though, because this season in his two playoff games he’s thrown, um, one touchdown pass, and, uh, five INTs. Tom Terrific hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been good when he’s needed to be, and Brady will pounce at just the right time to send the Patriots to Miami. New England

Reynolds – By his standards, Tom Brady had a poor game last week at San Diego. Do you think that Brady will have two bad games in a row? Didn’t think so, but that’s the only way the Patriots will lose. I still don’t believe the Colts defense is fixed. I think they played inspired football in their last two games, but there’s still a smoke and mirrors element to it. If New England gets Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon cranked up early it could damage the psyche of Indianapolis and crush their will. The only way the Colts win this game is to shut down New England’s ground game and allow Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis do what they do best – rush the passer every down. You just have to wonder that the Patriots already won the AFC by beating the Chargers in San Diego last week. Did that win give them a sense of invincibility and make them unbeatable? Perhaps. All of the pressure is on Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, who have choked in the playoffs before. Will they play inspired or play scared? The Colts will be buoyed by the fact that they have former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri on their side, though. If it’s a close game, he could be the difference-maker. I think whoever has the lead by the end of the first quarter wins this game. Many times in the NFL the foundation for confidence is laid in the first quarter. I see the Patriots up 7-3 after the first 15 minutes. New England

Flynn – This game will be won or lost by Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning. He has the opportunity to get a few monkeys off of his back by defeating New England. He can show that he can beat the Patriots and get to a Super Bowl with a win on Sunday. His chances don’t get any better as Indianapolis is playing New England at home, where the Colts have posted a 9-0 record this season. Manning threw nine interceptions in 16 regular season games, but he’s struggling in the playoffs, having tossed five picks in two post-season games. Tom Brady and the Patriots, on the other hand, are a confident team heading into this contest. They just knocked off the 14-2 San Diego Chargers and have owned Indy in recent years. Tony Dungy also has the opportunity to get to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career. How will Dungy and Manning respond to the pressure? Their track record isn’t encouraging and suggests the Patriots will win this game, but I’m going out on a limb and sticking with my preseason pick of the Colts getting to the Super Bowl. Manning will have to play the game of his life to prove me right and his critics wrong. Indianapolis

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