A busy week, so I'll make these short and sweet. Last year was the eighth consecutive year in which the conference championship games split, with one home team winning and one visitor winning. Both road teams won in 1998, and both home teams won in 1997. Not sure what that all means, but my picks have the trend continuing.
New Orleans at Chicago -- The Bears' defense isn't the same without Tommie Harris, and Seattle exploited that by using Shaun Alexander to pound the ball straight up the middle. New Orleans has a similar weapon in Deuce McAllister. He wore the Eagles down with his power running and that helped make the sweeps of Reggie Bush and the passing of Drew Brees that much more effective. I think Chicago will be ready for that. The Bears corners can handle the Saints' stretch passing game, and that will allow the linebackers to key on the run. Chicago is one of the few teams that has the speed up front to keep Bush out of the secondary. On offense, Rex Grossman can't let the game get too big for him. He needs to use the dependable Thomas Jones and the resurgent Cedric Benson out of the backfield and take advantage of an older New Orleans secondary. There's certainly a chance that Grossman will completely melt down, but I'm betting that the cold weather disrupts the Saints' offense more than the big stage disrupts Rex. Bears 26, Saints 17
New England at Indianapolis -- Both teams won in unorthodox fashion on the road last week. Indy won for the second consecutive week with a strong defensive performance, to offset another shaky outing from Peyton Manning. Tom Brady was inconsistent and looked rattled at times, but when the Patriots needed a big throw, he provided it. I'm sure the Colts wish they could be facing a team other than their playoff nemesis, but given the choice of playing at home for the chance to go to the Super Bowl or taking to the road, I would imagine they'll take their chances in a loud RCA Dome. They have a few things going for them: their previous losses to the Patriots in the playoffs have been on the road, Indianapolis isn't facing the same high expectations as in past years, and the Colts have Adam Vinatieri on their side this time. Unfortunately, Vinatieri has only been the second-most-valuable Patriot in playoffs past. Brady still plays for New England, and he presents challenges Indy hasn't had to face yet with Trent Green and Steve McNair lined up under the opposing center. The Pats abandoned the run early against San Diego, but against a cover-two defense, you have to stick with a running game, and New England will. That will keep the Colts honest enough for Brady to have a big day. After last week, I can't pick against him. Patriots 34, Colts 31