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December 06, 2001

The Bandwagon stops here
By Dan Patrick

Conference championship weekend has not produced two good games since 1987. That year, both games were decided by less than seven points. But we may get two good ones this weekend.

Cris Carter
Cris Carter could be ready to call it a career.

Vikings at Giants

I like to compare units, if you know what I mean. Which team has the best single unit is a good way to look at a football game. Will that part of the squad dominate the game? How will one team's strength play against the opposing unit on the other team is another way to look at football. In this game, you have the clear strengths--Viking offense and Giant defense--facing off. The Vikings win that match up.

Cris Carter will get eight to ten catches. Randy Moss will make a couple of big plays. And if Robert Smith does any damage, it will be as a receiver. The first team to 24 will win and it should be the Vikings.

The Giants may be forced to come from behind in this game. They may have to ask QB Kerry Collins to win this game for them rather than not lose it. The Vikings do have a suspect defense, but I doubt the Giants' ability to mount a comeback.

So I like the Vikings here, though it may come down to a field goal. Which would give Gary Anderson his redemption from the last time the Vikings played in the NFC title game.

Ravens at Raiders

If this game was in Baltimore, I would go with the Ravens. But Oakland Coliseum is a massive home field advantage. The Raiders are the most underrated team left in the playoffs and probably the best. When they pasted the Jets and Dolphins -- by the scores of 31-7 and 27-0, respectively -- I was impressed.

That sound you hear is me jumping off the Ravens bandwagon. I don't feel that bad about it. I jumped on in August after all.
The Ravens may need a score from Jermaine Lewis on special teams. And they may need a couple of turnovers and maybe even a score from their defense. I know it is easy to dismiss the Raven offense. Trent Dilfer scares no one. The Ravens defense and special teams, however, really take care of field position for the offense. And every little thing helps on the road. Jamal Lewis is a tough back and if he gets 25 carries, the Ravens will be in it until the end. And don't expect a small game out of former Denver Bronco Shannon Sharpe. He has won many road games against the Raiders.

This game will probably come down to the Raven offense and the Raider defense. Don't forget those Jet and Dolphin victories. And don't forget that the Ravens led the league in "three and out". If the Raiders offense can mount a long scoring drive or two, the Ravens defense could tire at the end.

I like the Raiders 23-17. That sound you hear is me jumping off the Ravens bandwagon. I don't feel that bad about it. I jumped on in August after all. But the fantasy of August must give way to the reality of January. And the reality is that the game is in Oakland. That's the difference here.

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