Saints, Pats today's picks

Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The Saints have never before reached the NFC championship game. No team with a record as bad as the Saints' 3-13 last season had ever turned it around and made the conference championship game the next season. But here are the Saints, and their tailback, Deuce McAllister, said, "This may be destiny."

It may be many things, but two stand out:

1. Can the Bears' celebrated defense rise from the doldrums and handle McAllister, quarterback Drew Brees, all-around threat Reggie Bush and those dangerous receivers?

2. Which Rex Grossman will show up at quarterback for the Bears?

In the AFC, history favors the Patriots. They have won three of the last five Super Bowls, coach Bill Belichick is 13-2 in playoffs, and quarterback Tom Brady is 12-1. Peyton Manning, the Colts' quarterback, is 4-10 against the Patriots. In two playoff games this season, he has thrown one touchdown pass and five interceptions.

Or maybe history favors the Colts. They beat the Patriots 11 weeks ago when Brady threw four interceptions, and Brady threw three in getting by the Chargers last week.

Still, the Patriots have won five straight games, and they always come up with defensive innovations. They will need offensive fire because the Colts, who suffered on defense all season, have erupted into a defensive power.

In beating the Chiefs and the Ravens in the playoffs, the Colts made four interceptions and three fumble recoveries and allowed only one touchdown. In those games, they gave up only 3 of 22 third-down conversions. As linebacker Cato June said, "We're showing that all the stuff in the regular season doesn't matter."

The Colts will need to control the ball. The Patriots will need to shut down Manning. Whoever wins will be the Super Bowl favorite.

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