Carroll: Conference championships

Updated: January 16, 2007, 5:03 PM ET
By Will Carroll | ESPN.com
You can't ask for much more than what we got last weekend. Sunday's games went down to the last second -- or beyond. Saturday's games may not have been nail-biters, but no one will say that they didn't get their money's worth. Now we head into two more huge games with solid matchups. We have a rematch of heavyweight champs in the AFC and a great story versus a confusing team that will be defined largely by this one upcoming game in the NFC. The entire season comes down to translating talent into execution, since the talent level is essentially equal for most of these teams, though the distribution is certainly different. Once again, the difference may just be injuries, one way that talent is kept out of the equation. Most of these teams are healthy, part of the reason they're here. Let's get to it:

Bears: Thomas Jones looked healthy. The week off gave him just enough time to become a red zone threat. The split with Cedric Benson worked pretty well and for once, Lovie Smith and Ron Turner decided to use the run more to take pressure off Rex Grossman. Jones came out of the game relatively healthy. He still seems to have trouble with acceleration; note how he was better in the red zone because he would just steamroll in one direction rather than using his normal shifty style. Expect a similar split on Sunday in Chicago. The Bears' defense still missed Mike Brown, but has adjusted to the loss of Tommie Harris more easily. Watch how the linebackers are shifting to create run-hole mismatches. Grossman's good play on Sunday will make for a quieter week. There will be less Griese-watching. Instead, we'll be watching Mark Bradley and Rashied Davis, who both came out of the game a bit banged up. Davis is a role player who is likely to be used more strictly against the Saints, while Bradley never really got a role with the emergence of Bernard Berrian. All in all, the Bears shouldn't be too affected by injuries in their big game.

Saints: A winning season doesn't make up for all the problems in New Orleans, but maybe Sean Payton should be given the job at FEMA. The guy can rebuild quickly and it looks like what he has built is solid. This has to be one of the best drafts ever. Sure, Reggie Bush was a no-brainer, but Marques Colston fell to the seventh round after a terrible combine. I wonder what this team would be like if they'd just kept Zachary Hilton around. The Saints are likely to be without Joe Horn again. He'll try to go, but he's off the game plan and will be just an extra receiver if he plays. Horn is likely to hang 'em up after the season, but he's been a solid emotional leader and has contributed to the development of the young receiving corps. Reggie Bush got (say it with me) jacked up early in Sunday's game. He had a full de-cleating and looked to have bruised or broken ribs. The Saints deny any injury, but Bush had a thin flak jacket on in the second half, not something he normally wears. It didn't appear to affect him, but it will be interesting to see if he has it on when comes out for the game with the hard-hitting Bears.


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Will Carroll | email

ESPN Fantasy Games
Will Carroll writes two injury columns per week relating to fantasy football for ESPN.com. Carroll can also be seen on The Fantasy Show Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. He also writes baseball injury articles on www.baseballprospectus.com.

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