Okay, I’ve put this off long enough.  The conference finals are upon us and I’ve got to make my predictions.  Shouldn’t be a problem, right?  RIIIIIIGHT!  ( A little Dr. Evil humor there!!)

In recent years, it hasn’t been too difficult to pick the two winners for these games.  Usually a team (or two) has risen above the others to become an obvious choice.  Not this year.  All four of the remaining teams have shown that they are fully capable of winning this week and punching their tickets to Indianapolis and the Super Bowl.

So how do you base your picks when the matchups are so even?  I had thought about flipping a coin, but decided against it.  It might be just as accurate, but you deserve a bit more thought and analysis on my part, so here goes. 

Let’s start with the AFC.  Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots – I’ve been hearing opinions all week that were based solely on last week’s performances, which should be considered but should not be the only criteria for picking this week’s winner.

First, Baltimore struggled to score in their matchup with Houston.  Flacco had some picture perfect passes (just ask “Q”), but also had some cold streaks where he looked unstable.  However, let’s remember that he was facing one of the best defenses in the league in the Houston Texans, so it’s not like he had all day in the pocket.  He was under pressure all day long.

The main reason the Ravens beat the Texans was their own defense.  Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs led one of the most physical, aggressive and down-right scary defensive units in the league.  The very legitimate Houston offense just couldn’t get anything going last week, and the Ravens’ “D” was the reason why.

Meanwhile, New England was dissecting the Denver team like an evil (I know, I know) biology experiment.  In the first half, Brady’s gang could do no wrong, as he threw for five TDs and a 35-7 halftime lead.

On the other side of the ball, their defense was superb, completely shutting down the Broncos offense.  Tebow had no chance, as the Patriots coaching staff put together a great game plan and the players executed it flawlessly.

But let’s not get too caught up in this victory.  It was against an inferior team that simply had no answer to anything the Patriots threw at them.  I believe that, had the Ravens had the good fortune of facing the Broncos last week, the score would have been just as lopsided and probably would have been a shutout!

So let’s talk about this week’s matchup. New England has a superior offense and a mediocre defense that looked very good against an inferior opponent.  This week, they don’t have that luxury, as a Baltimore team comes to town with a superior defense and a very capable offense, with a handful of good receivers and a Pro Bowl caliber running back.

Since I had picked Baltimore to reach the Super Bowl more than two weeks ago, I really want to build the argument that they’re a shoe-in to win this week.  The problem is, I can’t do it with a straight face.

I believe the key to this game will be the Ravens offensive line.  If they can protect Flacco and give him five seconds to find a receiver, Baltimore walks away the winner, because this would open up the lanes for Ray Rice.  As a result, the Ravens would control the ball and keep Brady off the field.

If the Patriots can contain Rice and keep pressure on Flacco, New England walks away the winner because the Brady bunch would have that many more opportunities to score.

Ultimately, I’ve got to believe that the home team will prevail in a hard fought battle.  New England wins 27-23.

Now for the NFC.  N.Y. Giants at San Francisco 49ers – Both teams are coming off big wins over teams with powerhouse offenses and below average (okay…BAD) defenses.  So that should make this even, right?  You might be surprised by my take on this, but I think last week’s games showed one of these teams to be far superior to the other.

Let’s look at last week’s games.  The 49ers came out and physically took it to the high powered Saints, causing several turnovers at key moments.  It helped them build an early 17-0 lead and allowed them to hold off the furious comeback attempt by New Orleans.

The 49ers defense was spectacular during the first three quarters.  This is why they won the game, in spite of the offense.  The New Orleans turnovers allowed everyone to ignore the fact that the 49ers offense struggled throughout the game against a very inferior defense.  They should have had a 28 point lead after all of those turnovers, but only managed 17 points.

Now give them credit.  They matched the Saints offense, punch for punch, in the 4th quarter, but this game should not have been close at that point.

Meanwhile, the Giants were busy destroying the Packers (another weak defense) and actually beat them worse than the 37-20 score indicated.  Their offensive line allowed Eli all the time in the world to find a receiver, which he did often.

The Giants defense looked very physical and came up with big plays all day.  They held the Packers running back corp to 81 total yards on the ground, and 48 of those came in two plays.  The combination of good coverage and Packers receiver’s brick hands forced Aaron Rodgers to run often.  The result was one of the lowest QB rankings in Rodger’s career.

The key to this game is the going to be the Giants offensive line.  If they allow Bradshaw and Jacobs to establish the run game, it’s all over for the 49ers because that will take pressure off Manning.  And right now he’s playing better than ever, so he’ll pick San Francisco apart.  If the Giants can contain the 49ers running game and force Alex Smith to beat them, the game won’t be close.  The Giants secondary will see to that.

I think this game will start slow, like a couple of heavyweight boxers feeling each other out.  However, the Giants will come out of the locker room after halftime and control the ball enough to pull away.  N.Y. Giants win 24-16.

Well, there you go.  You’ve got the low down on both games and you now know who will make it to the Super Bowl.  No need to waste your Sunday watching football.

Well, you may want to watch anyway…just in case!!



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