NFL CONFERENCE FINALS – NOT WHAT WE EXPECTED?

20Jan13

First of all, let’s acknowledge that last week’s divisional round lived up to expectations.  It was full of exciting, hard-hitting football with lots of big plays.

Okay, so I only picked two out of four games correctly.  I’m okay with that.  The two games I missed were both decided on the final play of the game.  (Not to mention they were handed over gift-wrapped to the victors!)  So I can’t feel too bad about missing them.

So let’s look at the final four teams.  As expected, New England and San Francisco are both here.  Not many people picked either of those teams to lose last week.

Even though Atlanta is the #1 seed in the NFC, not many people picked them to get past the red-hot Seattle Seahawks last week.  After jumping out to a twenty point lead, the Falcons almost gave the game back.  Thanks to a couple of long completions in the final thirty seconds and a last second field goal, Atlanta finds themselves hosting the NFC conference game, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Denver was the clear favorite to represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl, as Peyton and the gang were clicking on all cylinders entering last week’s battle against the visiting Ravens.  However, as the game progressed, it became clear that Baltimore had plans of their own, hanging with their heavyweight opponent, blow for blow.  As Denver’s defense collapsed in the final minute to let Baltimore tie the game and send it to overtime, the fans could tell that one big play would be the difference.  Unfortunately for the Broncos, that big play came when Manning’s questionable pass was intercepted in Denver territory, ultimately leading to Baltimore’s winning field goal.

So here we are, four good teams remaining, but two clear favorites.  What does that mean?  Well, last week’s results should show that it means very little.  The game will be decided between the white lines, not in the newspapers, blogs and talk shows.

But that won’t stop me from giving my two cents worth!

 NFL Football

 

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots:

A couple of things must be pointed out.  First of all, I picked New England to make it to the Super Bowl in most of my scenarios before the playoffs began, so I’m not surprised to see them here.

Second, I picked Baltimore to beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl before the season started, so even though I lost faith in them in recent weeks, I can’t say that I’m overly surprised to see them here either.

Like most people, I’m leaning toward New England in this matchup.  There are a couple of reasons, most of which are arguments against the rhetoric that Ravens fans are throwing out there.

Joe Flacco has a great record against the Patriots and always outplays Brady.  Looking at the statistics, I can’t argue that point.  He does seem to get pumped up for the Patriots.  Even when he loses to them, he usually plays well.  The key to that last sentence is “even when he loses to them”.  You see, even when he plays great, they don’t always come away with the win.

The Ravens had the game at Foxboro last year and should have won the game.  They won’t let that happen again this year.  Here’s the problem with that argument.  The Ravens aren’t as good as they were last year and the Patriots are better than they were last year.  With their defense playing solid ball and a rushing game that is formidable, they will have an easier time controlling the ball.

With Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens will be riding an emotional high.  Yeah, that worked great in the Wildcard round.  You can even argue that it helped last week at Denver.  But by now, if that’s what it takes for Baltimore to win this game, they could be in a lot of trouble.

The Patriots won’t be able to move the ball without Gronkowski.  I’ve got news for you.  They’ve been doing just that for most of the past six to eight weeks.

The bottom line is the Patriots have been playing solid team football for the past three months.  The Ravens have been up and down over that time, with two good games over the last two weeks.

I’ve got to with the home team on this one.

New England wins 34-27.

 

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons:

I know that a lot of people are betting that this will be a close, hard-fought game between the two best teams in the NFC.

I’m not one of those people.  I honestly believe that the NFC championship game was played in San Francisco last week.  I’ve never believed that the Falcons were the best team in the NFC, as you are well aware.

They are one play away from being a 9-7 team that just missed making the playoffs.  Last week, they convinced a lot of people that they were worthy of the #1 seed as they destroyed the Seahawks in the first half.

I think the real Falcons showed themselves in the second half when the Seahawks took control of the game, eventually taking the lead with 31 seconds remaining.  Matt Ryan ended up bailing them out with two great passes against one of the best secondaries in the league, allowing a Matt Bryant field goal as time expired to save their, uh-hum, collective behinds.

Meanwhile, the 49ers made one mistake early in the game that gave the Packers a brief lead.  After that, they took over and never looked back.  When the Packers tried to stop Gore, the 49ers passed.  When they tried to stop the pass, Colin Kaepernick took off running.

And when they tried to stop him, they simply could not.  The final score was not indicative of how soundly the 49ers won this game.

Now they travel to Atlanta.  Let’s give the Falcons some credit.  They did slow down Mr. Lynch, the scariest running back in the league last week.  I didn’t think they’d be able to do that.

However, this week they are taking on another physical running back in Frank Gore and also have a quarterback to worry about.  I’m not sure they will be able to do that for four quarters (two maybe, but not four!)

Ultimately, I see this game remaining close for about three quarters, with the 49ers pulling away in the fourth.

San Francisco wins 37-31.

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