I, as many sports fans, am looking forward to this matchup for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is a rematch. Second, these two teams are starting to really – and I mean REALLY – hate each other. What makes this hate different is that the Ravens simply do not respect the Patriots (at least the Ravens respect their arch-rivals the Steelers).
I am fascinated by the Ravens’ playoff journey. It is obvious that they are playing for Ray Lewis after he made the announcement that he will be retiring after the season. On paper the Ravens have no business getting this far in the playoffs, and it’s a credit to their heart. The defense is a paper mache version of its glory years, yet they’ve hung in there. As for the offense, it is obviously carrying the team after their D had done so for so many years. Joe Flacco is playing like the elite QB he wants to believe he is, and Ray Rice is well, Ray Rice.
The Patriots are obviously on a mission, to get back to the Super Bowl and try to make amends to the one that got away last season. Tom Brady is playing at a high level. And though they are without their stud tight end Rob Gronkowski, New England can still score points rather quickly. The Pats’ D is a classic bend but don’t break type of defense. It does just enough on that side of the ball to help win games.
I expect this to be a high-scoring game. The Ravens’ defense are spent off of last week’s double-overtime win in Denver. Look for Brady to pick their asses apart. The Pats’ defense will struggle to contain Rice. Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin should make play after play against New England’s average secondary. In the end, I think Brady will make one more play than Flacco. You can’t count of Brady at home, and it hurts me to type that I am picking the Patriots to win (prove me wrong Baltimore!). Having said all of that, I was leaning toward picking the Ravens until their backup linebacker ran his yap on Twitter. Patriots 31, Ravens 28.
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
I consider this to be the undercard of the conference championship games. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I will be watching this game as closely as I will the Baltimore-New England game.
The 49ers are on a huge roll, thanks to the outstanding play of QB Colin Kaepernick and their punishing defense. Kaepernick has really taken the league by storm since being named the starter midway through the regular season (I really feel for Alex Smith). His play has opened up the Niners’ running and passing games, with Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree being the primary beneficiaries. Meanwhile, their defense is flat out ferocious. It’s perhaps the most physical in the league (sorry Pittsburgh).
The Falcons breathed a collective sigh of relief after overcoming a blown 20-point lead against Seattle last week for its first playoff win in the Matt Ryan era. And while the monkey is off their back, I think the Falcons will be riding too high to focus on the real task at hand: the Super Bowl.
I’ll take it a step further and say that the 49ers will come in shake Atlanta back to reality. In fact, I think this will be a convincing win for the Niners. They are too good on offense and defense for Atlanta to handle. And keep in mind that Atlanta’s D struggle against mobile quarterbacks (see Cam Newton’s, Robert Griffin III’s and Russell Wilson’s performances against them). Kaepernick will drive Atlanta defense crazy and overwhelm it. Ryan and coach Mike Smith will get a glimpse on what a battle-tested Super Bowl-ready team is like – and an idea of how far they are from being one. 49ers 30, Falcons 17.
Last week’s picks: 3-1 (that Denver game still stuns me)