And then there were four. Here we are in the NFL Conference Championships that promise to be quality games. We get the potential last Ray Lewis game as he goes against Tom Brady for the final time. Then we have Atlanta* – hot off the heels of the best playoff game in a long time – against a fantastic defense in the 49ers.
Breathe these games in because all we have left is a Super Bowl in two weeks.
* – Who else is enjoying David D. having to write glowing praise for his arch-nemesis Atlanta Falcons on their way to a possible Super Bowl run to New Orleans? It’s gotta be torture.
5 Reasons The Atlanta Falcons Will Win (David D.)
1. The Falcons have been torched by Cam Newton twice, RGIII and Russell Wilson last week. While this may be basis to bet against ATL I’d argue that if you give a defense the same sort of offense enough times they’ll adapt and get better. Expect the birds to learn from their mistakes and find a way to stop Kaep from having another monster game.
2. Did you hear that loud noise on Sunday? It was the city of Atlanta breathing sighs of relief. If you watched them in the fourth quarter last week, they were tighter than Tim Tebow’s girlfriend. Now that this squad has won its first playoff game, you can see a more relaxed team ready to handle things en route to NOLA.
3. Jacquizz Rogers is the perfect weapon to diffuse San Francisco’s pass rush. He’s a nice check down that can rack up catches and chunks of yards whenever there’s a blitz. If he works in unison with Michael Turner this can free up the wide outs down the field.
4. In a close game you have to trust Matt Bryant’s foot over the struggling David Akers’. Bryant has been clutch all season, winning countless games for his ATLiens.
5. Colin Kaepernick opened the game last week with a pick six. He also blew a game against St. Louis with a fumble in the end zone. I must remind you that Atlanta picked off Drew Brees five times and Peyton Manning three times in a half. They know how to create turnovers. If they can pick off Kaep a couple of times, this spells victory for Atlanta.
Final Score: 27-24 Atlanta
5 Reasons The San Francisco 49ers Will Win (Gotty™)
1. The Falcons’ running game will be nonexistent, forcing Matt Ryan to chuck up the ball 40 times. You know what that means? Turnovers. Expect two picks coming out of Ryan’s throws.
2. You’ve got to wonder if last week’s game against Seattle started a little later that the Seahawks wouldn’t have run away with the game as they seemed to wake up in the second half. If the time difference affected Seattle it won’t impact the Niners as this game starts at 3pm. San Fran won’t have the same sluggish start their NFC West peer had.
3. Russell Wilson absolutely torched the Falcons defense in the second half last week and he didn’t gain hardly any rushing yards or draw up any QB keepers. With the added run threat in Kaepernick’s gameplan the Falcons’ defense won’t be able to keep up.
4. The Falcons have no home field advantage. The 49ers have gone to Lambeau, Foxborough and the Super Dome to snag wins this season. The Georgia Dome doesn’t intimidate these guys.
5. Special teams will be key and the 49ers have shown a penchant for clutch returns. That trend will continue here as San Fran will enjoy some shorter fields throughout the game for Kaep and co. to put in work.
Final Score: 27-17 49ers
5 Reasons The New England Patriots Will Win (Raj)
1. The Ravens defense has been on the field for a gang of plays over the last two weeks. Yes, they’re running on adrenaline but when that no huddle offense gets cooking those B-More legs are going to be spent.
2. The Ravens have been vulnerable against the run all season and the Patriots have a solid, underrated run game. They’re undefeated when rushing over 100 yards – a trend that should hold up today.
3. The Pats have also been able to hold opposing running backs in check all season. As good as Ray Rice is, he should get relatively bottled up from scrimmage forcing Ugly Flacco to toss the rock more than he’d want.
4. Not having Gronk is a huge blow to the New England scheme, but Aaron Hernandez isn’t a scrub. Expect near double-digit receptions and a 100+ yards.
5. Really, this boils down to which quarterback do you trust. And are you really holding out hope that Flacco is going to outplay Tom Brady? No, right? Right.
Final Score: 35-31 Patriots
5 Reasons The Baltimore Ravens Will Win (J. Tinsley)
1. Look, we’ve all ridiculed Joe Flacco before and it’s not like he hasn’t given us material to in the past. But check buddy’s stats thus far in the postseason – 30-for-54 for 613 yards, five touchdowns and zero INTs. I’m not saying he’s beginning to resemble Eli Manning during the Giants 2007 title run, but Flacco is playing his best football at the absolute best time.
2. Where many teams are, the last thing Baltimore is of New England is intimidated. The Ravens know they gift-wrapped the AFC Championship last year thanks to Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff. Hell, New England fans, too. This game is unfinished business.
3. With the Patriots being the most high-powered offense this season, expect this game to feature a heavy dosage of Ray Rice in attempt to burn clock and keep Tom Brady and crew off the field. Unless Baltimore is playing from behind.
4. The end of an era on the horizon. Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs somehow back on the field after what in most cases are season ending injuries and putting on unreal efforts (Suggs had 10 tackles and two sacks versus Denver, by the way). The offense is clicking. At this point, it’s impossible not to think “storybook ending” as it deals with Baltimore. They’re playing for the memory of D’Angelo Barksdale and Wallace right now.*
5. Edward Earl Reed, Jr. More than anyone left playing in these championship games, no one – bar none – deserves a ring more than this guy. I’m already willing to say Reed is the best safety I’ve ever seen play (too young to really appreciate Ronnie Lott in his prime). Two victories etches that in stone.
Final Score: Ravens, 31-27
* – I’m currently on episode three of Season Four. Please no spoilers.