So far this postseason we've put up a 5-3 record when it comes to picking games. Starting out strong with a 4-0 Wild Card record, but then hitting a free fall after a 1-3 Divisional round record last week.
There are 3 major games left in the 2012-13 NFL season, with two of them coming today. Here's our Conference Championship preview and game picks.
San Francisco @ Atlanta
3pm (eastern time), Georgia Dome
Ah, yes. Two teams that I highly underestimated in last week's Divisional round. Unfortunately I will be forced to pick against one of these two teams for a second consecutive week. And it's going to be very tough to go against these Niners after dismantling Green Bay's defense both on the ground and in the air.
Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick set records against the Pack, running for the most yards in a single game by a quarterback (181) with 2 TDs in addition to passing for 263 yards and 2 more TDs. Atlanta's Matt Ryan had an elite first half of play against Seattle's top-ranked defense, putting the Falcons ahead 20-0. But the second half was a different story.
Atlanta's defense allowed rookie Russell Wilson to lead the 'Hawks to 28 second-half points, including 21 unanswered in the fourth quarter. While the 'Hawks mounted a comeback, Ryan threw two picks for the Dirty Birds.
Luckily, Ryan's final drive ended in a game-winning 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with :08 to play. But there's no doubt the Falcons backed into the win and didn't play a full four quarters of elite football. Against San Francisco, they will absolutely need to play flawless football, because Kaepernick and the Niners' offense proved that they can score quickly and rather easily. San Fran's 21 fourth quarter points, led by 323 total rushing yards throughout the game, is a scary feat that will keep Atlanta's 21st-ranked rushing defense on its toes.
Unfortunately for Matt Ryan, who has proved to be an elite regular season quarterback in his five-year career, the Falcons aren't likely to reproduce its 167 yard rushing performance. In 17 games this season, Atlanta has broken the 100-yard mark just seven times. The Falcons have clearly been forced to rely on Matty Ice's right arm and top-tier receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, but San Francisco's hard-nosed defense has also limited opposing offenses to under 200 yards passing on eight different occasions this season.
San Francisco's No. 2 overall defense has recorded 38 sacks, forced 25 turnovers and limited opposing rushers to just 1,507 yards (4th in league) this season, with quarterbacks posting just a 78.0 QB rating. There's no doubt that they'll put the pressure on Ryan and force some errant throws. The question is, did the Falcons figure out the correct formula for stopping Kaepernick? Because the Packers surely couldn't find an answer for him last week both in the passing and run game.
Prediction: I'm not going against these Niners, I'll take them in a close one over Matt Ryan's Falcons. San Fran wins on the road, 38-31.
Baltimore @ New England
6:30pm (eastern time), Gillette Stadium
It's rather disappointing that the current temperature in Foxboro is an unseasonably 53 degrees. Between one game in a dome, and the other approaching 60 degrees outside, we wont witness any cold games such as last week's BAL/DEN or HOU/NE games. But this is the matchup to watch, nonetheless.
It's Ray Lewis' final showdown with New England's head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as he and his Baltimore defense will fight for one final game two weeks from today.
All-time the Patriots lead the series between these two teams by a count of 7-2, including the postseason (1-1 in the postseason). But, as of lately, the head-to-head matchup has been somewhat of a stalemate. Week 2 of this season Baltimore got the best of Tom Brady & Co. thanks in part to a game-winning field goal from rookie kicker Justin Tucker.
In the postseason, this game last season the Ravens traveled to Foxboro and were knocked off a game shy of the Super Bowl after then-Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missed a potential game-tying 31-yard field. New England won 23-20 and went on to fall to Eli Manning's Giants in the Super Bowl.
Eight days after upsetting the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos, 38-35 in double overtime, the Ravens get set to knock off the No. 2 seed in New England as 9-9.5 point underdogs yet again. In that game the Ravens overcame vital special teams mistakes (allowing two Trindon Holliday return TDs) and quarterback Joe Flacco proved all of his critics that he can take the reins and lead the team to a postseason victory.
It was, by far, Flacco's finest postseason performance, throwing for 331 yards and 3 TDs in the victory. But, most importantly, he limited his mistakes and showed confidence. Ray Rice's 131 yards was key late in the game and the offense managed to take advantage of Denver's mistakes and hold on for the victory.
However, this week may be a little different. Yet another elite postseason quarterback will square off with Flacco as Brady and his high-powered offense take the field against Ray Lewis. But, lately the Ravens have been able to get pressure on quarterbacks and I'd expect pass-rusher Paul Kruger to have another big day against Brady. Houston failed to force any turnovers, and that cost them big time, surrendering 40+ points to the Pats in the 41-28 loss.
Baltimore allowed 35 points last week, but that didn't matter as Flacco and his offense managed to keep up with Peyton and force a couple of turnovers. If Baltimore's defense can force some Brady mistakes, which I believe will end up happening with the pressure that will be put on him all game, then they have a good shot at knocking off another top AFC team today.
I picked against Baltimore last week, but I don't think I can do that again this week and they'll hold on for a second consecutive road postseason win. I mean, I had the Ravens in the Super Bowl (losing to the Packers) back in August, so I might as well just stick with my preseason pick.
Prediction: Another high-scoring game in this evening's AFC Championship. Baltimore prevails, 31-28.
According to our predictions, we'll be seeing an all-Harbaugh Super Bowl in New Orleans two weeks from today. It'd be a very interesting storyline, don't get me wrong. I just hope that (if it happens) the topic isn't worn out. Two weeks is a very long time between games, and there's always something that the media chooses to talk about for the full two weeks.
It's highly possible that we could either see the final games from two legends: Ray Lewis and ATL's Tony Gonzalez, who is also likely to retire at the end of the season. Both will end up being first ballot Hall of Famers and are in consideration for the best all-time at their respective positions. Wouldn't it be an interesting storyline if they ended up in a Super Bowl showdown? If anyone deserves a Super Bowl ring, it's Tony G. Sorry I can't pick Atlanta, Tony!
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