Sunday, January 22, 2012

NFL Championship Game Picks

AFC Championship
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
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The last time these two teams met in the postseason, the Ravens came into Foxboro and steamrolled a banged up Patriots squad 33-14. Ray Rice ran for an 83 yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and the Ravens led 24-0 after one quarter. Baltimore's defense limited Tom Brady to just 154 passing yards and forced him into throwing 3 interceptions in one of the ugliest losses of the Brady/Belichick era. It's hard to envision history repeating itself today though, especially the way New England's offense is playing. The dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at tight end has proved virtually unstoppable while New England has reeled off 9 straight wins. The two combined for 169 catches and 24 touchdowns during the regular season and added another 200 yards and 4 more touchdowns in the Divisional Round against the Broncos. Oh, and just to mix it up a little bit Aaron Hernandez was also their leading rusher last week. So Baltimore has to come up with a game plan to keep those two guys in check without exposing themselves to the dangerous Wes Welker in the slot. Is it impossible? No. I think the Ravens need to look at the film of the Steelers-Patriots game from earlier this year. Pittsburgh, who is built very similar to the Ravens, was able to get to Brady to the tune of three sacks and keep him out of rhythm allowing Pittsburgh to come away with a 25-17 win. And that's really the key for the Ravens on defense. They need to take Brady out of his rhythm and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. If they let him sit back and pick apart the defense, there's no way Baltimore comes out on top. As far as the Ravens offense goes, for all the talk about Joe Flacco this week, the key is still Ray Rice. If Rice gets his touches, the Ravens typically win. Ultimately I think this one stays close, maybe even coming down to the final possession, but I don't see Flacco outplaying Tom Brady in that scenario. Pick: Patriots 27 Ravens 23

NFC Championship
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
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I feel like most people are already prepping for a rematch of Super Bowl XLII with the Giants and Patriots throwing down again. While I think this would be a great game, much like their regular season matchup, I see just one problem with this scenario: The 49ers haven't been eliminated yet. New Orleans, who has a much better offense than New York does, scored on just 5 of 16 possessions last weekend and San Francisco's defense forced 5 turnovers. It's easy to say the Giants are red hot and playing great football right now, but they're far from infallible. That ugly 23-10 loss to the Redskins was only a month ago. Eli Manning threw 3 interceptions and was sacked 3 times in that game and San Francisco has a defense more than capable of forcing him into making those same mistakes. Additionally, the forecast in San Fran today calls for wind and rain. Who do you think that favors? The Giants running game ranked dead last in the NFL this year. The 49ers run defense ranks number one. The Giants allowed over 120 running yards a game during the regular season while the 49ers bring in the league's 8th best running attack. Yet nobody's talking about the 49ers. And I think the Giants, having just beaten the team with the league's best record, are going to come in overconfident and San Francisco is going to come out and punch them right in the mouth early just like they did to New Orleans. I don't think this one comes down to 'The Catch IV' but I like the Niners at home in the rain. Pick: 49ers 16 Giants 13

Last Week: 2-2
Postseason: 5-3

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