Jobu is back with more playoff picks. This time, he predicts the winners of the AFC and NFC championship games!
After going 2-2 in the first round of the playoffs, I really made up for that by picking all four games correctly in the second round. The 49ers beat the saints in an absolute thriller (four lead changes in the last four minutes!), the Patriots dumped all over the Broncos, and the Ravens used their defense to eek one out against the Texans. Wait… did I forget one? Was there another game i picked correctly? Let’s see… Oh! Of course! The Giants beat up on the Packers! Again, I didn’t pick the Giants to dominate the game the way they did, but they delivered on my predicted win.
Anyway, this week it’s championship week, which means that, after Sunday, we’ll know who is playing in the Super Bowl! How many Harbaughs will coach in the Super Bowl this year? Read on and find out…
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots – Sunday, 3:00PM
This is really another tough call. It’s the Patriots high-powered offense against the Ravens fierce and stingy defense. Usually I would side with the better defense, because every sport will tell you that defense (and pitching in baseball) wins championships. In 2008, when the Patriots rolled into Arizona with their elite offense rolling right along, it was Steve Spagnuolo and the ravenous Giants defensive line that ended their perfect season.
Last season, the Patriots were eliminated by Rex Ryan’s elite defense in the 2nd round. The year before, it was these same Ravens that knocked the Patriots out by holding them to 14 points. See the pattern here? I know the Patriots lit up a supposedly good Broncos defense, but are the Broncos the Ravens? The answer there is a clear no. This Ravens defense is the highest ranked D left in the post-season (#3). They also have a capable offense, which separates the Ravens from the Broncos (and Tim Tebow) even further.
That being said, the best player on that Raven’s defense, Ed Reed, injured his ankle at the end of the Texans game. Reed plans to go, but if he can’t, that could change things significantly. The Patriots offense is built on the passing game. Tom Brady finished with 5,235 yards this season, and Rob Gronkowski emerged as the best tight end in the league (if not one of the best overall receivers), when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 TDs. The Patriots other tight end, Aaron Hernandez, also approached 1,000 yards for the season. The Patriots offense revolves around those tight ends. They are too big and too fast, and they give opposing defenses absolute fits. If anyone can design a scheme to stop these guys, and execute it on the field, it’s John Harbaugh and the Ravens’ staff. But can it even be done?
The Patriots’ defense, on the other hand, is not good. The Ravens may not have an elite offense, but Ray Rice is still one of the better backs in the league, and he’s going to be hard for the Patriots to contain. That will open up Joe Flacco and the passing game, which could take advantage of the Patriots secondary. Flacco may not be flashy or elite, but he’s been quietly getting the job done since the Ravens drafted him in 2008.
Finally, I am not known as the most unbiased blogger in the universe. I consistently pick my teams to win, finish first, etc (although, in my defense, I root for teams that happen to be good). I really don’t like the Patriots. I don’t want to see them in the Super Bowl, I don’t want Tom Brady to succeed, and I flat out hate Bill Belichick. With all that in mind, I’m going to (again) go with the underdog (something I’ve only erred on once in this post-season picks series… stupid Bengals). It won’t be easy, but the Ravens will win.
All Apologies to Jerry Ballgame… I really thought I was picking the Pats until I started writing this post.
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers – Sunday, 6:30PM
As I did last week, I won’t patronize you by making you guess who I’m picking to win this game. I’m sticking with the hottest team in the playoffs right now, and that’s the New York Football Giants. In the first round, they crushed the Falcons 24-2. The defense pitched a shutout and Eli was the man. The second game was only slightly different. While the Giants played extremely well, the Packers flat out choked. After dropping only 30 passes all season, Packers receivers dropped six on Sunday. They also lost three fumbles in the game, something they’d only done six times all season, and Aaron Rodgers lost his first fumble of the year. Talk about having the Yips, and talk about the Giants taking advantage and crushing the Packers on their own home field.
This week, the Giants will try to, once again, knock out a favored opponent on their home turf. They travel to San Francisco to take on the NFC West champion (and number two seed) 49ers. This is not the first time the Giants will travel to the Bay Area this season. They were there in week 10, which resulted in a loss that sent the Giants on a four game tailspin that almost left them out of the post season. The 49ers may have won that game, but let me tell you why I don’t think that will matter come Sunday. The final score of that game was 27-20. Early in the fourth quarter, the 49ers used a 31-yard TD catch by Vernon Davis, an interception and a 17-yard run by Kendal Hunter to score 14 points in a 59 second span. That put the 49ers up 27-13 with 12:21 to go, and they almost didn’t win! Eli Manning threw a 32-yard TD to Hakeem Nicks with 8:37 to go, then got the ball back later and drove the Giants down the field again. Only a drop by Mario Manningham and a batted ball by Justin Smith on 4th down kept the G-Men from sending that game into OT.
To me, that says that the Giants know they can beat the 49ers, even in San Fran. The team that played in San Fran in week 10 was not playing as well as the Giants are now. That team wasn’t as healthy either. The Giants are firing on all cylinders now. Hakeem Nicks has risen above and beyond expectations these playoffs, catching 13 balls for 280 yards and 4 TDs in the two games. If the 49ers double him, Victor Cruz or Manningham will have field days. The running game, passing game and defense are finally healthy, and the way they’ve rolled over the Falcons and the Packers, it’s hard to believe they are actually 2.5 point underdogs in this one. That’s fine though, as the Giants seem to thrive when they’re counted out. They’ve been facing elimination for the last four weeks, and have won every time.
All that being said, the 49ers are no pushovers. They have the second best defense left in these playoffs (behind the Ravens). Although they gave up 32 points to the Saints, but two of those TDs were within the last four minutes. They held Brees in check most of the game. That being said, Eli Manning isn’t the guy you want to get soft with in the fourth quarter. As we know, Eli broke his brother Peyton’s record for most fourth quarter TD passes this year (yes yes, and Johnny U too). If the 49ers defense plays up to its capabilities for all four quarters, Eli’s going to need some magic to win this game. Vernon Davis presents the scariest threat on the 49ers offense. He’s way too fast to be covered by linebackers, and too big for defensive backs, and he had a monster game against the Saints. The Giants will be smart to double-team him all day, which means the 49ers will need Michael Crabtree to step up big if they’re going to score a lot of points on Sunday. It should be another great game, but the Giants will win this one, setting up a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV.
Harbaugh image courtesy of: AP Photo/Nick Wass
Reed image courtesy of: http://www.faniq.com/
Manning image courtesy of: Doug Mills/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Davis image courtesy of: Greg Ashman/CSM
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