The Ravens won last week, but they needed some big plays and luck. They will need a lot more luck to win this weekend in New England.
The Divisional round delivered some of the best football of the season. Having the elite quarterbacks on the field definitely helped.
This weekend we have a final four that should deliver more exciting football. This is why the NFL is the most popular sport in the US.
I previewed the Championship games on my radio show. Here is my preview and picks.
AFC - Baltimore and New England
This is a rematch of last years Championship game. Baltimore blew chances to win and tie the game last year. Will they be able to play 60 minutes this season?
The Ravens won last week with big plays on offense. I do not buy Flacco as an elite QB. He has a big arm but I still have not seen enough to think he has enough to win a Super Bowl.
On Offense the Ravens need to establish Ray Rice running the ball. They also have to put together some long drives. Last week their longest drives were eight plays and they did not score on either of those drives. The offense has to give their old defense time to rest and keep Brady off the field. If the Ravens want to go for big plays, they better hit every time and not punt or kick field goals.
On Defense the Ravens have to deal with a fast paced Patriots offense that wants to run as many plays as possible. The problem for the Ravens is that they are old, slow and tired. I think that this is going to be a big problem for them this weekend.
The Patriots defense needs to stop the big plays to Smith and Boldin. If they can force the Ravens into an underneath passing game, they will be able to take advantage of Flacco's accuracy issues and force turnovers and punts. The Patriots will play the ultimate bend but don't break style this weekend.
On offense Tom Brady is picking apart defenses. Last week he made Shane Vereen into a superstar. If Brady has time he is going to shred the old Ravens defense and keep running up tempo plays until they are dragging around the field.
This game comes down to the Pats ability to stop the big play and force Baltimore to sustain drives. I do not think that Flacco has it in him to run that kind of game plan.
The Patriots head to another Super Bowl by beating the Ravens 31-17.
NFC - San Francisco and Atlanta
This is a match-up of the top two teams in the NFC during the regular season. Seahawks fans might want to argue but over the entire season these two are at the top.
Last week San Fran rolled GB but Atlanta had to come back with seconds left to win their game after blowing a huge lead. Who has the advantage?
The Falcons offense jumped out to a big lead last week but struggled in the second half. I'm not sure if the coach and Ryan were nervous but they tried hard to give that game away. The Falcons must establish the run early to get pressure off of Ryan and give him the chance to set-up the passing game with Jones, White and Gonzalez. The offense has to establish the run if they want to keep the San Fran defense honest.
The Falcons defense did a good job containing Wilson last week, in the first half. I don't expect Kaepernick to start slow in this game. The Falcons have to stop Frank Gore from setting up the run and they have to stop Kaepernick from running the ball. If they can force him to be one dimensional they might be able to win this game. I think those are very tall orders for this defense and if they play soft zone, Kaepernick might run for 200 yards against them.
The 49ers will keep to their game plan. They want to run the ball with Gore and Kaepernick and use their outstanding offensive line to establish their will. If the 49ers can set-up the run and give Kapernick time to throw, they will rip through this Atlanta defense.
On defense the 49ers are going to attack the Atlanta running backs and put the Falcons into passing situations. If they can do that, their pass rush will harass Matt Ryan in the pocket. They need to keep the Falcons receivers in check if they want to win this game.
I think the 49ers are too strong on both sides of the ball and will own the line of scrimmage with both lines. The 49ers are too much for Atlanta and win 27-21.
My preseason Super Bowl match-up was San Fran and Houston. At the mid season point I was feeling pretty good about my picks. Houston let me down but San Fran looks to be headed to New Orleans. We'll find out this weekend.
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