By: Dan Leach
San Francisco 49′ers (12-4-1) at Atlanta Falcons (14-3) 3 PM EST (San Fran -4)
Yes, the Falcons are the biggest home underdog in conference title game history. Yes, they are the biggest underdog as a #1 seed in playoff history. Yes, they got lucky to pull out the win against Seattle after there was no business for that to even be a game at the end. I say who cares! The Niners led by “Center of the Universe” Colin Kopernicus, are playing some insane offensive football and have the defense to back it up. What many are forgetting is that Atlanta is the # 1 seed for a reason and are a very good football team and are playing at home, needing one win to get to the Super Bowl. I have been to the Georgia Dome many times and that building will be deafening on Sunday.
Kaepernick is fast redefining the QB position in the NFL and was nothing short of historic in the win over the Packers last week. The Niners D came to play and when they are at their best can literally take over a game, and that will be a huge key in this one. The Falcons gave up a huge lead and made a game that should have been put away, much too close for comfort late. What I want to look at is how the Dirty Birds got that huge lead and how they did it was with balance. The D played great, making rookie phenom Russell Wilson very uncomfortable. Matt Ryan was great and the Thunder Buddy rushing tandem of Turner and Rodgers was excellent. The biggest concern for Atlanta will be the defense’s ability to contain the running game of Kaepernick, and that could be the deciding factor in whether they win or lose.
Prediction (Based on a 1-10 Bagels and Locks Scale)
8.6 Bagels on the Falcons +4 -The Falcons getting over the proverbial playoff hump and finally winning a postseason game in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era was huge. Now they can exhale and get ready to face a Niners team that is playing great, but was not good in any of their dome games this season. Look for Atlanta to continue with the balance that got them off to the great start against Seattle, and for the home crowd to be a huge factor for Colin Kaepernick. As great as he has been, starting your second ever playoff game in the conference title game is not easy. This will be a great game until the end, but Atlanta will have just a little more than the Young Niners and head to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998 season.
Atlanta 24 San Francisco 20
Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at New England Patriots (11-4-1) 6:30pm Est. (New England -8)
“Quote the Ravens Nevermore!” This team just keeps finding ways to win and keep Ray Lewis’s career going for at least one more week. The comeback against the Broncos capped off one of the best playoff games I have ever seen, and showed once again that QB Joe Flacco is tremendously underrated when it comes to the playoffs. He was won at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons and is 7-4 overall. The Ravens D had its weak moments against the Broncos, but the late INT of Peyton Manning in OT proved to be the difference, and when you have a defense that can cause key turnovers like the Ravens D can, you always have a chance to win.
The Pats, after a slow start by their standards, simply dismantled the Houston Texans in Foxborough to set up a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. They lost Rob Gronkowski early in the game when he reinjured himself, but seem to never be short on weapons. An unknown to some, Shane Vereen, had a monster game and was a huge factor in the Pats advancing. What makes the Patriots so scary is that when they get going they sometimes cannot be stopped. If that happens in this game from the get-go, the Ravens could be in for a long evening.
7.8 Bagels on the Ravens +8 – A quick start is going to be key for the Ravens and Ray Rice is going to be a major factor. The Pats are a top 10 defense against the run, but I see Rice stretching the field all day and putting up big numbers rushing and receiving out of the backfield. Brady will have a tougher time against the Ravens secondary then he did against Houston, but will get his yards and likely a few TD passes. Where I see this game hanging in the balance is whether Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense can keep up the dominance it has shown this postseason. The answer is yes, and I feel that this could be a chance for Flacco to truly make a career statement.
The Ravens came so close to winning last year, if not for a fluky missed field goal at the end of regulation. They come into this game knowing they have what it takes to beat the Pats. The problem is, even if the Ravens play their best game it just might not be enough to take down a Pats team whose offense looks almost video game like at times. This will be yet another great down-to-the-wire postseason game in a season of non-stop epic ones. I think the Ravens can pull off the upset, but the more likely scenario is that this game comes down to the wire, with the Pats breaking the Ravens hearts yet again.
New England 28 Baltimore 27
Dan Leach just found out his longtime online pen pal Angelina Jolie was in fact a 55 year-old man from Nebraska, is coaching the South alongside Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz in the Senior Bowl, and has put down a $5,000,000,000,00 deposit to be one of the first humans to live on the moon.