Conference Championship previews
We are two weeks away from Super Bowl 47 and two teams will make the trip to New Orleans ready to fight it out for the Lombardi Trophy on the biggest stage of them all, so let’s bite our teeth in to the two mouth-watering match-ups.
San Francisco 49ers vs Atlanta Falcons
Last week I predicted both of these teams to lose and in fitting fashion both have made it to the NFC title game; but when the playoffs began I did say that if the 49ers made it past the divisional round, they would win the NFC Championship then advance to Super Bowl 47 and lose.
Forgetting the Super Bowl for now though, let us just stick to this game and, yes, the Niners will win. All you have to do is watch the performance of quarterback Colin Kaepernick last weekend to know that this guy is the real deal. He completed 17/31 passes for 263 yards in the air, two touchdowns and a pick then on the ground he tore it up just as much if not more by rushing for 181 yards on 16 attempts for two scores in the 49ers’ 45-31 victory over Green Bay. Kapernick interception was thrown within the early stages of the first quarter but after that he came to town and was instrumental in the Niners pulling off the victory. The San Francisco offense is just as dangerous as its defense that welcomed back Justin Smith in the divisional round, so Atlanta better watch out.
Now this is not to say that the Falcons don’t have a chance of winning, because in the national football league anything can happen, but the one stat that stands out for me is that the 49ers put up 579 yards in total on offense last week and only gave up 352 yards on defense against an Aaron Rodgers lead Packers in comparison to the Falcons who gave up 491 yards in total on defense but did manage to put up 417 yards on offense against a tough Seattle defense. For me, this shows that the 49ers will find a way to win because, despite Atlanta’s offensive weapons, Matt Ryan does not possess the experience or the offense to cause the Niners’ defense the problems that Tom Brady did against them in week 15.
The most important factor though is how far Colin Kaepernick has come since becoming the 49ers QB. I don’t think there is anyone in the NFL who can do what this guy can do: the way he runs the ball is unreal and makes his a threat to any opposing defense. He has a tremendous ability to throw the football that many have criticised. Jim Harbaugh made the right call putting in this kid for Alex Smith, as it has taken his offense and this football team to the next level. It will be hard-going on the road and winning in the playoffs especially at the Georgia Dome, but unless the Falcons can force some turnovers and hope that quarterback Matt Ryan stays as cool as ice then it will be San Francisco representing the NFC at Super Bowl 47.
Predicted Score: 49ers 38-24 Falcons
Baltimore Ravens vs New England Patriots
Ray Lewis’ career in the NFL continues for another week as he inspired the Ravens to go on the road and knock off Peyton Manning and the first seeded Denver Broncos. Now Baltimore has a chance to redeem themselves for their defeat in the AFC Championship game last season against the New England Patriots with the rematch set up for Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, bringing two of the greatest players in their respective positions head to head for once last time when Ray Lewis goes against Tom Brady.
The two things that give the Ravens a chance in this game are that their defense have returned to their nasty self and that Joe Flacco is now elite… Yes I said “elite”! The 70-yard touchdown pass he made against Denver in the fourth quarter to tie the game up and take it to overtime was absolute magic and proved he has the ability to potentially mix it with the best. The rejuvenated Flacco has emerged ever since Jim Caldwell was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator for week 15, and since then, Flacco has thrown nine touchdowns and just one interception.
Now the Ravens will need to match the Patriots’ offense if they are to stay in the game, as it could well become a shoot-out, but their one concern must be running back Ray Rice as he looks like he is scared about fumbling the football. You can see it in the way Rice is holding the ball and he has already made a few errors during the post-season. This will be a real cause for concern for Baltimore considering the Patriots lead the league in turnovers with a differential of +25, which includes 20 interceptions and 21 forced fumbles.
Now that New England’s defense has the ability to make big plays all over the field, thanks to a reborn secondary, which can cover the pass and a defense running game led by Vince Wilfork, it is going to be hard to get past the Patriots. Combine that with an offense that is getting it done on the ground with Stevan Ridley, and their backs love to come out and catch the ball, which is what Shane Vereen did perfectly in the team’s 41-28 victory over the Texans in the absence of Danny Woodhead who went down to injury in the first quarter. Vereen racked in 83 yards receiving for two touchdowns including a 33-yard touchdown reception from a beautifully thrown pass by Tom Brady as well as racking up 41 yards and a score on the ground.
The Patriots offense is on fire even without superstar tight-end Rob Gronkowski as they have Hernandez, Lloyd and Welker to go to. The team put up 457 yards in total against Houston in the divisional round and they also boats the number one offense in the league, following outstanding performances during the regular season. All of the signs are there for New England to make it back to the Super Bowl and that is exactly what I think will happen. Tom Brady was masterful again last weekend, completing 25/40 passing attempts for 344 yards and throwing three touchdown-passes. It was a perfect performance by Brady and with the win took him to 17 playoffs wins, overtaking the legendary Joe Montana.
The following stats also suggest that New England wins on Sunday:
1. Now it may not be playoff related, but in his career as a starter, Tom Brady is 136-39.
2. Brady is 17-6 in his career as a starter in the playoffs.
3. He is also a very impressive 11-2 at home in the playoffs in his career as starter.
4. Finally (and probably the most applicable to this game) Tom Brady is 3-0 at home as a starter in AFC Championship games.
So all in all, and despite it being pretty obvious that the Ravens do have a chance, I fancy New England to win on Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl in New Orleans where, if they win, it will mark the ten-year anniversary of their first victory (20-17 over the St Louis Rams on February 3rd 2002) in the Super Bowl, which was also in New Orleans.
Predicted Score: Ravens 23-31 Patriots