Saturday, January 19, 2013

3 comments NFL Playoffs Conference Championship Picks

Last weekend's playoff games were pretty exciting. What a difference from the week before in the Wild-Card round when the most exciting part of the weekend was a discussion on an injured quarterback. Going into the last weekend there are four people at 5-3 (Bill Simmons, Tweaks, Snarf, and myself) and two people at 3-5 (Steve and Ivn), which means they are not mathematically eliminated yet. Peter King, who didn't even know he was picking against the spread, is probably out of the running at this point. There are only three games left in the NFL season, which seems crazy since the season feels like it just started. So this weekend I am asking for competitive games again. The Wild-Card round games weren't very good and the Divisional round games were really exciting, so I am hoping for really exciting games again, though we will probably get games that are somewhere in-between. Baltimore is looking for revenge against the Patriots for last year's AFC Championship Game loss and the Falcons, who are the #1 seed in the NFC, aren't even favored at home.

Here are Peter's picks.

Here are Bill's picks.

Here are the lines I will be using:

San Francisco (-4.5) at Atlanta
Baltimore at New England (-8)

San Francisco (-4.5) at Atlanta

1. I'm starting this preview off with a bold, bold prediction. Colin Kaepernick will not have the kind of day running the football against the Falcons that he had against the Packers. I am predicting, and stop me if I am being too bold here, that the Falcons and Mike Nolan will game plan for Kaepernick's speed. Whether this game plan works or not is still up in the air. One really exciting narrative I can't believe the media isn't picking up on and running with is that Mike Nolan is playing his old team again! Nolan was fired as the 49ers head coach a few years ago. Where are the stories about Nolan desperately wanting revenge and being excited to face the team that had the audacity to fire him? I'm kidding of course. It's much more fun to talk about a quarterback facing a team that passed him over in the draft than to talk about an ex-head coach facing his old team. Either way, the Falcons are going to try to stop Kaepernick from running all over them. Now there's a bold prediction for you.

2. I'm a little surprised the Falcons aren't favored and they are the NFC #1 seed and play a home game, but I guess that's what an uninspiring victory over the Seahawks and a runaway victory over the Packers in the Divisional Round does for each of these teams. I don't like the Falcons defense at all. I think they can be run on, the secondary has injuries which I think limits their effectiveness, and the 49ers are a really good running team so I have no doubt they can run the football on Atlanta. I look for the 49ers to try to hit some passes deep early in this game in order to get the Falcons defense to back off the line of scrimmage in order to open running holes. Or the 49ers will just simply run the ball down the Falcons throat, whichever option they decide. The Falcons didn't do a terrible job on Marshawn Lynch in the Divisional Round, but it certainly helped they jumped out to an early lead in the game and this took away some of Lynch's effectiveness. I have a hard time believing the Falcons will be able to get out to a 21-0 lead on the 49ers, so I think the 49ers won't be in a position where they need to move away from the running game some.

3. Contrary to my belief the Falcons can't run the ball, they did a very good job running the football last week against an excellent run defense. They ran for 167 yards against the Seahawks with Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combining for 6.75 yards per carry on the ground. It's just my opinion, but I am not entirely sure they can replicate this success against the 49ers run defense. Maybe they can. The 49ers have an aggressive pass rush and front seven that have the ability to control Tony Gonzalez more than most other NFL teams can. The Falcons wide receiving group does present a different set of problems for the 49ers than the Packers wide receivers did. Most importantly, the Falcons have bigger wide receivers who may not worry as much about the physicality of the 49ers secondary and Tony Gonzalez is a big threat over the middle who can draw attention away from Douglas, White, and Jones. I say the 49ers have the linebackers to cover Gonzalez, but because they "can" doesn't mean they will. As long as Matt Ryan can make good decisions, which quite frankly I somewhat question given his performance against the Seahawks last week, I think the Falcons offense will be able to score points on the 49ers defense. I know, betting on the Falcons offense seems stupid.

4. This is such a different 49ers team from when Alex Smith was the quarterback. It seems Colin Kaepernick provides an element of explosiveness that the 49ers offense under Smith didn't have. Sure, Smith had mobility and was very accurate with his passes, but Kaepernick has a better arm and obviously is more mobile than Smith. I still don't like the circumstances around Smith's demotion, but I can't argue it wasn't the right to call make in hindsight. Kaepernick has had one bad game since he was elevated to the starting quarterback spot. That game was against the Seahawks. He has been accurate and made good decisions with the football. Plus, the Falcons aren't the best defense he has faced, so I can see how he would have success in this game. The Falcons defense has to stay in their gaps and not allow Kaepernick to turn the corner and get into the secondary when running the zone-read option. I don't know if the Falcons defense has the push up front to stop the Seahawks running game, especially on the carpet in the Georgia Dome. The corners and safeties are going to need to provide help in order to stop the 49ers running game. I do think Dunta Robinson and the Falcons safeties can do this (I don't include Asante Samuel just out of spite), but this will open the Falcons up to the deep ball if they are overly aggressive.

5. I'm going with my gut feeling again this week. It's foolhardy to rely on your gut too much and ignore some of the obvious factors that could impact a game of course. But hey, I am a fool. I think if these teams played ten times the 49ers would win the game seven of those times. The 49ers have an excellent defense and a dangerous offense. God knows the Falcons have been living right this year, pulling out victories they probably shouldn't pull out and letting off the gas on occasion like they did last week against Seattle. I think the Falcons do have an advantage in playing at home, I think Matt Ryan will make good enough decisions to not commit any turnovers, and the Falcons are going to find a way (with a healthy John Abraham) to confuse and make life difficult for Colin Kaepernick...they will do at least enough to make him uncomfortable. The Falcons are going to try to use Jones and White to occupy the secondary and let Tony Gonzalez win battles against whichever linebacker or corner that will be covering him. I think it is a close game, but the Falcons are going to bottle up the 49ers just enough on offense to pull the game out.

Atlanta (+4.5) over San Francisco 28-20

Baltimore at New England (-8) 

1. I'm going to ruin the suspense behind this pick right now. I picked New England to make it to the Super Bowl this year. I would have to be an idiot to go against my preseason pick, at least in terms of staying consistent with my picks. It also helps that I do think New England is the better team. The Ravens were one well-defended pass/Lee Evans drop from being in the Super Bowl last year against the Patriots (subtlety sits on the fence), so I'm not counting them out completely . The Patriots showed last week again why they are such an offensive juggernaut in running a hurry-up offense on the Texans defense and keeping them off-balance. The Ravens don't have as good of a defense as the Texans do and it wouldn't be a surprise to me at all if the Patriots continue their hurry-up ways or even dial up the hurry-up offense even more to where they don't even take the time to call a play and simply just have everyone go-deep. As I mentioned last week, it seems like the Patriots can be thrown on considering they were 29th in the NFL in pass defense, but this is somewhat misleading since teams have thrown the ball on them to catch up. Again, the ranking of 9th in rushing defense is also a bit misleading.

2. I'm not sure I am comfortable riding with Joe Flacco for one more week. I expected him to have a good week last week against the Broncos and he did play well. He got some help from the Ravens defense and the Broncos defense, but he managed to make plays when he needed to. Plus, there was that pass to Dennis Pitta, which was such a thing of beauty. I can't let the beauty of that pass take my eye off the ball. The Ravens wide receivers are playing very well right now. Anquan Boldin has been making the difficult catches he usually makes while holding on to the ball and Torrey Smith burnt Champ Bailey deep a few times against the Broncos. One would think against the Patriots secondary he would be even more successful. Plus, the Ravens have Ray Rice still. Not to mention, Bernard Pierce is showing he can handle 5-10 carries in a game and be productive. So I do think the Ravens are going to be able to pass the ball against the Patriots, but that's not the side of the ball I am worried about when it comes to the Ravens. I know, it's shocking that I am not worried about the offense. I get possibly one last chance to get a Joe Flacco cheapshot in for this season and I don't take the chance when given.

3. Where I am concerned is with the Ravens defense as it matches up against the Patriots offense. The Ravens have a pretty good defense and "only" gave up 396 yards of offense to the Ravens the first time they met this year. The Ravens offense put up 503 yards of offense, including 382 yards passing from Joe Flacco. This was the game where Bill Belichick tried to talk to one of the officials as he left the field and was rebuffed. The Patriots offense didn't play in this game like they have been playing over the last few games, though in scoring 30 points they obviously didn't play poorly. I feel like the Patriots are going to be able to protect Tom Brady and do a better job than the Broncos did at taking some shots down the field. Ed Reed was pretty much invisible against the Broncos last week and he is going to need to be not invisible this week if the Ravens defense can cover the receivers and tight ends of the Patriots. Missing Rob Gronkowski is a big deal for New England, but it isn't like Aaron Hernandez isn't a great tight end himself. In the first game the Patriots picked on Cary Williams and I can't help but think we may see this again. I think the Ravens will be able to spread out the Ravens defense and have matchup advantages with Welker and Hernandez on Ravens linebackers.

4. The Patriots didn't run the ball very well in their first matchup against the Ravens. They are running the ball well now with Ridley and Woodhead. The Ravens defense is going to have to play strong up front and not allow the Patriots to dominate while running the ball because that will take pressure off Tom Brady and make him more effective in the passing game. The Ravens are going to want to possess the football and keep it out of the hands of Brady as much as possible. He can't score if he doesn't have the ball. One downside to the Patriots running the hurry-up offense is that if Baltimore is able to sustain drives then the Patriots defense may end up on the field for long periods of time. So I think both teams have competing purposes. The Patriots want to be aggressive and jump on the Ravens early in the first half so the threat of Ray Rice running the ball is diminished and Joe Flacco has to start slinging the ball around the field. The Ravens went to possess the football and keep it out of Tom Brady's hands in the hopes they can keep themselves in the game with a chance to win it late. It should be a fun battle.

5. I don't want to be riding the fence here. I am picking the Patriots to win this game. Partly because I had them in the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year and mostly because I think they will win this game. Still, I think the Ravens can win the game. Joe Flacco is missing a signature win in his contract drive (yes, he beat Manning last week, I realize that) that shows he is growing as a quarterback and a victory on the road against Tom Brady to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl would be that win that shows he is worth whatever money he is going to want. Flacco will get paid regardless by some team or another, but it seems he wants respect and taking the Ravens to the Super Bowl would go a long way to getting that respect. So I won't be shocked if the Ravens win, but I fully expect the Patriots to win. They are on a roll offensively and their defense is improved over last year. I think the Patriots have found a running game and are going to be able to get matchups on offense they want to take advantage of. The Patriots offensive line is the key on offense to protecting Brady and the Patriots linebackers are the key to holding back what Rice does offensively. I think the Patriots will be able to score some early points on the Ravens and mess up what they want to do offensively. The Broncos weren't able to put the Ravens away, but I think the Patriots will.

New England (-8) over Baltimore 31-20


Snarf said...

Give me 49ers and ravens

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, gotcha. Seems like we won't be tying this week since our picks are different.

ivn said...

Niners and Patriots. not going to guess final scores because I've been doing bad enough as it is