Sunday, January 20, 2013

NFL Picks: Conference Championship Round

After last week's amazing slate of games, the winners have moved on to play for their respective conference championships. The Atlanta Falcons won last week in a very good game to get the monkey off of their backs and prove that they can in fact win in the playoffs. I still think that the Seahawks are the better team, and they showed to the world why "icing the kicker" is the dumbest thing in the world.

Offensively, everyone knows about Roddy White, JULIO! Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and Matt Ryan in the passing game. What people don't realize, is that the inability of Michael Turner to get anything going in the running game is the most important factor in the team's success or lack thereof. Turner has not been very good this year, and Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't done much either. This will be an even more glaring issue when they go up against the strong 49ers defense.

There almost isn't any use in breaking down the Falcons defense, because they will not stop Colin Kaepernick. The running defense isn't good enough to corral the read option, especially seeing what Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have both done to them this year. The secondary is very good, especially with the ball-hawking Thomas DeCoud back there waiting to pick off all passes, but Kaepernick is too smart. Also, his running will draw in the safeties and he'll attack them over the top.

Now for my love affair with Kaepernick to continue. I think we can all agree that I was right; he is much better than Alex Smith ever was or ever will be. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, this record-breaking QB leads his team into Atlanta and I'm all in. I've been driving this bandwagon since he dropped to the second round in the 2011 Draft, and I haven't given up the keys since then. The biggest question about him was always his accuracy. He's quieted those doubters. He has all the physical talent to be the best player in the NFL. He's smart, he's big, he's fast, and his arm is a cannon. I think he's going to put it all together, and I say that he has more potential that Russell Wilson, RGIII, and Andrew Luck. Same with Cam Newton, the question is if they have the intelligence to break down defenses on the fly like an Aaron Rodgers. Just mark my words, this Kaepernick kid is not a flash in the pan, you'll be hearing his name for years to come, and if you're not a fan of the 49ers, he'll be haunting you in your sleep.

I haven't even talked about the Niners defense. Justin Smith was less effective last week with his one arm (Smith and Ray Lewis make this the week of ultra important one-armed defensive players), which could affect this game. Aldon Smith had to work much harder to get pressure on the quarterback, as did the rest of the defensive front. They'll find a way. Though I believe that the secondary is slightly overrated, they'll challenge the wideouts of Atlanta.

I'm very comfortable with this pick, the Falcons have no chance to beat Colin Kaepernick and the Niners. They will waltz into the Super Bowl.

49ers (-3.5) over FALCONS.

The Ravens are coming off one of the greatest games in NFL history, a double overtime upset victory in Denver over the G.O.A.T. and Rahim Moore.

Quick tangent here: Peyton Manning's playoff record isn't indicative of his talent. He put his team in position to win last week, as he had many times in the playoffs. He's seemingly the master of terrible playoff luck. I'm not buying into the "Peyton Manning isn't clutch" argument. Last week's loss wasn't on him. Also, if you dare to use the argument that Tim Tebow has more playoff wins as a Bronco than Peyton Manning, please stop watching football.

End rant.

While, Ray Lewis's impending retirement is the major topic with this team, I feel that the real story has been Joe Flacco. Before the season, I picked the Ravens in the Super Bowl, and I said that Joe Flacco would have to carry them there. Not to toot my own horn, but I picked the Ravens over Patriots in the conference title game, but that's beside the point. Flacco has the strongest arm in the NFL, and his deep passes will open up the ground game for Ray Rice. Speaking of Rice, Jim Caldwell has done a much better job at utilizing Rice than Cam Cameron ever did. As a Ray Rice fantasy owner, I have a strong feeling that Cameron has a personal vendetta against his star running back. They didn't give him the ball enough. That has changed, and so has Flacco. His decision making has improved and he's fully utilizing his arm strength.

In terms of the defense, they are going to play physical, and pressure Tom Brady. Then of course, there's the one armed man, Ray Lewis, who's a great leader and will provide some emotional lift. During the season, the Ravens defense was wildly overrated, getting recognition based solely on past history, but not on current performance. That has shifted in the playoffs, going back to their old form and imposing their will on the game. That's the key to this game.

The New England Patriots are fresh off of a coast to coast victory over the overmatched Texans. The most important part of that game, the loss of Rob Gronkowski. The whole Patriots offense is built around him and taking away the middle of the field, setting up big plays for Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Josh McDaniels will definitely rebuild their gameplan and find a new random guy to come up big, but Gronk provided a matchup problem that doesn't exist anymore.

I still don't trust the Patriots secondary, even with Aqib Talib back there. He's not the greatest cover corner, and chasing Torrey Smith around the field will be a big job for him. The front seven is very good, and could possibly keep Ray Rice and Joe Flacco bottled up for a good amount of the game. I'm worried about that, but I'm putting my trust in the Ravens.

I think that the Ravens will win this rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game. Even if they don't this line is completely ridiculous and they'll cover.

Ravens (+9) over PATRIOTS.

Last Week: 4-0
Playoffs: 7-1
Season: 125-133-4*