Photo via the AP.
I will be writing this one solo. KJ was sad and dejected after last weekend and wrote his thoughts earlier this week.
I went 3-1 last weekend again, missing out on the Falcons beating the Seahawks. The Seahawks laid an egg in the first half and nearly finished the comeback, only for the Falcons to quickly get down the field and kick a field goal to win the game.
This weekend isn’t necessarily easier to choose because there’s only two games. Last year, three of these same teams were playing this weekend along with the New York Giants and I got both games wrong. I predicted a Harbaugh Bowl to happen, but instead, the Ravens blew the game late and missed a field goal that would’ve sent the game into overtime, and the 49ers fumbled away their chance to go to the Super Bowl.
So what’s different this year? Instead of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Atlanta Falcons have joined the fray. They are the number one seed in the West and host the 49ers, who opened up eyes of the entire league by destroying the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons and the 49ers have playoff history in the Georgia Dome. In the divisional round of playoffs during the 1998 season, the Falcons hosted the 49ers. 49ers’ running back (and really, heart and soul of that team) Garrison Hearst broke his ankle early and the Falcons outlasted the 49ers 20-18. Will that happen again? Colin Kaepernick and a hard-hitting defense may have something to say about that.
On the other side, the Patriots and Ravens are teams that know each other very well. How well do these teams know each other? I’ll explain below.
Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots
In the 2009 season, the Ravens blew out the Patriots in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Since that game, they’ve played three times including last year’s Conference Championship game. In 2010, the Patriots beat the Ravens 23-20 at New England in week 6. Last year’s 23-20 Patriots win in the Conference Championship was also in New England. And earlier this year, the Ravens beat the Patriots 31-30 in “The Torrey Smith” game in Baltimore in maybe the most entertaining Sunday Night game of the year.
How will this game not be close? These guys know each other like they know their own teams.
How far can “Win It For Ray” last? Ray Lewis had a big game last weekend and was tackling anything near him. You have to expect that the way the Pats attack the middle of the field, Ray won’t have nearly the same game. But his inspiration will be there.
Joe Flacco has positioned himself nicely as a guy who won’t have the gaudy QBR, quarterback rating, and completion percentage stats, but makes plays, throws the ball downfield, and simply wins football games. He should be able to go downfield against the Patriots with Torrey Smith. Which Ray Rice are we going to see? The one who they feed more often than not to the tune of 130 yards rushing? Or the one that Baltimore can go away from during the game? If the game is close, Rice should be a huge factor and he also needs to make a big play or two.
For the Patriots, they are simply a machine. They had absolutely no problems with the Houston Texans. They are a heavy favorite, and they are at home. These teams are so close that I think home field advantage matters. The last three games, including last year’s title game, have all gone to the home team. If this game is in Baltimore, I’d pick the Ravens. But I can’t. Have to go Pats.
Prediction: New England 30, Baltimore 27
San Francisco 49ers Vs. Atlanta Falcons
As a 49ers fan, I’ve been salivating for the opportunity to face the Falcons in the playoffs. Atlanta has great weapons on offense, but after watching them do well in the regular season these last several years and then falter in the playoffs, I don’t think they’re tough enough. And tough is what the 49ers are. If you gave an adjective to each team, maybe Atlanta is explosive because of Ryan’s ability to connect downfield with “Rowdy” Roddy White and Julio Jones. But the 49ers are just tough. They’re strong in the trenches and their defense has bad intentions.
Atlanta can still win this game, but several things will have to go right for them including winning the turnover battle. And usually, winning the turnover battle is a recipe for winning, but in this case, maybe more so. The 49ers’ play a certain style of football that’s hard to game plan for. On offense, they run plays from tons of different sets, their quarterback is possibly the fastest player on their offense, and their offensive line is made up of bullies. The 49ers had over 300 yards rushing against the Packers.
Offensively, Atlanta will also have to be able to run the ball like they did against Seattle. The running game hasn’t been a strong point for them this season, but last week, it enabled them to be a two-headed monster on offense instead of being so one-dimensional. The only team who succeeded against the 49ers being one-dimensional was the Patriots and that was after being down by a lot of points and having no choice but to air it out. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers must be able to run the football.
On the 49ers’ end, Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have to be as good running the ball as he was, but the team still needs to have a run-first mentality. Frank Gore was excellent against Green Bay and when he’s running well, it opens up so many things for the offense creatively.
I expect points to be scored, but ultimately, I think the 49ers wear out the Falcons and by the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan and company are going to be a tired team.
Prediction: San Francisco 30, Atlanta 21
I’m not picking a Harbaugh Bowl this year, but the 49ers and Ravens look to be built to last. Jim and John may play each other in the biggest game of them all one of these years.