SAN FRANCISO 49ERS @ ATLANTA FALCONS
This has all the makings of a terrific game. The top-seeded Falcons are looking to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since they lost to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIII.
The 48ers are looking to complete its climb back to the top of the NFL under the guidance of young quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The 49ers are rolling the dice that the moment will not be too big for their second-year signal caller.
It won’t be. Not by a long shot.
Kaepernick is big, he’s fast and he’s a big play waiting to happen. Plus, he also brings the element of rushing the ball. He piled up 181 yards on the ground in the NFL Divisional playoff win over the Packers. And all too frequently, he was outrunning Packers defenders for big gains.
The kid can play. And he has a defense that is lights out. This year, the 49ers gave up an average of only 17.1 points per game, third-lowest in the league. And they surrendered only 94.2 yards per game on the ground, fourth-best in the NFL.
The only thing keeping the 49ers from another run of sustained success is the play at the quarterback position. Kaepernick is talented and confident in his own right. And he has plenty of talent around him and plenty of big-play guys on a defense that can flat-out suffocate an opponent.
At the same time, the Falcons are the team that has to live up to being the number one seed in the NFC. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is good. But how good will he be against that vaunted 49ers defense? He is more than capable of turning in a great game. But I’ll have to see him do it in a game of this magnitude before I pick Atlanta to win.
This game won’t be for the weak of faint of heart. I like the 49ers to win…and move on to the Super Bowl.
SAN FRANCISCO 23, ATLANTA 17
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
All week, I have been trying to come up with a realistic scenario in which Baltimore defeats New England in Foxborough and advances to the Super Bowl.
I’m still trying.
We all know anything can happen in any given NFL game. We all know that if the Patriots turn the ball over and do not play well, the Ravens are capable of taking advantage of that.
But I don’t see it unfolding that way.
First off, Tom Brady is too experienced and too good. He is looking for his NFL-record 17th career playoff win.
Second, New England is playing at home. They are 3-0 all-time in AFC Championship games at Gillette Stadium (4-0 in AFC Championship games at home overall). Through nine home games this year, they have outscored their opponents by an average of 35.4 – 22.8 points.
Those statistics are what they are because the Patriots are so good at home. They can run their high-octane offense without any distraction. While the Ravens are tough, they’re also old. And I just don’t see them keeping up with the Patriots, especially when New England has the ball.
And when Baltimore has the ball, the Ravens will have to contend with a Patriots’ defense that has been playing better down the stretch.
There is just too much for Baltimore to overcome. The Patriots will have a great retirement party for Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis and advance to Super Bowl XLVII.
NEW ENGLAND 34, BALTIMORE 17