BALTIMORE RAVENS @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
I’m trying to think how the Ravens will be able to beat the Patriots in Foxborough. Barring at least one significant injury, I can’t.
The Patriots are simply too hungry, too powerful and too good.
In 17 games this season, the Patriots have scored 30 points or more 13 times, including eight times in the last nine games. Gulp.
New England simply poses too many matchup problems. If a team were to double-team Rob Gronkowski, good luck with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. If a team were to somehow double-team two of those guys, good luck with the other one, not to mention Deion Branch or a group of running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
In addition, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady does a terrific job of rendering even a talented pass rush somewhat slower by how quickly he goes through his progressions and gets rid of the football.
Even with a minimal running game at best, Brady has been able to buck conventional wisdom and put up astounding numbers. He is simply too good. He simply has too many weapons.
More importantly, he, along with his teammates, seems unbelievably focused on bringing another Lombardi Trophy back to team headquarters. When Brady gets “that look,” he is usually as close to unstoppable as an NFL player can get.
The Ravens’ defense is still very good, ranking third in the NFL by allowing only 16.6 points per game. But this just isn’t any other game against any ‘ole team. This is the AFC Championship…against the vaunted Patriots…in the Patriots’ house.
Very good won’t be good enough for Baltimore. New England rolls into Super Bowl XLVI.
NEW ENGLAND 34, BALTIMORE 17
NEW YORK GIANTS @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
After 17 years, the 49ers will return to football’s Promised Land. It won’t be easy, but then again, getting to the Super Bowl is usually an arduous survival of the fittest. And San Francisco will be the fittest, but the margin will be small.
One has to respect how the Giants are able to get pressure on the quarterback with their front four. Whenever they make a run in the playoffs, this seems to be a key component to their success. They did a great job of making Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers uneasy last weekend. In the Wild Card round two weekends ago, they simply abused Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan.
But the 49ers are a different animal. While quarterback Alex Smith has been solid, but typically unspectacular (save for last week against the Saints), the 49ers horse it up and run the ball. They run it to the tune of 127.8 yards per game, eighth in the NFL.
The Packers haven’t been able to run the ball consistently the entire season. Clearly that has not been the case with the 49ers. I’m not saying San Francisco will run over New York. The Giants have a way of playing tough in the postseason. They allowed, however, 121.2 rushing yards per game during the regular season.
The 49ers’ rushing attack will keep the Giants’ defensive line honest. That should open up play-action for Smith, who showed against New Orleans that he is capable of putting up big numbers on the big stage.
Beyond the San Francisco offense, the 49ers’ defense has been nothing short of sensational this year. While quarterback Eli Manning is playing well for the Giants right now, he hasn’t faced the 49ers’ defense. The 49ers flat-out get after it. That will continue Sunday against the Giants.
It’s one thing to have a good drive against the 49ers. The Giants might have one of those here and there. But it’s another thing completely to have a good game against that defense. That won’t happen. By any measure, the 49ers have one of the elite defenses in the NFL. They allow 14.3 points per game (2nd in the league), 308.2 yards (4th) and 77.3 yards rushing (1st). There is no reason to think the Giants will do much better than the numbers suggest.
As if they need one other advantage, the 49ers will be at home. It will be a physical battle. But it will be a San Francisco treat Sunday at Candlestick Park. The 49ers march on to the Super Bowl.
SAN FRANCISCO 23, NEW YORK 17