NFL Championship Sunday Playoff Picks

Championship Sunday is here and 3 of the 4 teams playing today were playing on Championship Sunday last year.  The Patriots, Ravens, and 49ers are all making their second trip in a row to their Conference’s respective championship game.  The Falcons are the new team in the equation, replacing last year’s eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.  The Harbaugh brothers were swept out of a chance to make the Super Bowl last year.  Will it happen again this season?

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

NFC Championship Game – San Fransisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons, 3:00 PM on FOX – The Falcons are 4-point underdogs at home to the Niners and most people don’t have much faith in the home-team.  While the Falcons got their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith era last week they were practically begging the Seahawks to steal the game from them before putting it away on a last second field goal.  There was some question as to how 2nd year Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick would acclimate himself in the playoffs and he answered those questions resoundingly last week when he passed for 263 yards, ran for 181 and scored two touchdowns each through the air and on the ground.  I’m not sure if Kaepernick will match the success of his first career playoff start but the Falcons defense will need all hands on deck to stop him.  Veteran defensive end John Abraham missed the second half of last week’s game but should be good to go for this week.  Falcons cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson will try to slow down the Niners weapons on offense.  The bottom line is that while the 49ers offense can beat you the strength of their team really lies on the defensive side of the ball.  Good defense is sometimes forgotten during the post-season when guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are flinging around the rock.  The Niners have the best defense left in the tournament and it’s not really that close.  I’m going to predict that Matt Ryan and company will have a long day dealing with that San Fransisco front 7.  Michael Turner will have trouble as well.  The game will rest on the shoulders of Matt Ryan and I just don’t see him making enough big plays to win this game.  The Falcons defense won’t do enough to overcome this and the 49ers will head to their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.

Final Score Prediction – San Fransisco 49ers 30, Atlanta Falcons 17

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

AFC Championship Game – Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots, 6:30 PM on CBS – They’ll be a lot of cliches used to describe this game – a battle, a bar fight, a bloodbath.  I expect a great game and a close one as well.  No matter what people say about either side anytime these two teams come together they usually play it close.  The Pats are always up for big games like this and you don’t have to ask if the Ravens are going to be ready as it could be Ray Lewis’ last game.  Anyone looking for a blowout in Foxboro should go looking somewhere else.  This is going to be a close game.  I envision more points being scored in this one than last year’s 23-20 AFC final.  The Ravens are a year older on defense and aren’t the juggernaut that they have been in the past.  Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis are both hobbled but I’m guessing Lewis just gets through this one on adrenaline alone.  Ed Reed is the key.  He was quiet last week but he didn’t let Peyton Manning get anything behind him.  He’ll try to do the same with Tom Brady this week.  Defensively the Pats are better than they were last year but I still don’t see a championship caliber defense (not to say that they can’t win a championship, just not on defense alone).  There are some match-up problems for them.  Torrey Smith may be a handful like he was earlier in the season.  If the Pats play the long ball it should open up opportunities for Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice in the middle of the field.  I’ve criticized Joe Flacco a lot but he has come to play during this post-season.  I think he has another strong game today but Tom Brady will be a little bit stronger.  I think the Pats use the home-field to pull this one out but it will be by the most razor-thin of margins (no pun intended).

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 31, Baltimore Ravens 30

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Sunday NFL Playoff Picks

So I didn’t do so well yesterday going 0-2.  I guess it serves me right for going against both Harbaugh brothers.  I’m still 4-2 on the post-season so hopefully I can get back on the winning track today.  Here are the picks:

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (1:00 PM, FOX) – I love Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.  Pete Carroll not so much though.  The Seahawks have been an incredible story, coming out of nowhere to win 11 games and then winning on the road against RG III and the Redskins last week.  The Seahawks have a great defense but they will be tested today in the dome against Atlanta’s high-powered offense.  The match-up between Seattle CB’s Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman facing off against Atlanta WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White will be a fun one to watch.  I’m not too sure who will get the upper hand in that one.  The Falcons are OK on defense.  Hopefully they were watching how Green Bay handled the read option last night against San Fransisco and do the opposite of what they did.  Seattle uses the read option to feast on opposing defenses and if they get that going it could be a long day for the Atlanta defense.  A lot of people have pointed out this week that rookie Russell Wilson already has more playoff wins than Matt Ryan.  Despite being the NFC’s #1 seed people aren’t expecting much from the Falcons.  I think Matty Ice finally gets it done today as the travel will become too much for the Seahawks.  If the Seahawks had home-field advantage I would ride them all the way to the Super Bowl but they don’t.  I think Ryan does just enough to get his first playoff win and put Atlanta into the NFC Championship game.

Final Score Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 27, Seattle Seahawks 24

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Houston Texans at New England Patriots (4:30, CBS) – I’m thinking that this game will be much closer than the one in Foxboro last month.  Matt Schaub has struggled in the last few weeks but he can wake up today against a below average Pats secondary.  On defense J.J. Watt has to show up more than he did in New England.  The key for Houston is to slow down the Pats offense just enough to keep it close.  Another factor for the Texans will be to limit the mistakes on offense.  On the Pats side obviously they have a lot of playoff experience and the best playoff coach in the game in Bill Belichick.  The Pats will try and do their thing on offense and they should move the ball with everyone healthy.  Stevan Ridley will be key as they will need him to move the ball without fumbling it.  The team who plays mistake-free ball will be the one who advances.  I expect to see a more efficient Matt Schaub this time around against the New England defense but his one mistake will be the difference in the game.  The Pats will take advantage and go into a re-match of last year’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 34, Houston Texans 24

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NFC Wild Card Round Preview

Usually the AFC is the main course of the first round of the playoffs with the NFC having a laugher thrown in there, usually with the NFC West involved.  The 49ers put an end to that and left us with two good match-ups this weekend.  Here’s my preview:

Detroit Lions (10-6) at New Orleans Saints (13-3), Saturday, Jan. 7, 8:00 PM, NBC

Brees hopes to add a Super Bowl title to his historic season

The Lions have not been to the playoffs since 1999.  They face a tall task in their first appearance back as they must go up against the team with the best record playing in the round, the New Orleans Saints.  The Lions had a chance to play out of this game if they had beaten the Packers and their back-up quarterback Matt Flynn last weekend.  Instead they lost by a score of 45-41 and Flynn threw for 480 yards and 6 TDs.  Imagine what an offense led by Drew Brees can do to their pass defense?  The Saints offense obviously matches up well with the Lions defense.  They have so many weapons to account for – Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Darren Sproles – how can Detroit possibly account for all of them.  On defense the Lions rely on their front 7 led by star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is very active in the middle.  Their secondary is the weak spot of their defense and that obviously does not bode well for the Lions in their match-up against the Saints offense.  Offensively the Lions are explosive themselves with quarterback Matthew Stafford and all-world receiver Calvin Johnson.  Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, and Tony Scheffler add some horizontal threats to Johnson’s vertical threat.  The Saints are not much better than the Lions against the pass.  They are better in the front 7 with Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis manning the middle of the field.  Jabrari Greer and Tracy Porter are opportunistic corners and will take advantage of mistakes if Stafford makes them.  These two teams are both tougher against the run but obviously the others offense doesn’t rely on the running game as much as the pass.  The question will be can the Lions offense keep up with the Saints?  When it’s all said and done I think the Saints will pull away from the Lions but not before the Lions light up the scoreboard a little bit themselves.  The Saints will use the home field advantage to create some turnovers that will be the difference in a Saints win.

Prediction – New Orleans Saints 45, Detroit Lions 31

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at New York Giants (9-7), Sunday, Jan. 8th, 1:00 PM, FOX

Gonzalez is searching for the 1st playoff win in his long career

This might be the best game of the week and it might end up the closest.  The Giants could be one of the better teams in the league when they put their minds to it.  The Falcons will be desperate for a win.  Matt Ryan would love to shake the stigma that he is not a postseason quarterback and Tony Gonzalez would love to win at least one playoff game in his Hall of Fame career.  Eli Manning has done it before and he leads an offense that is explosive when healthy.  UMass product Victor Cruz has been a revelation for the Giants offense and Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham make great compliments when healthy.  The running game is key for the Giants as they need to get the trio of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward off and running.  Atlanta is another defensive disappointment.  Defensive end John Abraham can still get to the quarterback.  Cornerback Dunta Robinson is a punishing and sometimes dirty hitter.  If they let Manning sit back in the pocket it could make for a long day for the Falcons defense.  On offense Matty Ice and Gonzalez will look to win their first playoff game.  Their best player on offense is Michael Turner who may be the most underrated running back in the league.  Roddy White and Julio Jones can both stretch the field but both are prone to drops.  Defensively the Giants are all about the pass rush.  They are weak at LB and incredibly weak at cornerback.  It’s up to the guys up front, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul.  That trio can give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.  Their linebackers have suffered injuries but they get outside linebacker Michael Boley back for this game.  Him and Mathias Kiwanuka give them a good duo of outside linebackers.  Cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster are underachievers but they will get plenty of help over the top from safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle.  The key though will be stopping Turner.  If he has a big day that will open things up for Ryan and the Falcons’ passing game.  I don’t think this will be much of a defensive game so again turnovers and quarterback pressure will be key.  I like the Giants pass rush more and they’ll have the hometown crowd behind them in the first playoff game at the new stadium.  I say the Giants take this one by a touchdown.

Prediction – New York Giants 31, Atlanta Falcons 24

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