On to the Conference Championship games. I really like all four of the remaining teams in the playoffs. No real weak links in this group. It is very possible that any of these teams could advance to the Superbowl and win. My prediction record for the playoffs thus far if 5-3, both in picking game winners and vs. the spread. Hopefully I can improve my winning percentage, but it will not be easy because, as I have noted, these teams appear to be fairly close in overall ability.
NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) at the Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
San Francisco is a -4 favorite.
I don’t think there are very many teams that can beat the Atalanta Falcons at home right now. I thought the Seattle Seahawks was capable of doing it and they came darn close. I think San Francisco is another team that has the weapons needed on both offense and defense to stop the Falcons, but it won’t be easy. Atlanta has a very potent offense, with really good players at all the skill positions, led by QB Matt Ryan, who has had an outstanding season thus far. Ryan and Joe Flacco of the Ravens were both drafted 5 years ago and there were high expectations for both of them. Both of them now seem to be living up to expectations.
SF QB Colin Kaepernick also has some pretty high expectations because of this spectacular play since he was installed as the 49er’s starting QB at mid season. As opposing teams see more of Kaepernick they will no doubt devise better ways of defending him, but he seems to prototypical next gen QB, who can both pass and run with great effectnivess. I don’t think Kaepernick is going to run all over the Falcons D, in the way that did against Green Bay last week, because Atlanta will be ready for his runs, but totally stopping Kaepernick will prove to be very difficult. SF, like all the teams remaining at this point have multiple threats on offense. SF also has a very tough defense and it is especially adept at shutting down the run. If the 49er D limits the damage that Falcons RB Michael Turner can do, it could be a key advantage.
Here is the bottom line, I think Atlanta’s defense will have a more difficult time stopping the SF offense than SF’s defense will have with Atlanta and that will give the advantage to the 49ers.
I see SF winning by 7.
AFC Championship Game: Baltimore Ravens at the New England Patriots
New England is a -8 favorite.
These two teams know each other very well and I think it unlikely that we will see a real high scoring game. I have to give the edge to the Patriots at home, but I think the point spread is still wide. It think the point started out at -9 1/2 or -9 for the Patriots, but it has come into -8, which I still think is too wide. If NE still had the services of All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski I could see making the Patriots 9 or 10 pt favorites, but he is gone and that takes away a big scoring threat. Of course, NE has a lot of other talented players on offensive, including their other very talented TE, Aaron Hernandez, so I’m sure Belichick and his staff will come up with a game plan that compensates for the absence of Gronkowski. However, I think the resulting NE attack will likely be more run heavy and therefore the scoring may not be quite as prolific as it usually is for the Patriots. Running the ball more and eating up more time would probably be beneficial for NE, even if they had Gronkowski, because I they want to keep the ball away from Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who has proven that he can be a very dangerous passer, just ask the Denver Broncos. But there is more to Baltimore’s offense than just Flacco, RB Ray Rice is a big threat as both a runner and receiver. NE’s defense is much improved over last year, but they will still have their hands full trying to contain the Raven’s offense.
I think this game could very easily be decided by 7 points or less. So, I think NE wins this game, but I if I were betting on this game I would take the Ravens and the points. Still, I can’t say i would want to make anything but a small bet on this game.
POST PLAYOFF COMMENTS:
Here comes the Harbaugh Bowl.
I can’t say I was very surprised by the outcome of the 49er/Falcons game. I picked SF to win, but they only won by 4 (Thx David Akers). So, I got the winner correct, but the bet would have been a push. The Falcons had a great 1st half, but they collapsed in 2nd half and lost by 4. The Falcons will no doubt regret this loss because the game was within reach for them.
The Ravins victory did surprise me, although I thought Baltimore was the smart bet with 8 points. Turns out that you could have had NE and 8 points and you still would have lost. How many fans would have made that bet? Probably the vast majority, including many in Baltimore. I knew that the absence of Rob Gronkowski would hurt NE, but I thought they could compensate for his loss. Well, I won’t say it was impossible to win without Gronk, but the Patriots really could have used him today. The loss of the Patriots best CB, Talib, during the 1st half also proved to be costly as Joe Flacco went to work on the NE secondary.
My overall prediction record for the 2013 playoffs now stands at 6-4 and 6-3-1 vs the spread.
The Super Bowl: San Francisco has been started out as a 5 point favorite over Baltimore. I think that line is a little wide and I would not be surprised if it narrowed by a point or a point and a half by game time.