This NFL postseason has been a tale of two weeks. The wild card round was one of the worst rounds of playoff football in recent memory, with really only one game providing a somewhat compelling ending. This past week’s divisional round was a thing of beauty. While the Patriots-Texans game was over in the third quarter, the other three games provided dramatic and exciting football.
San Francisco dominated late in the game but Green Bay put up a good three quarters of competitive football. Baltimore’s victory over Denver was a spectacle to watch as one legend on his final stand in Ray Lewis trumped another that has begun a new phase of his career in Peyton Manning. And Atlanta’s victory over Seattle provided some of the most exciting football as the Seahawks nearly defeated the Falcons after trailing by 20 entering the fourth quarter.
With such a great weekend of football behind us, the focus will shift to this week’s conference championship round. Here’s hoping this next week of football is as shocking and entertaining as the last.
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
While New England was expected to reach the AFC Championship game, many, including myself, predicted the Denver Broncos would take the sideline opposite them next Sunday. Instead, the Baltimore Ravens rallied behind Ray Lewis and set up a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship by pulling a dramatic and thrilling upset of Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Looking at this game, maybe the Ravens can repeat a week-three performance in which they defeated the Patriots 31-30 at Baltimore. Maybe Ray Lewis and the rest of the defense will pressure Tom Brady enough to cause a few turnovers. And maybe Joe Flacco and the offense repeat last week’s production in which they stayed point-for-point with Manning. But there is no way I’m betting against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game.
Brady is 5-1 all-time in AFC Championship games and despite losing tight end Rob Gronkowski this weekend, the Patriots are in no shortage of weapons. Wes Welker will do his usual thing out of the slot, Aaron Hernandez will catch balls over the middle, Brandon Lloyd will stretch the defense down and Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will be dangerous out of the flats.
Even without Gronkowski, the Patriots have too many weapons to limit; at least one is bound to go off. The Ravens are playing as hard as and with as much passion as anyone right now, but that can only take them so far. The Patriots are a superior team with an explosive offense and athletic defense. It’s back to the Super Bowl for the Patriots!
Prediction: Patriots 31 – Ravens 24
San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons
I bet Jim Harbaugh has a permanent grin fixed on his face right now after Colin Kaepernick’s performance on Sunday. Clearly Harbaugh knew what kind of weapon he had when he benched Alex Smith in favor of Kaepernick.
The 49ers dominated the second half on Saturday and ran right over the Green Bay Packers. Now with a multidimensional and suddenly dangerous offense to match with the best defense in the league, the 49ers look like the team to beat in this matchup. Jim Harbaugh is truly a football genius.
Atlanta has a talented passing game, but San Francisco is equipped to pressure the quarterback with Justin Smith back. Oddmakers have this game close, but I think the 49ers will come out and leave no question as to who is the most dominant and physically imposing team in the NFL right now.
Even with homefield advantage, Atlanta enters this week as an underdog. If Kaepernick can rush for 181 yards on the cold fields in Candlestick, imagine what he can do in the element-friendly confines of the Georgia Dome. Get ready for a show on Sunday.
With Kaepernick and Frank Gore running behind the best offensive line in football, the Niners are bound to run over the Falcons come Sunday. I guess it’s championship or bust for Bay Area teams this year; your turn to keep it up, Niners.
Prediction: 49ers 38 – Falcons 27
The 49ers and the Patriots meeting in the Super Bowl seems to be the most exciting option available amongst the teams left standing. It would place two marquee franchises in the NFL against each other in the biggest stage of the year. But before that theses two teams must prove they deserve to be in the big game. I’m ready for some great football on Sunday.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of January 15th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.