Through 20 weeks of football we are now down to four teams left in the tournament. I'd argue that we didn't get the 4 best teams in the league this year (sorry Saints/Packers) but that's the fun of tournaments. You learn to expect the unexpected. I'll be writing an open letter to the president of the NCAA to make a push for a College Football Tournament - I'm pretty sure my constituency of 7 readers should sway the vote. Anyways - the silver lining of this season has to be the fact that there is NO possible way for me to finish under .500 for the season due to my 3-1 performance last week. As a prognosticator with no inside sources - this is the best feeling one could possibly ask for. Not much room to go up from here - so if you're reading it's probably a good time to stop. For those that enjoy my weekly banter - here are my speculations and analysis for the games this weekend...
Sunday, January 22nd
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots (-7.5), 3 ET - CBS
The big news this week heading into Conference Championship weekend had to do with Ravens star Safety Ed Reed "calling out" QB Joe Flacco for lacking a grasp on the offense. To quote a 13 year-old girl "Ummm, Yeah!!." I mean - did you see his performance against that superior Texans defense? Flacco absorbed 5 sacks, completed 14 of 27 passes and threw for a whopping 176 yards to go along with 2 TDs. Not exactly Brees, Brady, or Rodgers numbers. But that's the thing - Flacco doesn't need to do all that... That's not the way this Ravens team is built.
The one thing that Flacco will have to hang his helmet on is that the Patriots defense is not the Texans defense. Quite the opposite, actually. Reed noted that he intended to help motivate his young signal caller with his chatter this week - you know what would motivate me? The opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. Flacco, who has the opportunity to become the first QB to win 50 games in his first 4 seasons, is within one game of the big one. However, for the Ravens to have any success against the Patriots it will be less about Flacco and much more about feeding Ray Rice the football all day every day. Did you know, that when the Ravens have gotten Rice at least 15 carries - they've gone 12-0 this year including last week's W over the Texans? It's true - I just checked. Did you also know that the last time these two teams met in the playoffs Rice had 22 carries for 159 yards and 2 TDs, while Joe Flacco amassed 34 yards on 4/10 passing? Morale of the story - feed Rice that chicken. See what I did there? Chicken and Rice!?... anyone still reading?
So what's stopping Baltimore from advancing to Super Bowl 46? The Patriots have Tom Brady. Brady put up an insane 6 TDs and 363 yards in the Patriots drubbing of the Broncos last week. Just anything he wanted, whenever he wanted. That must be what sex is like for celebrities. Anyways, if there's two things we know about Tom Brady it's that he has a hot wife and he drools at the opportunity for revenge. Brady and the Pats will have the chance to avenge their 2009 defeat to the Ravens in which they were embarrassed 33-14. It's kind of scary to say this - but it feels like Brady in his 12th year is hungrier than ever to get that Super Bowl ring - the man just has not lost a step.
Overall this game will come down to two keys for the Ravens, can they effectively run the ball with Rice and will their defense be able to pressure Brady? If the answer is yes to both of those - we'll see a great game. If Brady is allowed to sit back and pick apart this aging Ravens defense then we could see another pummeling. Fortunately for us - I think we'll see a meaningful second half. I'll take the Ravens and the points in this one.
Prediction: New England 27, Baltimore 24 - Brady and Belichick will become the first QB-coach tandem to reach the Super Bowl five times.
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers (-2.5), 6:30 ET - FOX
I've picked against the Giants the last three weeks dating back to their 31-14 victory over the Cowboys in week 17. It's not that I have anything against them - I just whole-heartedly have believed that their string of luck would run out. Then there was last weekend against the Packers - an absolutely dominant victory over what many had argued to be one of the best teams in the past decade. So where do we go from here? Easy. All we've got to do is identify the team of destiny..
The Giants seem like the team of destiny - it seems like a long, long time ago but in my first weekly recap I stated - "we had some laughs (I'm told all you had to do was watch the Giants on Sunday)" after the Giants lost by 2 TDs to the lowly Washington Redskins. Now here they are knocking on the door of the Super Bowl. QB Eli Manning and WR Hakeem Nicks have been superb in the playoffs so far - but the real cause and effect of this 4 game winning streak has been their defense. Having allowed only 50 points in their last 4 games the Giants have done a complete 180 after allowing 36 points per contest in the 4 games prior to the streak. It's no secret that the Giants D-line brings the heat which has to cause heartburn for 49er faithful seeing as to how San Francisco has allowed 48 sacks this year. If JPP and the rest of the "fearsome foursome" can get it going early - this will be an easy Giants W.
The 49ers seem like the team of destiny - it seems like a long, long time ago but in my first weekly recap I stated "1 week down. 1 week closer to a Bills / 49ers Super Bowl, CIRCLE THE WAGONS!" after Ted Ginn carried the 49ers to a 16 point victory over the Seahawks. Well - maybe I was half right? Damn you Fred Jackson's ACL. Anyways - how can any football fan not love 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh? To me, he resembles the real-life version of one of my favorite TV Characters of all time, Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights. I imagine that every one of Harbaugh's sit downs mimic this epic scene from FNL. Just all type of inspirational - telling his team that no one believes in them except for the guys in that locker room. 14 wins and only 3 losses later we could be witnessing one of the greatest coaching performances of our time - to me, this truly is a team of destiny. Ninersheaux
Prediction: San Francisco 20, New York 14 - (...that was the sound of Giants fans across the country cheering that I picked against them, again)
Just remember whatever happens - with only 3 games left, there's no way we'll finish below .500 on the season - enjoy the games!
Last Week: 3-1
Playoff Record: 5-3
Season Record: 129-125-10