by Coach Ryan and Ryan Meehan
Championship weekend is here, and we have some exciting stuff going on in the NFL. The Falcons are a young team that finally got over their recent playoff struggles and won a huge game last week. It might not have been the most impressive win, but it was important for their franchise. The Niners are rallying behind a guy who wasn’t even their starter week one, and when he runs the ball he’s electrifying. The Ravens are making Ray Lewis’ last playoff run a very memorable one, and they hope it’s not over just yet. And the Patriots are just as good as ever, but this year Brady will once again have the chance to match Montana and Bradshaw by being a member in an elite club where everyone is a four time Super Bowl winner. The NFL is never short on storylines, and this year is no exception. So without further ado, let’s dive in and see what we can expect in the two conference championship games.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1) -3.5 at Atlanta Falcons (14-3)
Coach: Last week the team that surprised me the most was Atlanta in their win against the Seahawks, well at least in the first half. I’ve been harking all year how Atlanta has won in the NFC with the benefit of a soft schedule and personally I thought Tony Gonzalez was going to go another year without a playoff victory. You can say what you want about how they gave up the lead but the fact that they were able to buckle down at the last minute to take out Seattle is still impressive. That being said if the Falcons surprised me the Niners blew me away. I knew that San Fran had the better overall team but the fact that they were able to run up 45 points on Clay Matthews and company showed me that this could be the year of the Niners.
The most intriguing player going into Sunday has to be Colin Kaepernick and can a rookie quarterback from Nevada who didn’t even start most the season lead his team to the Super Bowl. The more I watch Kaepernick and hear him interviewed the more I like him and find myself rooting for the Niners. This past year the league was introduced to the new wave of mobile quarterbacks in Kaepernick, Wilson, and RGIII and although there will always be a place for the traditional pocket quarterback you can see the how the league is evolving through the new era mobile QBs.
Taking nothing away from Atlanta or what they have accomplished this season but if you compare both teams defenses, the Falcons don’t come close. I think that most of the game is going to be close but in the end I think Kaepernick and company is just going to be too much for the Falcons to handle. The Niners should be able to get a few three and outs and keep their defense well rested while on the other side of the ball I think the Niners’ defense will slowly suffocate the Atlanta’s offense and wear out their offense. This game stays close through three quarters and in the end San Fran will be cover the 4 point spread and will start packing their bags for the Big Easy.
Coach Ryan’s Prediction: 49ers 38, Falcons 24
It’s almost a shame that this game is the first of the two matchups, because I am almost more interested in this one. I’ve smelled bullshit regarding the Falcons for some time now, and all week I’ve had to listen to their fans on the Yahoo! forums complain about how it’s silly that they are 3.5 point underdogs at home against the 49ers who look invincible right now. And I have to say, it is a little silly. As in…It’s silly that they aren’t bigger underdogs. They blew a 20 point lead last week at home, and the only way that they were able to pull the game off at the last minute was due to some of the worst defensive coverage I’ve seen in quite some time. And the reason that analysts weren’t really discussing that is because the blown coverage on Baltimore’s last drive in regulation was so fresh in everybody’s mind that to compare anything to it would be a great point, and that’s not exactly what ESPN does well.
Anyway, I still don’t see the Falcons as a dominant team. Being a one seed in the NFL means almost nothing these days, and no team has proved that better than the 2012-13 Atlanta Falcons. I’m starting to convince myself that the playoff seeds in general don’t really mean anything – if you think about it the numbers lately seem to favor you being in the bottom of the middle or in the case of the Giants and the Packers, just the bottom period. Now it’s not all bad news for the Falcons, not everything can be totally fabricated if you get to this point. They got out to a big lead at home in the Seattle game and that’s what they couldn’t do a couple of years back against Green Bay. They are taking risks because they have a guy with a big arm that can afford to take risks. Matt Ryan has had a great year. Probably the most impressive stat I saw was in Sports Illustrated recently where I learned that last year Ryan had a 30% completion percentage on balls thrown longer than 20 yards. That number has improved to 42.6% this year. And it’s a good thing that it did, because it seems to me to be the only season in recent memory where I can remember a team getting this far without having a leading rusher go for over 800 yards in the regular season. So it’s definitely doable through the air, but Atlanta needs a gigantic stroke of luck to go along with their talent if they are to win this game.
On the other hand, San Francisco is an absolute killing machine. They look almost indestructible at times, and when they do show their weaknesses those weaknesses appear to be easily correctible. Their offense does not look like the NFL offenses we’ve come to know over the past couple of decades, and although that is changing it doesn’t make it any less noticeable. CK knows that not only can he run, but that he’s always got Frank Gore in case he can’t. And although I have liked the 49ers for a while, it would be dishonest for me to sit here and tell you I expected Michael Crabtree would have become this big a part of their offense. Just a ton of weapons here, and that’s with Vernon Davis not getting the attention most guys in his position demand. Their defense is one of the more well managed 3-4 systems we’ve seen in a while. Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Bowman are all very talented and can get to the quarterback very quickly. They have considerable speed and just look much more well rehearsed that a majority of other teams in the NFL. Their only real dark spot would be on special teams, where David Akers (who has had a massively successful NFL career) has struggled as of late. Hopefully they will be able to work past that, and I believe that will be the case because they possess a secret weapon of sorts.
And who might you ask is their secret weapon? Their coach – Jim Harbaugh. He took a huge risk in sticking with Kaepernick and is now the envy of every owner and GM in football because of it. He’s a former player that has succeeded at the college level and then took the step to do bigger and better things and also succeeded there. The players absolutely love him, and his methods are clearly working. Playoff football has returned to the Bay Area, and although Singletary assembled chunks of that team Harbaugh’s the one who got them back on top of the division where they will likely stay for some time.
So by now you’ve probably guessed that I am taking the Niners, but I’m also here to inform you I can see them covering the spread as well. They just have way too much going their way at the moment and they are so good that I can’t see this being a one point win for them even though they are on the road. I like them to win by eight but if they win by more I’m not going to be shocked…as opposed to the shock I will likely feel if the Falcons can pull this one off.
Meehan’s Prediction: 49ers 31, Falcons 23
Baltimore Ravens (13-5) +9.5 at New England Patriots (14-3)
Coach: I somehow feel like I’ve seen this playoff matchup before. To be honest in a league that is driven by parity and great matchups, I find that unless you’re a fan of one of these teams then the general consensus is that everyone wants both of them to lose. I will give the Ravens a lot of credit for being able to go into Denver and sneak out an amazing win by torching the usually lights out Champ Bailey. I thought for sure the football Gods were going to make my predictions from Week 5 correct and give us a Brady against Manning Championship game but alas I am stuck watching Ray Lewis dance his way to New England. As a Browns fan I am slightly biased on my opinion of Bill Belichick and Ray Lewis so excuse my tone but watching the Ray Lewis get introduced confuses me on whether I’m watching football or WrestleMania and although it would make me really happy to see him do his dance before hitting Brady and Belichick with a people’s elbow or a steel chair I just can’t find myself getting overly excited for this game outside of simply the fact it’s the AFC Championship.
Even more disappointing is that the spread is a huge 9 points in favor of New England. I know that spreads don’t mean anything in the end but what it does say is that on paper this is a semi boring lopsided matchup. New England is stocked full of great talent and even with Gronkowski out the Patriots just clearly appear to be the better team. I understand that The Ravens beat New England in Baltimore earlier in the season but Tom Brady and the rest of the Pats have improved all season, going from a team that looked to be washed up to the best looking team in the AFC (along with Denver prior to last week). Sometimes teams get into a groove as Baltimore has and can ride that horse to a Championship but I just don’t see it happening. If Baltimore has any chance at all they are going to have to beat the Pats through the air on big plays like they did against the Broncos because if New England as an Achilles heel it is on pass defense. I’m hoping that this game is closer than it appears and although as a Browns fan the thought of the Ravens making the Super Bowl makes me want to throw up in a weird way I hope they do stick it to New England but as someone making predictions I’m taking the Patriots to win the game but not cover the spread.
Coach Ryan’s Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 24
Meehan: The Patriots were dealt a pretty serious blow this past week as Rob Gronkowski re-broke that forearm and will not be available to play in any of the next two games. Lucky for the Patriots, they have plenty of other options. Brandon Lloyd had one hell of a year, and Shane Vereen blew everybody’s mind last week, scoring 3 touchdowns. The Patriots seem like the easy pick, but it’s also easy to see why it seems like such a sure thing. I was a little bit confused regarding the first matchup between these two teams, as I though not enough attention was given to reviewing the kick that gave the Ravens the victory. If you remember correctly, it was above the actual uprights itself which is always a touchy area because there is no device by which to measure it. At the time I honestly thought he missed it, but although I’m sure they got it right I guess there wasn’t as much replay hype as I would have expected.
But the Patriots shouldn’t have to worry about last minute heroics, because as Coach said earlier they would appear to be a much better team than the Ravens. They have a first ballot Hall of Famer that grew up idolizing Joe Montana who has let two opportunities to tie him for number of rings disappear and it not going to just let another opportunity fly by. They can afford to lose big players and not miss a beat. Well coached, well practiced, very complete. They are a passing version of a team like the Niners, only with more playoff experience than any other team in the league. Although their defense will never return to the glory days of the Bruschi/Vrabel era, they have improved compared to where they were just a few years back. Much like he’s done with the offense Belichick has gotten this team to believe that whenever someone does go out with an injury, it’s up to everybody to make sure that they don’t fall behind because of it.
After years of me badmouthing Joe Flacco to the point where’s it’s almost become abuse, he made me eat crow last week, or in this case Raven. I am now willing to admit that maybe the Baltimore Ravens have a shot at winning this game in Foxboro. Keep in mind Baltimore tends to play their best football when they have a gun to their head, and they came within a field goal of heading to the Super Bowl last year. With a new kicker this year, they were able to beat the Patriots in the regular season meeting between these two teams where they were presented with almost the same scenario. I know I’ve been giving this guy a ton of props lately, but they also have a secret weapon in the form of cornerback Corey Graham who has played outstanding football as of late and has great hands.
However, the downside of the Ravens having to play three playoff games in three weeks (after a full season of trying to prove that they are as good as their record showed) is that there has to be a sense of exhaustion that sets in. It took them over five quarters to put the Broncos to sleep, and you have to wonder just how tired some of those guys really are. It’s not just Lewis, there are other guys on that team who are on the backside of their careers and just don’t have enough gas for a 20 game season.
It was an amazing ride for Ray Lewis. He was one of the greatest linebackers of all time, and he’s proved me wrong so far this postseason as they’ve won two straight games. However, I have to think that since the Patriots are by far the superior total team that this ride ends here. I could sit here all night and give you red zone statistics and all sorts of comparative analysis as to why the Patriots will win, but simply put they are just a better team. It’s a weak angle to take and it’s a chalk pick, but I don’t really know how else to put it. So I will take the Pats just like Coach did, the only difference being that they should cover the spread.
Meehan’s Prediction: Patriots 39, Ravens 24
This of course means that I am picking the Super Bowl to be the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots, which I can only bet that most of America wants to see. It would be a great matchup, and it would dictate the future (or return to the past?) of what a future NFL quarterback is going to look like depending on how Kaepernick does in that game should it happen. Although any other combination would be decent, that’s the matchup we’re looking for and the opposite could be dreadful. It’s always my hope with Super Bowls that since more casual fans are watching that the matchup be as interesting and un-Super Bowl XL-like as possible. And that’s precisely why I don’t want to see the Baltimore Ravens against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. Although it would hardly be a ratings disaster, it might cause people who are not very interested in football to become even less interested and that’s never good.
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.