This is the weekend the NFL prepares for two weeks of anticiapation and media blitzing. Grocery stores stock up on snacks and munchies, while the world awaits February Third and the Super Bowl. Before that date there are two more games that have to be played to find out what teams will be playing and who will be partaking of those snacks.
New England will host Baltimore for the second strait year in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots will try and overcome the emotional lift Ray Lewis’s retirement has had on the transplanted Cleveland Browns. Every game since the playoffs began has been the possible “last” for Lewis and he has played as such. Against Indy and in Denver, Lewis had a combined 30 tackles. His return from a torn tricep injury just in time for post season play has stabilized the Ravens defense and gven them a purpose, other than the Super Bowl, to achieve. Nobody wants to see Lewis leave the field without the Super Bowl Trophy.
Meanwhile the Patriots are a team that would love another shot at their fourth championship. They have lost their last two Super Bowl appearances, both to the New York Giants. In 2007 they were unbeaten entering the game. Last season the Giants were the last wild card to make the playoffs and still stopped the vaunted Pats offense and Tom Brady.
In last year’s AFC title game, Baltimore wide receiver Lee Evans had the game in hand until a touchdown pass with 27 seconds remaining was knocked out of his hands. That set up Baltimore’s attempt at a game-tying field goal, which kicker Billy Cundiff shanked, giving New England the trip.
Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who re-broke his forearm last week against Houston is out for the rest of the postseason. Also RB Danny Woodhead has an injured hand, but practiced Thursday and is expected to play. Everyone appears to be healthy for the Ravens.
The pick here is New England 27-21. This game could be a blow out or something stellar to the very end. My guess is it will be very close but in any event New England should win. Baltimore has won on emotion, especially last week. That emotion may bring them crashing Sunday.
San Francisco will travel to Atlanta after the Falcons emotional come-from-behind win last week over Seattle. It was the first playoff win for coach Mike Smith, quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Tony Gonzalez. For Gonzalez it was the first post season win he’s expereinced in his 16 year career. There is no doubt he would like to retire as a Super Bowl Champion,much like Lewis.
Atlanta started off the season playing like the best team in the NFL. As most clubs they went through a lull around week eight, then rebounded. It all appeared to be over last Sunday before the Seahawks prevent defense with under a minute to go “prevented” them from winning.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh is starting to coach like his reputation, as one of the brightest minds in football. His mid season decision to change from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick caused consternation among many fans and the media watched the move closely. Like they were lying in wait for it to go badly. It didn’t.
Kaepernick dominated the Packers in a 45-31 victory, turning in one of the great performances in playoff history. He ran for 181 yards, an NFL record for a quarterback, and threw for two touchdowns. Kaepernick also had 263 yards passing becoming only the third quarterback, after Otto Graham and Jay Cutler, to run and throw for at least two touchdowns in a postseason game.
The sexy pick here is San Francisco. They are one of the “glamour” teams in the NFL and one of the teams with many out of town fans. They have the best defense in the NFL and will be able to handle the Falcons diversified offense. Because of that and the dimension Kaepernick brings to the Niners, the pick here is San Francisco 31-17.
It’s enticing to get caught up in the Harbaugh brothers going after each other in the Super Bowl. That might be the match up everyone would like to see, not because it matches the two best teams but it’s a great side story. The “road less traveled” by the media today is always the best match up. They look for the story, the “hook.” Something to bring in those who could care less if it weren’t for that dimension. That’s what a Super Bowl with the Harbaugh’s would be. Then all CBS would have to do is before the game set up a college basketball contest featuring Indiana and their coach, the Harbaugh’s brother in law, Tom Crean. The slogan could be “Watch the Harbaugh’s and their Brother-in-law Today, Only on CBS!”
That’s not going to happen here. Look for a San Francisco-New England Title match up on February Third.
And let the parties begin.