It’s time to predict that which is unpredictable. It’s the NFL’s championship games.
Before we dissect the championship matches, lets take a look back at last week…….It was a rough week for unders.
Baltimore @Denver: Cover, no good – Under, no good – Winner, Baltimore (no good). Who would have thought Peyton would have been responsible for three turnovers? Give the Ravens some credit, they suddenly found some offense and are riding high after a huge win in the Rockies.
Houston @New England: Cover, good – Under, no good – Winner, New England (good). Okay, so I knew I should have gone with the over. Belichick never takes his foot off of the accelerator.
Seattle @Atlanta: Cover, no good – Under, no good – Winner, Atlanta (no good). Really Seattle, really! You had this game in the bag after a small TD scamper from Lynch. Then you allow the Falcons to win the game on four plays, shameful.
Green Bay @San Francisco: Cover, good – Over, good – Winner, San Francisco (good). At least one of these was a clean sweep for me.
NFC Championship: San Francisco @ Atlanta
Atlanta gets to host another NFC team from the other side of the country. The travel seemed to affect Seattle early on, can the 49ers start off any better? How will Seattle contain both Gore and Kaepernick? Do people really drink Natural Ice? Yuck!
Why I like the: Over
I’ve learned my lesson from last week. I don’t doubt that, given the fact that these teams put up 75 points combined last week, they can at least match a 49 point total. It’s a high total for sure, but both teams might score in the mid 20′s here at least. Consider what both teams did against some of the better D’s in the league last week. Kaepernick tore apart a fierce Green Bay D which had 18 ints. and 48 sacks on the season, running all over them for a total of 119 yards and 2 td’s. Ryan was able to throw for 250 yards and 2 td’s against the NFL’s 6th best passing defense. The Falcons don’t have a great passing D so Kap, who completed passes to 7 different receivers last week, should have plenty of opportunities to throw, especially if he can open things up with the threat of his legs. The 49ers have the 4th best air defense in the league, but I just talked about how a strong passing D didn’t affect Atlanta last week and San Fran did yield over 250 yards passing last week. So yeah, this could be a shoot out. Take the over.
You Should Take The: Spread
4 points is a bad spread if you think this game comes down to a game winning field goal but, while it will come down to one score, I believe it to be a touchdown instead. The closest margin of victory the 49ers had all season was 7 points, in weeks 7 and 15 against Seattle and New England. With the added dimensions of the rushing Kaepernick, it will be tough for Atlanta to contain both he and Gore while also protecting against the pass. To their credit, Atlanta faced similar threats last week in Wilson and Lynch and passed with flying colors, holding Wilson to 60 yards and Beast Mode to a meager 46. Couple this with the fact that 3 of San Fran’s losses have come on the road and you might have the makings of an upset here. Playing on the road is always tough in the NFL, and when you combine that factor with a rookie QB, it does set up a potential scenario which could be too overwhelming for the 49ers. However, what might be the saving grace for San Fran is the rushing attacks of both squads. The 49ers gave up just over 100 yards on the ground last week and boast the leagues 4th best rushing D. While Michael Turner may have had the best playoff performance of his career last week, he still failed to break 100 yards and never crossed the goal line. Essentially what I’m saying is, even if Kap struggles, especially early, he has the luxury of relying on Gore until he can find his game. Lastly, it wasn’t as if Matt Ryan played a flawless game last week. He did throw two picks and is still being haunted by some failure ghosts of playoffs past. More of which would have been summoned had it not been for a terrific final drive which lead to the eventual game winning field goal.
The Winner is: San Francisco
The Falcons have only lost at home once all year, and they just beat a team that had to come from the West Coast to play them. What this games really come down to is how much you believe Kaepernick to be the real deal. But consider this, Kap is 2-2 on the road while actually averaging more passing yards in road games (226) than in home games (205). In addition, 6 of his 10 regular season passing TD’s came on the road, including 4 in New England. The only stat of concern regarding his play away from home is that all of his INT’s occurred while on the road, 3 in total. But 3 picks to 6 passing and 2 rushing Td’s isn’t a horrible ratio. Essentially, if Kaepernick is a flash in the pan, he won’t prove that until next season with a full body of work under him. For now he’s hot, and while playing in hostile Atlanta won’t be easy, I think he and the 9ers come out on top.
AFC Championship: Baltimore @ New England
It’s the perennial AFC Champs, New England, versus the Ray Lewis emotion express. Can Brady hurl the Pats into a 6th Super Bowl, or will it be the fueled up Ravens that take wing and fly south to New Orleans?
Why I Like The: Under
Okay, okay, I know I said I learned my lesson in the last segment, but I just don’t think that these teams break 51.5 points this week. True they put up 79 points combined last week, and even would be over if you took their total from the first time they met each other, which was 61, but I just can’t get myself to commit to any over that’s over 50 points. Since that last Game, New England has only given up more than 20 points 7 times all season and yields an average of just 20.7 per game. The Ravens D has also improved, giving up an average of just 21.5, most of those weeks without the presence Ray Lewis. The Ravens were also able to hold Luck and the Colts to 9 points on just 3 field goals in the wild card round.
You Should Take The: Points
This is a dangerous proposition. On the one hand I definitely see the Pats winning this by at least 10 points. I mean, it isn’t as Belichik ever stops trying to score, but I’m counting on the force of nature that is Ray Lewis to keep this a one score game. The team feeds off of him and just makes plays. Even more incredibly, they do this on both sides of the ball! This really is a team that has great chemistry together and you get the feeling that they will do anything for one another, especially Lewis. So you want something a bit more tangible to explain why the Ravens have a shot, okay. The Ravens are familiar with Brady, and while he did thrown for over 300 yards they last time they played, Brady had just one passing TD. They also held the Patriots carousel of backs to a total of 77 yards. On the other side of the ball, Flacco had a career game, throwing for 382 yards and 3 TD’s. Rice was also as steady as ever, rushing for just over 100 yards with 1 TD. Unfortunately for Baltimore, some not so good news comes into play when you talk about playing in hostile territory. Sure they pulled off an improbable come back last week in Denver, don’t think that emotion stuff had nothing to do with that, but 4 of their six losses have come away from home and they average only 18 points per game as well. The Patriots have lost only twice at home this season and both of those were by a combined 8 points.
The Winner Is: New England
I would love to be wrong here. If somehow Baltimore can be the San Francisco Giants of my NFL predictions I would be extremely happy. It’s not because I hate Brady, Belichick or New England. It’s because I greatly respect Ray Lewis and would love to see him win another Super Bowl. After all, he did eliminate my beloved Peyton. Plus, how cool would a Harbaugh vs Harbaugh championship be? Both of these teams have great team concepts that you must respect. The emotion of Lewis and the Ravens, but what about the steadiness of the Pats. They simply seem to reload every year and get the most out their guys. I mean they have made a guy named Danny Woodhead a threat from the backfield, that in itself is saying something. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to who I feel is the better team and who has the better chance to win. My heart says Baltimore but my brain says Patriots. I’d rather listen to my heart, but not when making predictions. Pats in a close one.
Highlight of the Week:
So it certainly wasn’t a highlight in terms of defensive coverage, but it did prolong Ray Lewis’s career and sent the game into OT. Flacco’s pass to Jacoby Jones, dubbed the “Rocky Mountain Rainbow” by Chris Berman, eventually created a Ravens win in what would become the 4th longest playoff game in NFL history, 76:42 long.
Lowlight of the Week:
Wait, what? Who? What is happening……..huh? Heisman candidate Manti Te’o, was the victim of some sort of sick joke, which he then helped perpetrate, regarding the death of his supposed girlfriend that helped inspire the Irish to an undefeated season and an eventual ass kicking at the hands of Alabama. Apparently this girl was someone he had met online, was told she had died, something he believed until he received a call from this person on the day of the Hiesman ceremony. That’s when he found out she was alive or never exsisted or……I have no clue. I repeat what I said earlier, wait, what? Who? What is happening……..huh? Here is a press conference with Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, which will have you saying much of the same. Incidentally, for all of you emo/goth kids out there, Te’o would be a great catch for you, since he has experience dating an un-dead girlfriend.
Hero of the Week:
So it was a few weeks ago, but I haven’t had a chance to congratulate Alabama on their national championship, with their 42-14 drubbing of Notre Dame. Roll Tide!
Zero of the Week:
When I first started writing Bench Warming, I would never have imagined that somebody would be ZOW 3 times and that person would be a cyclist. Lance Armstrong, again made a spectacle of himself when he admitted to using steroids in an interview with Oprah. His heartfelt apology to his fans and those who defended him throughout this entire ordeal consisted of two words, “I’m sorry.” So everything is fine now, right? I mean The Grinch stole everyone’s holiday and all he had to do was apologize. Ass.
(Bench Warming wants to hear from you on Hero and Zero of the Week! Please nominate your choices in the comments or on my Twitter or Facebook. It can be a player, person, team or organization in the realm of sports that has done something extraordinary, or awful. Have some fun with it. I will still pick my own each week, but will also list the top reader’s choices.)
As always, I hope you enjoyed this edition of Bench Warming. Why not take the time to share some Super Bowl picks of your own and nominate some H’s/0′s. Next week will be the Super Bowl edition, followed by a special Super Bowl commercial section the following week. Until then, you have been warmed.
(Note from the author: Sports incite great passion and emotion in all of us, which is why they are so popular the world over. I encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section, on Twitter or Facebook, but please do it responsibly. I have no agenda with Bench Warming other than to share my love of sports and perhaps get a few people to grin from time to time. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading this column as much as I enjoy writing it.)