After a wild Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, we are now down to the NFL's final four. Sunday's match ups will determine who will meet up in Indy for Super Bowl XLVI.
Here's a quick check on this year's picks records - after a strong season (even though he forgot to submit his picks before the deadline twice this season, making some of his wins questionable), Chris claimed the title this year for the Regular Season. However, both Mike and Chris are even up to this point through the Playoffs.
Baltimore @ New England (Sunday, 3 ET, CBS)
The Patriots are on fire - TE Rob Gronkowski is setting all-time records, Wes Welker is piling up the receptions, and it's just another ho-hum Tom Brady season with All-Pro numbers. However, they say that defense wins championships, and more times than not, they are usually right. Baltimore sports the 3rd best defense in the league, allowing less than 300 yds/game and fewer than 200 pass yds/game. By forcing Brady and the Pats out of their rhythm, the Ravens' defense will keep them out of the end zone enough to provide dual threat Ray Rice the opportunity he needs to run over a mediocre-at-best Patriots defense both by ground and by air. The Patriots will be sure to stay in it til the end, but the Ravens come out on top. Baltimore 27, New England 23.
The most telling stat of this postseason (other than the fact the offense-driven season has seen two of the top three offenses already sent home) is that the Ravens have only faced one offense ranked in the Top 10 this season. ONE! Naturally, the Ravens lost the game, a 34-14 thumping to the San Diego Chargers. The Patriots are hot right now, but with the Giants' recent roll, people tend to forget New England has been rolling for a few months. The once porous defense isn't great, but it is playing like a middle-of-the-road defense now rather than one that had been ranked in the 30s in most major statistical categories all season. Couple that with the exceptionally-efficient offense and New England will be tough to stop. Against the 2000 Ravens' defense, I might take New England in a 10-7 game. Against the 2012 version of Baltimore's defense, there isn't a comparison. New England 34, Baltimore 14.
What a way to make a return to the NFL Playoffs! After a nine-year hiatus, the Niners showed that their stellar regular season was no fluke, matching the New Orleans Saints blow for blow until a statement-making last minute drive to advance to the NFC title game. For the Giants, of course, getting here was no cakewalk - coming off of just as impressive of a win, arguably more impressive, the Giants couldn't have put together much more convincing wins the past two weeks. Like their matchup back in November, this is sure to be a gritty, hard-fought, defensive battle. That likely gives the edge to the Niners, who as witnessed last week, are the best of the best at forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them. Both teams are motivated and gelling right now, but expect to see Eli Manning making his patented sad little boy face late Sunday night, as the home atmosphere and some big defensive plays by San Francisco should help the Niners earn their way to their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years. San Francisco 26, New York 21.
I love how everybody overreacts after one game. The Giants beat the Packers... at Lambeau Field... in dominating fashion. Apparently that means the rest of the playoffs will be skipped and we'll be handing Elite Manning... errr... Eli Manning the Lombardi trophy tomorrow. From that game, I've now heard the great Jerry Rice say the Giants offense is on par with that of the Packers. It's one game, people! Listen, the Giants front four has been playing exceptional. But the last four games have included wins over the falling-apart Jets, the ridiculously-overrated Cowboys, a struggling Falcons team and the Packers. So forgive me if I'm not crowning the Giants for beating one really good team team, a solid team and two below-average teams in the last four weeks. Remember, the Giants are still a 9-7 regular season team. Their opponent, the forgotten 49ers were 13-3 and are now 8-1 at home after last week's classic win against the Saints (the hottest team entering the playoffs). I think both teams could win the game but the better team (from September to January) has been San Francisco. Alex Smith is better than people think and the 49ers have Frank Gore this time around against the Giants (Gore didn't play in a 27-20 San Francisco win in Week 10). I see a similar result with Eli Manning trying to do too much and the San Francisco magical season continuing. San Francisco 30, New York Giants 20.
Here's to a Sunday full of entertaining football as we approach Super Bowl XLVI! Enjoy!!