I didn’t post a blog about the playoffs last week since I was out of town, but have no fear, my picks are here! Home teams in CAPS.
PATRIOTS (-7) over Ravens
You could call the Patriots lucky. The Broncos knocked out the Steelers, the Giants took down the Packers, and the Niners shocked the Saints. All of a sudden, the Patriots could win the Super Bowl by beating Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco, and Alex Smith. Then again, you could call the Patriots unlucky because they’ve never had this much pressure on them to win the Super Bowl.
Not only are the Patriots by far the best team left in the playoffs, they possibly have to exorcize demons from their 18-1 season. They’ve also just won one playoff game since that fateful loss to the Giants. But let’s not get too caught up in minor details; let’s get to the breakdown.
The Patriots are clearly the more talented team. Plain and simple. But one thing scares me about this game: New England has a strange propensity to spot the other team big points early. In the last three regular season games, they’ve spotted the Broncos, Dolphins, and Bills 7, 17, and 221 points before putting points on the board themselves. The last two games were even at home. And this would become even more problematic if they do this against the Ravens.
It’s not just that they’d be giving up points to the Ravens, spotting Baltimore points early on would put the Patriots right where the Ravens want them. Their offense works best when Ray Rice is getting most of the touches. If the Ravens are way ahead, they’ll want to control the clock by pounding the ball–straight into the 17th ranked rush defense. The way the Patriots can nearly assure a win is if they can force Joe Flacco to beat them. Which he can’t.
But I don’t expect the Patriots to fall behind early. As tough as it will be for the Pats to contain Ray Rice, I can’t envision any way the Ravens can stop Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Their linebacking core is too old, and the secondary is too small. And even if they do find some magic powder and cover those two, they won’t have enough players to stop Wes Welker.
In the end, Tom Brady just doesn’t lose at home, and he doesn’t lose in the snow. The Ravens are a little too old on defense, and I can’t see them stopping Tom Terrific.
Giants (+2.5) over NINERS
Right off the bat, I’ll tell you this: I think the 49ers are going to win this game. I’m taking the Giants with the points, however, because I think this game will be very close.
After Cam Newton, no player surprised me more this year than Eli Manning. I’ve made more than my fair of (mostly-deserved) Manning jokes, but to his credit, he has completed most of his passes. Tim Tebow can’t say that. He has the sixth best passing yardage in a season, which is a surprise considering his lack of Brady Hair.
This Giants team was a big surprise to me. If Jason Garrett didn’t ice his own kicker, they wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Yet, they made it. And they even have the same formula as the 2007 Super Bowl Champion team. I still don’t love the team, though, because I don’t trust the running game, I don’t trust the quarterback, and I don’t trust their red-faced coach.
But let’s not forget about the Niners. After all, I am picking them to make the Super Bowl. Coach John Harbaugh has turned Alex Smith into Andrew Luck-lite: a QB who can hand the ball off to a great running game and make all the passes when he’s needed. That may not sound like Andrew Luck, but look up Stanford’s games, and that’s exactly what his role was.
The Niners were as shocking as any team, yet they really shouldn’t be a surprise. They have an outstanding defense, and great running game, and enough offense through the air to beat you. It’s what the Giants should have, except Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have just disappeared this year.
This game should be close, and I’m not sure it’ll be a lot of fun. My best guess is that with about four minutes left, there will be less than 35 total points on the board, and one team will have to make the winning drive. And I believe that team will be San Francisco. Harbaugh has his team playing so hard for him–I think he has one last magical run in this overachieving team. I think the Niners will pull this one out in the last minute–not so far off from what they did against the Saints–but they’ll win by two or less.
Last Week: 2-2