San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons
As strange as this may sound, the Falcons have a lot to be confident about going into this game. They ran the ball well against a team that had a good defense and Matt Ryan finally notched his first postseason victory. Now it is time for him to go out and try for two in a row against the suddenly red-hot San Francisco 49ers. Was what Colin Kaepernick did last Saturday merely lightning in a bottle, or is it the start of something special? Sunday shall hold the answer to this query. But before the Sunday extravaganza can go down, here is a prediction hot off the presses: Atlanta will not be able to run the ball as well against this stout 49ers front seven and the game will come down to Matt Ryan’s ability to throw the ball and the Falcon defense. The bigger question mark has to lie with Mike Nolan’s unit who squandered a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter to a rookie QB. Russell Wilson was able to make a lot happen with his legs and his arm. Flip the page to one week later and the dirty birds find themselves faced with another youngster who can do the same thing. Expect the Atlanta defensive coordinator to set up spies and QB contains to cut down on the amount of running from the legs of Kaepernick. If the middle of the field is left open, it will most certainly be a mishap. Luckily the Falcons have had the week to study what Colin did to Green Bay; maybe they will devise some kind of an answer to the mobility that could come out of the backfield. After chaining up Marshawn Lynch last week, look for the NFC South Champs to try and do the same to Gore, who is a similar type of runner. By the end of the game, the San Fran pass rush pressures Matt Ryan into a couple of bad decisions. The 49ers should win this game with their defense as opposed to the route they took against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers the first time around. San Fran should make its sixth appearance in the Super Bowl after a win down in Hot-lanta.
San Francisco 34, Atlanta 18
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
For the purposes of this prediction, last year’s Championship Game outcome will be discounted. Anyways, the NFL was shocked to see the Ravens put Peyton Manning down up in the frigid air of Denver last Saturday in a double overtime thriller. Perhaps a majority of people underestimated these guys who are playing their best football of the season when it counts the most. The most encouraging thing to see is that the Baltimore defense has elevated its game after playing uncharacteristically poorly during the regular season. That said, is it too much to ask for them to mess with Tom Brady’s game out in New England? Well, they did it to Manning, so there is no reason that they cannot attempt to duplicate that performance and use it to send their team to the Super Bowl this week. Obviously the Patriots present an entirely new hurdle for the Ravens to jump. However, if there was any team that would have help them prepare for New England, it would be the Broncos. Because of their exposure to the no-huddle offense in thin air, this team should be more ready to face the Pats in Foxboro. The real key to this game will lie with the Baltimore defensive line. Will the Ravens be able to put some pressure on Brady like they did to Manning in Denver? It will be up to the likes of Terrell Suggs, Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, and Haloti Ngata to get in #12’s face and force him into some bad throws. Getting pressure with a four-man rush is paramount because Tom will carve a defense up if they are blitzing (check Week 14 vs. Houston). In the past, the teams that have always given the Patriots trouble were those who could create pressure with a four-man rush (i.e. the New York Giants, San Francisco, and Seattle). If there is one team in the AFC that matches up well with New England, it is these Ravens. Heck, the only loss the Pats took to an AFC opponent was against Baltimore in Week 3. Look for John Harbaugh’s team to do enough in this game to send him to the Super Bowl where he will take on his little brother. That’s right, the Har-Bowl is upon us!
Baltimore 24, New England 17