2012 NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship Picks

January 20, 2012

Now that the pretenders have been taken out (sorry, Denver), we are left with four teams who should provide a very entertaining weekend in the NFL. The potential storylines for Super Bowl XLVI we could get as a result are even better. Let’s take a look at the most obvious ones:

Battle of the Harbaugh Brothers

Giants vs. Patriots: Part II

Dynasty Wars: 80s vs. Now (49ers vs. Patriots)

2001: A Gridiron Odyssey Part II (Giants vs. Ravens, rematch of 2001 Super Bowl)

Before we can really start discussing any of these cheesy potential themes, we’ll have to wait and find out who pulls through this weekend. Not surprisingly, both games could go either way. But here are my picks for the two games being played on Sunday.

AFC Conference Championship

Baltimore vs. New England

I picked one of these teams to win the Super Bowl before the season started, which makes for added difficulty in picking this game. The added difficulty stems from the fact that I am not as confident in the team as I was back in September. 

If you didn’t go back and look up my pick, I chose the Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl XLVI. However, I am not nearly as confident in them today as I was when they beat Pittsburgh 35-7 in Week 1. The Ravens, more specifically quarterback Joe Flacco, were the subject of conversation last week before the Houston game when Flacco said he feels like he is constantly criticized by the media. Unfortunately for Flacco, he didn’t do much last Sunday to prove to the critics that he is capable of taking over a game as other elite quarterbacks are known to do. Baltimore’s victory last weekend was a result of the defense forcing rookie quarterback T.J. Yates into throwing three interceptions and never really getting comfortable in the pocket. Flacco was, as he has been deemed by the majority of the media, a game manager.

It will not be easy for Flacco to shed that title as the Ravens are going up against Tom Brady and the powerful Patriots offense, which can rely on their quarterback for much more than game management. Brady tore apart a Denver defense that was pretty good at stopping the pass up to that point, although his effort was largely overshadowed by the fact that Tim Tebow was also playing. The key to Baltimore winning this game is to slow down Brady, who looks as focused as ever in this year’s playoffs. In 2009 when the Ravens went into Foxboro for a playoff game, they forced Brady into throwing three interceptions, sacked him three times and limited him to under 200 yards passing. In addition, Flacco played terribly, throwing for a Tebow-esque 34 yards. A similar defensive effort will be needed to keep the game within range for the run oriented Baltimore offense.

If the Texans hadn’t turned the ball over four times, they probably would have been playing in this game instead of Baltimore. As noted earlier, Brady’s focus is extremely high, and the Patriots are rarely sloppy on a stage such as this. While we could see something similar to the Packers/Giants game last weekend, I find it unlikely. I have to go against my preseason pick and take the Patriots in this one.

Final Score: 28-20 New England

NFC Conference Championship

New York vs. San Francisco

There is something to be said about getting hot at the right time, and although I said that the Saints were the hottest team in the league last week, I was wrong. Everything is coming together for New York at this point.

The Giants surprised everyone outside of the states of New York and New Jersey by beating the Packers at Lambeau Field rather handily last Saturday. New York’s performance was no fluke, however. Green Bay’s receivers may have dropped a few catchable balls, but the Giants pass rush got to Aaron Rodgers all game long and sacked him four times, not allowing him time to find his receivers on many occasions. New York will undoubtedly look to apply the same kind of pressure to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who had some trouble last weekend on third and long situations where New Orleans blitzed.

San Francisco will also look to put pressure on the quarterback as they did last weekend. The 49ers proved they could slow down a powerful offensive attack but must do so again as Eli Manning has emerged as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Manning’s decision making and calmness in the pocket will serve him well in this game, as San Francisco stuck like glue onto the New Orleans receivers and forced Drew Brees into making some dangerous throws that were picked off. Ball control will be very important in this game the defenses will not allow very many scoring opportunities.

This game should be a good old fashioned defensive battle with lots of big hits, but at some point the offenses are going to have to take charge. Much like Joe Flacco, Alex Smith is a game manager and can get the job done when the score is close. I predict that it will be which gives the 49ers a chance. However, the Giants have already knocked off one opponent on the road and feel like they can do it again. With the way Eli Manning directed the offense last weekend, I don’t disagree.

Final Score: 27-24 New York 

– K. Becks

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