My nearly perfect picks took a hit last week when I went 2-2 in the divisional round, but I don't feel bad about the picks. My two losses came from a field goal in double overtime after a miracle Jacoby Jones touchdown to tie the game in regulation, and a field goal after Atlanta drove the field with 30 seconds left and got a second chance at the field goal because Pete Carroll stupidly tried to ice the kicker. The Broncos and Seahawks should have won, I don't feel I made bad picks, sometimes teams get lucky and fluky things happen. Anyway, I'll try to rebound and avoid bad luck with these picks for the conference title games.
AFC: Ravens at Patriots
Can the Ravens do it again? They struggled on both sides of the ball for most of the season, but have made enough plays to pull away with two wins in the playoffs. Oddly enough, I trust their offense and the ability of Joe Flacco much more in this matchup than I do their defense; feels weird saying that. The Ravens defense just isn't what it used to be and was average at best this season in many defensive stats. Baltimore ranked 16th in sacks, 22nd in opponent QB rating, 21st in opponent completion percentage, 17th in opponent yards per completion, 20th in rushing yards allowed, and 23rd in rushing touchdowns allowed; they just haven't done anything well this season on defense.
In their two playoff games they've allowed an average of 408 yards; 58 more yards than their regular season average. The Patriots rank 4th in passing yards and 7th in rushing yards; they should move the ball easily on Baltimore. In particular the middle of the field should be open for their tight ends and slot receivers. Ray Lewis is two or three steps slower than he was during his prime, Ed Reed always plays a deep centerfield, and Bernard Pollard is below average in coverage; Brady will tear them up with short and medium passes over the middle.
NFC: 49ers at Falcons
The Falcons defense has struggled to deal with zone-read offenses with athletic quarterbacks this season. Cam Newton rushed for 116 yards on just 9 carries including a touchdown in their December matchup. Newton also threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions during the game. Last week Russell Wilson rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on just 7 carries. On the season the Falcons rush defense ranks 21st in yards, 29th in yards per carry, and 24th in rushing touchdowns allowed; Kaepernick and Gore will tear them up. That combo rushed for a combined 300 yards last week against the Packers; I expect them to get near that number again this week.
The Falcons will move the ball, but I also trust the 49ers defense to make more plays than the Falcons defense. On the season the 49ers rank 4th in rushing yards allowed, 4th in passing yards allowed, and 2nd in points allowed; better than the Falcons in each stat. They won't shut down the Falcons but they don't have to because their offense will likely score quite a bit, but they will slow them down. The 49ers held Aaron Rodgers, a much better quarterback than Matt Ryan, under his season average for yards, QB rating, yards per attempt, and picked him off.
On this day in 1976, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 to win their second consecutive Super Bowl title. The Steelers trailed for most of the game and entered the fourth quarter down 10-7, but rallied to score 14 unanswered points, including a 64-yard touchdown reception by receiver Lynn Swann. The Cowboys cut into the lead, 21-17, late in the game with a 34-yard touchdown pass, but Pittsburgh safety Glen Edwards stopped the Dallas rally with an interception in the end zone as time expired. Swann, who caught four passes for a Super Bowl record 161 yards and one touchdown, became the first wide receiver to be named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player.
Here Is What My DVR Will Be Recording This Week:
Portlandia (IFC) - Friday, 9pm
An Idiot Abroad (SCI) - Saturday, 8pm
Boxing: Salido vs. Garcia (HBO) - Saturday, 8:45pm
Storage Hunters (TRU) - Sunday, 9pm
Robot Chicken (Toon) - Sunday, 11pm
Cake Boss (TLC) - Monday, 8pm
Pawn Stars (History) - Monday, 9 & 9:30pm
Justified (FX) - Tuesday, 9pm
Restaurant Impossible (Food) - Wednesday, 8pm
The Soup (E!) - Wednesday, 9pm
Kroll Show (Comedy) - Wednesday, 9:30
30 Rock (NBC) - Thursday, 7pm
Archer (FX) - Thursday, 9pm