NFL AFC & NFC Championship Games Picks and Analysis – FootballSunday, January 22, 2012 11:49
Game picks for the AFC & NFC Championship Games of the 2011 NFL football season.
And then there were four…
We are down to the last three games of the NFL year–all of them for some kind of ring and a trophy. Let’s break down both games as only the crack staff here at DIS can…
Game of the Week
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots (-7)
This baby is a contest between two teams with franchise-wide chips on their shoulders.
The Pats have to be sick of hearing how they have failed in the playoffs since they got busted for cheating. Of course, all but one or two teams in the league would be thrilled with such failure. Since stiff “Spygate” fines were levied against the Pats and head coach, Bill Belichick, New England has “only” won about 80% of its games. The rub is the 4-5 losing record in the playoffs.
Tom Brady lost to Pittsburgh this year because the Steelers played tight man coverage and Brady wasn’t given time to make them pay for that strategy.
It was the same way that the Jets beat them in last year’s tournament and the same way the Colts edged them in the AFC Finals in 2006.
You can bet Belichick has had locker room speakers playing recent interviews from former Pats and opponents such as Ricky Williams yapping about how soft the Patriots are and how they can be intimidated.
The Baltimore Ravens’ chip is much more psychologically heavy than New England’s.
In this space, we refer to it as Pittsburgh envy. The Rat Birds cringe when they look themselves in the mirror and insist the Steelers are their most bitter enemy–all the while knowing they yearn so desperately to be just like the Black & Gold.
During John Harbaugh’s four-year tenure, his team has not won a bigger game than they did last week against the upstart Texans. Yet to hear Ravens fans squawk, you’d think they were trying to three-peat for a Lombardi Trophy.
The psychological baggage Baltimore carries reminds me of the dynamic in the Edgar Allen Poe masterpiece The Cask of Amontadillo, wherein an Italian nobleman exacts revenge on a “friend” who somehow insulted him.
The NFL twist is the Ravens are both the victim and murderer.
Some members of the Baltimore defense spent much of the last week tossing quarterback, Joe Flacco under the bus. By the time Harbaugh and future HOFer Ray Lewis tried to pull the pancaked signal caller from beneath the tires, you could almost hear Belichick and Brady laughing and slathering mortar onto the final stone of a deadly game plan as a drunken, oblivious victim rattles his chains in an act of futile defiance.
That victim would be Baltimore’s defense–and again the Steelers taint the reflection. Talk of the Steelers defense being old, slow and done hardly echoed during the season as Pittsburgh led the league in scoring and pass defense. Then along came Tebow and Dick LeBeau’s boys suddenly looked like one of Poe’s entombed victims.
The Ravens, too, are old–where it counts–up the middle. Lewis is a liability against the pass; the defense gave up 184 yards rushing to Houston, and last week Ed Reed hobbled off the field with a badly sprained ankle.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Baltimore played an inspired game and covered the spread.
It would surprise me more if Brady and his receivers don’t torch the Ravens for 30 or more points.
Patriots 33, Ravens 23
Over/Under of the Week
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers (-2) O/U = 42.5
San Francisco is the scariest team left on the board. Out of the NFL’s Final Four, what prognosticator in their right mind would have figured the Goldminers to be playing for anything but tee times come January?
The Niners are riding the hot-wings of shoe-in Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh, who has resurrected QB Alex Smith’s career and developed young, brilliant talent like tight end Vernon Davis, wideout,Michael Crabtree, and stud linebacker Patrick Willis.
Harbaugh has also changed what had become a debilitating culture in the locker room and on the field.
But we still refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.
San Fran is 5-2 in their last seven games, including last week’s double comeback chest thumper against the Saints. But this is the same team that, in its last seven games, gave up 27 points to a Rams team, barely snuck by the Seahawks 19-17, pulled away late from the crippled Steelers, lost to Arizona, and managed only two field goals against Baltimore.
Of their thirteen regular season victories, nine were decided by 10 points or less. Sure, great teams find ways to win tight games, and maybe the Niners are on their way to earning greatness again, but Eli Manning threw for 311 yards against San Francisco in Week 10 while half the Giant’s defensive front watched from the sideline in sweats.
The Giants have the experience, the better quarterback, and Tom Coughlin–and they can get to Alex Smith without blitzing.
A possible intangible is the contrast of each teams’ reaction when they won last week. The Niners looked spent after squeaking by New Orleans; the G-Men looked to be on a mission after throttling the Packers at Lambeau.
We’re playing the over…
Giants 29, 49ers 17
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