The (Apparently Second) Best Week of the Year

I’m not going to linger… I’m not going to talk about it…

…WHAT IN THE HELL, PETE CARROLL? I MEAN, SERIOUSLY! Your team is down 7-0. You have a chance to come away with some points. 4th DOWN. Any coach with a strong background KNOWS to go for the field goal to at least establish something. Come away with three points. In the end, those three extra points would have won the game.

In any case, I look forward to next year, and Carroll will certainly take this game and put it in the ground, six feet down. Seattle is young, raw, and talented, and will be a Super Bowl contender next season.

But enough about the pain of being a fan in the NFL. Let’s look forward to a weekend of what is, without out a doubt, going to be one of the best weekends of postseason football that you or I have ever seen.

Oh, you don’t believe me? You’re one of the few. Let’s change your mind here:

NFC Championship Game – San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons

How is this not a compelling game? A high flying offense in Atlanta, at home, versus the tough, versatile running game that San Francisco is going to bring in the Georgia Dome. Not to mention, or TO mention, San Francisco’s stalwart defense featuring Smith & Smith Inc. The NFC has brought in some of the best Championship games in the last four years, and this match-up is going to be all of that, plus more.

The real story in this game, though, is how the Mike Nolan and the Falcons’ defense plan to stop Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick ran wild on Green Bay last weekend, rushing for an NFL record 181 yards, the most for a quarterback in the regular or postseason. Safety Thomas DeCoud has been a ballhawk in the secondary for Atlanta, but that may have to change if the Falcons plan on keeping Kaep’n Rush contained. But the problem is that even if they keep Kaepernick in the pocket, they’ll have to gear their other cornerbacks towards stopping 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

Crabtree has become Kaepernick’s security blanket since the quarterback change all those weeks ago. He’s been targeted three times as often as the San Fran receiver with the second most targets, Randy Moss. So Atlanta has its work cut out for them in two spots. Oh, by the way, San Fran can kill you with RB Frank Gore both running and receiving.

But the 49ers aren’t about to have a picnic in Atlanta. The defense is going to be destroyed if they can’t control the line of scrimmage against RB Michael Turner and Atlanta’s array of receivers in WR’s Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, TE Tony Gonzalez (who, if not handled on third downs, can win the whole day by himself), and RB Jacquizz Rodgers. There isn’t a single Falcon offensive player who doesn’t power over their defenders. Matt Ryan has been ice cold and on target most of the year, and he’ll beat you if you don’t pressure him. But even then, he’ll beat you on his third read options even when you do get near him. Aldon Smith will have to be on his A game if the 49ers plan to halt Atlanta and their famous fast, first quarter starts.

This game has all the intangibles that have this game looking like another classic in the making. In the end, though, it will be the Falcons on top. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith finally have a playoff win under his belt, and they’re not about to let this opportunity go easy. The Falcons have a lot more to play for, and have the fire power to set the pace and keep San Fran from keeping up.
San Francisco – 27, Atlanta – 34

AFC Championship Game – Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

If you’re going to tell me that New England going to their sixth Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era, then one second. Cool your jets and pump your breaks. This is no sure thing for the Pats. I assume that you all watched the Baltimore – Denver game last weekend, so you’ll know that Flacco, despite his struggles in the regular season on the road, is money in any stadium in the postseason. He’s had one of the most successful starts to a career in the playoffs and has been to the title game before. His deep ball ability won them a spot in this game, when he tossed a 70-yard bomb to Jacoby Jones for a touchdown, tying the game, and sending it into two OT’s, winning with a field goal. In fact, he and the Ravens were in this very stadium a year ago, when they lost a heart breaker to New England in the last seconds. You think Baltimore’s forgotten the sting of that game? Hell no.

The entire Black and Purple team, franchise, and fans know exactly how much it matters that they win this game, and they can do it. Not only do they have that chip on their shoulder, but they want to send MLB Ray Lewis off with a second ring on his finger. And he’s super charged as well. Against the Colts in the wild card round, Lewis played a very average game for him. He then proceeded to be right near the ball on every play against Denver and was a huge reason why Baltimore held up against the fifth best offense in the league.

Now they face the number one offense, but nothing has changed. All they are is fast. Know why? Because Brady doesn’t get pressured. It’s time to unleash the Kruger. Paul Kruger has been seriously Watt-ish this postseason, and he’s about to play in what could be the most important game of his career. He’ll be asked to rush for Brady with all of his will and might, while Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs hold up the middle and left side of the line. This isn’t going to be an easy one for Tom Brady, but he’s at his best in the postseason. He’ll be doing his best to keep the rush off and operate with WR Wes Welker to keep a short, quick rhythm game going. The Ravens’ secondary is no Legion of Boom, and Brady will be ready to exploit that.
Joe Flacco, however, showed last year that he can keep up with Tom Brady, playing one of his best games that season in the AFC Championship Game. And he did the same against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, keeping up blow for blow and willing his team to the upset. New England plays bend-but-don’t-break defense in the secondary, with safety Devin McCourty ball-hawking like Ed Reed, who, don’t forget, just happens to be the Ravens’ Hall-of-Fame bound safety. But Flacco’s a real man with the deep ball. He’s got an arm that simply flicks the ball like a short pass for 60 yards, and he always puts the ball right where Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin can grab it and where DB’s can’t even see it.

I want Flacco in the Super Bowl. I want John Harbaugh in the Super Bowl. And I want Ray Lewis in the Super Bowl. We’ve all seen Tom Brady in action and what he’s capable of. But I’m not sure that their greatness will overcome a Ravens unit that is riding the high of an upset, the power of their retiring legend, the idea that this is their destiny, and so many other chips that shoulder pads aren’t needed. This is finally Baltimore’s time, and they aren’t going to fall.
Baltimore – 30, New England, 27

Are you prepared for a Baltimore-Atlanta Super Bowl? I am. It’s time to separate the boys from the men and all that jazz. Good luck to all of the teams, and I’ll see y’all after the games!

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