Conference Title Games
Welp, 3 games left in the season (single tear drop). Then we’re relegated to draft news, coaching hires, rehashing the newest ink in history books and, yes, some baseball (more tears).
BUT before that happens, we get some juicy conference title games. 3 of the 4 teams in last year’s conference title games are back. The only team not making the trip is the team that won the whole darn thing… God bless the Giants.
One game’s a rematch, the other is impending slaughter. Let’s start with the former.
AFC Title Game
Ravens at Patriots
This is not only a regular season rematch, but a rematch of last year’s AFC Title game. The AFC Title game last year was decided on a dropped ball by Lee Evans and a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff. Shockingly, those names are not found on this year’s Ravens’ roster. Instead Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have been blazing down the sidelines, Anquan Boldin, who also saw costly drops in last year’s playoffs has been clutch this year and Justin Tucker has been the difference in the win in Denver.
A lot is being made of the notion that the Ravens are a team of destiny and Ray Lewis’s pending retirement is willing this team to victory. Many point to their win over the Broncos as evidence to that notion. I point to Peyton Manning’s interception and the Broncos’ lousy offensive game plan to explain that upset. Destiny schmestiny. This is football. Let’s not romanticize this matchup (I’ll do that with the next one, as I’m sure you’ll notice).
When looking at this Patriots-Ravens matchup, the obvious is that the Patriots are 7-1 in AFC Title games and Tom Brady has more post seasons win than any other quarterback in the history of the game. When you take into account the Patriots’ resurging running attack, the balance on offense is breathtaking. Still, I see two names making the biggest impact in this game. Terrell Suggs and Rob Gronkowski. One is playing (Suggs) and one is not (Gronk). In the week 3 matchup, won 31-30 by the Ravens in Baltimore, the reverse was true. Gronk played and Suggs did not. The Ravens rallied from 13 and 9-point deficits early and late in the game to take the win. Baltimore won’t forget that. Additionally, the Patriots lost this year to the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Niners. Only Kaepernick comes close to exposing the back end of a secondary like Flacco can and they all have a solid pass rush which has long been the secret to success against Brady. With Suggs providing pressure on Brady, Lewis roaming the middle to suppress that running game, and the Pats missing Gronk, this game is going to be on the shoulders of Welker who hasn’t been as reliable as years past. Especially going across the middle. There’s no reason to suppose the Ravens are a team of destiny when the matchups favor them. For the first time in a decade, there will be a team not named Steelers, Colts or Patriots in the Super Bowl. Ravens win 31-28.
NFC Title Game
Niners at Falcons
I’ll spare you the long post. The Niners are a better team. All around. The Falcons don’t have the linebackers to deal with Gore, let alone the headache that is Colin Kaepernick. The only way the Falcons win this game is if Kaepernick turns the ball over 3+ times. He can do it twice, I still think the Niners overcome and win. Justin Smith absorbing the double teams for Aldon Smith makes all the difference in the world to the Niners’ defense and the Niners won’t gift-wrap a whole half the way the Seahawks did. It will be 60 minutes of excellent football (provided Kaep doesn’t do that 3 TO thing) and the NFC will be represented in the Super Bowl by the greatest franchise in the history of sports (slight bias seeping through). Niners win 35-21.
Overall, meeting my Niners in New Orleans for the Super Bowl might be the coolest thing I’ve done in my professional career… so IF they don’t end up pulling out the win, you’ll likely find me walking aimlessly through a desert wondering what my next career might be. Here’s to a happy ending…