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NFL Conference Championship Predictions

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January 18, 2013 by shivusharma

Belichick and Harbaugh | image from SF examiner

AFC

@ New England Patriots (-9) vs Baltimore Ravens

Patriots Offense vs Ravens Defense:  The Pats offense didn’t miss a beat when Rob Gronkowski went down, but will that continue against the Ravens? The Ravens attacked Peyton Manning last week, by daring him to throw deep. For whatever reason, the Broncos could not execute (on both sides of the ball), helping the Ravens edge out a victory. Still, it wasn’t like the Ravens were generating tremendous pressure on Manning. They made him feel uncomfortable at the right times, but I think part of that had to do with the overall ineffectiveness of the Broncos running game. If you can’t get pressure on Tom Brady, he is going to sit back in the pocket and pick you apart. I expect Wes Welker to have a big day against the Ravens secondary. New England did a great job using their RBs to create matchups on the Texans’ linebackers last week, and I think much of that game plan could carry over into this week as well. It will be interesting to see how effective Aaron Hernandez can be without the threat of Rob Gronkowski on the field. The Pats will more than likely use one of their blocking tight ends in complement with Hernandez, allowing the Ravens to commit more attention to Hernandez.

Ravens Offense vs Patriots Defense: Joe Flacco has been very impressive during this post-season. Once the Ravens

Joe Flacco | image from Baltimore Sports Report

moved Michael Oher back to Right Tackle, their offensive line has been giving him great protection. That protection was a big reason why Flacco was able to find his receivers down field against the Broncos. The Patriots do not rush the passer very well at all, so Flacco should have ample time to throw the ball deep. New England’s defense has also been poor at defending the deep ball, which directly plays into the Flacco’s strengths. I expect the Patriots to blitz more often than normal, to force Flacco to make quick decisions. Ray Rice will need to be an integral part in the short passing game, in order to counter the Patriots’ blitz schemes. Torrey Smith should be able to get behind the Patriots’ secondary a few times, giving Flacco enough chances to make some big plays.

Prediction: I was speaking to friend about last week’s games and he mentioned that in every game, the team who made the better coaching decisions won the game.  John Harbaugh is a great coach, but he is no Bill Belichick, and that’s a big reason why I am taking the Patriots in this game. Perhaps the Pats will not be able to completely limit the Ravens deep ball, but I think they can make enough stops to give Brady some breathing room. As much firepower as the Ravens offense had last week, they simply wont be able to out-shoot the Patriots offense, which has been unstoppable all year long. I see the Patriots winning this shoot-out: Patriots 38 Ravens 31.

NFC

San Francisco 49ers (-4) vs. @ Atlanta Falcons

49ers Offense vs. Falcons Defense: Colin Kaepernick was straight ballin’ last week. The Packers defense was completely unprepared for the read-option. The Niners offensive line played the best I’ve ever seen them play, giving Kaepernick all kinds of time to make plays with his

Colin Kaepernick | image from Sports Illustrated

arm and his feet. This does not bode well for the Falcons, who nearly lost to the Seahawks last week, if not for some poor coaching decisions. The Falcons have had trouble defending running quarterbacks all year. They struggled to defend Cam Newton during the season and allowed Russell Wilson to have a field day last week. Without their best pass rusher, John Abraham, I don’t see the Falcons generating much pressure against the Niners O-line either. I think the Niners will feature the read-option a lot less this week, and go with a more traditional attack against the Falcons. Expect Jim Harbaugh to get back to the power running game against a Falcons run defense that has been poor all year long. Power running is what the Niners do best.

Falcons Offense vs 49ers Defense: Matt Ryan really played one of his best games last week. I’m not sure if that was a product of him stepping up or the Seahawks not generating adequate pressure, but still, Ryan played exceptionally well. He should have enough time in the pocket to challenge the 49ers secondary down field, with Roddy White and Julio Jones. They shouldn’t have too much trouble getting Tony Gonzalez in 1-on-1 matchups either. The Falcons will look to put up points early and force Kaepernick to throw them back into the game. That is the Falcons’ best shot at winning this game.

Prediction: The line in this game is an overreaction to the Niners trouncing of the Packers. I do believe the Niners are the better team, but it will still be an uphill battle to win in the dirty bird nest. Just as with the AFC matchup, this game will come down to coaching. In a couple seasons, Jim Harbaugh has proven that he is one of the best coaches in the league. He is so hard to gameplan against, because he has constructed his team to be able to adapt to changing circumstanced, mid-game. The 49ers offense has so many wrinkles to it, that it will be too tough for the Falcons to shut it down enough to win this game. I think Matt Ryan and his receivers will do well against the Niners defense, keeping this game close, but ultimately the better coach will win out. 49ers 24 Falcons 21.

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