AFC and NFC Championship Game Predictions - NFL Playoffs (Woodhull)
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NFC Championship Game (see past results): San Francisco 49ers 27, Atlanta Falcons 17
There’s a fine line between committed and stubborn. I was committed to my preseason NFC champion pick of the Packers last weekend and stubborn in my reluctance to buy into the Falcons. This earned me losses in both of those games last weekend, as the Falcons pulled out a victory from the jaws of defeat, while the Packers defense forgot to the board the flight to San Fran, allowing some record-setting offensive output to the 49ers in their loss.
What seemed apparent though in watching both games is that the 49ers seemed ready for the Super Bowl, and I still have some doubts about the Falcons. I have not been one of those Falcons doubters who say “they have to prove it” with a playoff win or a Super Bowl, etc. I simply have not liked the construct of this team. The best adjective I can come up with -- the Falcons has been fragile, which is the antithesis of the 49ers, who are about as durable and tough a team there is the NFL.
For all the faults of Mike Singletary, he did add talent to the roster and brought in tough players into the 49ers system, such as acquiring Justin Smith from the Bengals, drafting Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis to fill holes in the offensive line, and grabbing raw, but now one of the best linebackers in the NFL in Navarro Bowman too. Albeit it took JimHarbaugh to help this team to excel, he was fortunate to inherit one the most talent-laden rosters in the NFL.
Harbaugh added more tough, Pro Bowl-caliber players on defense, like Whitner and Goldson to the back end of the secondary. Now installing Colin Kaepernick at QB, the 49ers offense has developed to new levels and helped former first-round draft pick, Michael Crabtree play to his potential. The 49ers have arguably more talent across both sides of the ball than any team in the NFL.
For all the commentary about how Matt Ryan hadn’t won in the playoffs until last week and how the Falcons come up short in big games, the reality has been they aren’t a team with depth. Their most talented players are limited to a few skills positions (QB, Tight End, and WR) – their team talent is great for fantasy football, but is not rounded enough to win the playoffs in the NFL.
Ultimately the 49ers have too much talent - I expect them to win with ease.
AFC Championship Game (see past results): New England Patriots 31, Baltimore Ravens 20
As mentioned earlier, I can be stubborn with my predications, so it should come as no surprise that I’m riding my preseason AFC champion Patriots to beat the Ravens. This pick, of course, ties to my duel thesis that the Ravens just aren’t that good this year – I’ll concede that the ultimate measure is the final win or loss, but sometimes it feels like teams do get lucky.
Every final score is the summation of every single play, big or small, but last weekend’s botched play on Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones by Rahim Moore was historically bad. The stakes were exceptionally high and Moore’s execution was exceptionally poor. I mean this single play was so bad, it cost the Denver Broncos secondary coach, Ron Milus his job. Now, I don’t mean to imply that this one bad play was the only reason for a Ravens victory, as there were plenty of good and bad plays by both teams to warrant a 1000 words of discussion; however, I saw enough and remain stubborn/committed to my original thesis that the Ravens aren’t championship material this year.
While the Patriots keep proving themselves as a championship-caliber team this year, taking care of business against the Texans. Despite Gronkowski re-breaking his arm, the Patriots have proven their offense is the best in the NFL – they were still able to average over 30 points per game this season when he was out of the lineup. The key for the Patriots has been their running game. Even with Danny Woodhead injured last week against Houston, New England still ran for 122 yards between Vereen and Ridley. They will need that type of production to be successful this weekend as well. When the Patriots and Ravens played back in Week 3, the Pats struggled to run, only managing 77 yards on the ground; if New England can’t run the ball again, they can’t win. I think the Pats will find some success this time, probably during the second half as they will get out ahead early in this game and use of the clock running in the 2nd.
It’s the AFC championship game, and for my pre-season super bowl winner to make it to the big game, they have to win on Sunday. I’ll expect the Pats to win going away.