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NFL Conference Championship Week

By Clash Daily’s Pigskin Pundit

49ers_Logo.svgThe fireworks of this past weekend left me with a fifty-fifty split in picks.  The playoffs are so much harder to prognosticate, because of injuries, shifting momentum and the fact that there is no mediocrity left in the games anymore.  Teams and players play differently when it’s do-or-die elimination.  We fans were treated to a remarkable weekend of tremendous gamesmanship and never-say-die determination. 

The games I called correctly were spot-on.  Let’s talk about the ones I got wrong.  Green Bay had the necessary tools and experience to win that game, but I’m officially a full convert to the Colin Kaepernick move.  That young man went out and played with a verve and joy that stated to the world that he was born to do this.  Really.  He looked like a man fulfilling his destiny.  There’s no question the rest of his talented team fuels off his boundless enthusiasm.  

The Packers didn’t have a counter for that ebullience, and couldn’t garner enough defense to dent it.  One pundit after the game said exactly what I was thinking, which is that if San Francisco plays like that in the Superbowl there will be no stopping them.  I agree, and I think that barring a freak happening between now and then, they will in fact hoist Lombardi’s trophy in February. 

The Denver game was a big surprise to me.  Suzanne Olden (whose superb prose graces this website weekly) took me to task for under-appreciating the Ravens’ willpower.  Indeed, they showed a depth of character and determination I didn’t know they could still redeem on the field.  The bye week didn’t appear to help Denver any, as they seemed a bit lethargic compared to Baltimore’s naked intensity.  Flacco played the game of his life, my detractions notwithstanding.  We all could have done without Ray Lewis’ “divine destiny” post-game comments, as everybody knows the Lord is a Patriots fan…..

Here are the picks.

NFC Conference Championship:
49ers @ Falcons – If Atlanta doesn’t figure out a way to contain Scampernick, the field will appear downhill in San Fran’s favor all day.  Comparisons to Michael Vick will end when fans realize that Kaepernick’s best weapon is not his considerable arm nor formidable legs, but what’s inside his helmet.  All else being equal (coaching, strong rosters, playoff experience), this young man is the difference between these two teams.  He’s “the Factor”.  San Francisco goes to the big dance.  49ers.

Baltimore_Ravens_wordmarkAFC Conference Championship:
Ravens @ Patriots – If New England is going to spare America from having to watch the HarBowl in February, they need to play a flawless game.  Baltimore has shown what they can do.  They have rallied around Lewis, their heart and soul, who by the way led his team in tackles last week.  

The Patriots lost a critical offensive weapon when Gronk went down again Sunday.  Others will have to step up, but that’s a huge pair of cleats to fill.  If Baltimore can neutralize Welker and slow down Ridley, the Pats will have a hard time finding alternatives.  Is Deion Branch going to replace Gronk’s or Welker’s catches? Brandon Lloyd hasn’t shown that he can be more than he has already been – an average receiver in spite of an elite quarterback.  Woodhead is hurt, limiting the play-option game.  Perennial role-player Julian Edelman is gone for the year. Belichick will be the first to say that great teams rise above adversity, but that’s a lot of adversity.  Baltimore has hung tough through thick and thin this year as well.

Every coach knows that to beat the Patriots, you have to harass Brady.  To do that, you have to make him hold the ball longer than he wants to, by taking away his top receiving targets.  With Gronkowski and possibly Woodhead on the couch this week, you only have to reduce the effectiveness of Welker and Hernandez.  Half the job is already done for the Ravens.

My heart tells me New England.  My head tells me Baltimore.  I hope my head is wrong.  Ravens.

Enjoy the games!