OK. Here we go! I know all of you sharps out there have been waiting for our NFL Conference Round predictions so that you can get your bets in. I must say, both Link and I redeemed ourselves a bit in the Divisional round as we both went 3-1 against the spread and I pulled a 2-2 straight up (Link only gave me his numbers against the spread). So for the playoffs he is at 1-3 straight up and 5-3 against the spread. I’m at 4-4 against the spread and 3-5 straight up. Both of our records are respectable with a chance to finish over .500 by the end of the Super Bowl.
Now onto this week. As always the lines are from vegasinsider.com and represent what the betting opened up at.
Baltimore at New England (-7.5)
Link is taking the favorite and based on his final score prediction of 38-22 it looks like he thinks New England will be able to score on the Ravens defense.
For me, this is a tough one. Everywhere I look people are picking the Patriots. Most New England fans are already talking about how they are looking forward to getting revenge on the Giants in the Super Bowl. Their main reasons are pretty sound:
1. New England has an unstoppable offense
2. Joe Flacco can’t beat them
To that I say “Poppycock!”
I’m going full-on Ravens fan here and consequences be damned. The Patriots offense is the best in the league, but it can be slowed down. Pittsburgh was able to do it as were Giants and the Cowboys. Throughout the season New England threw up a lot of points on a lot of crappy defenses. The only top five defenses (based on yardage allowed) that they faced were the Steelers, Jets and Eagles. Baltimore finished the season ranked third in yardage allowed (288.9) and points allowed (16.6).
I like those numbers for the Ravens. Of course, the key is going to be putting pressure on Tom Brady, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s hard for pass rushers to get to him since they rely on a lot of quick routes. I think you’ll see the Ravens try and press the big three receivers (Hernandez, Welker and Gronkowski) at the line of scrimmage to throw the timing off on their routes.
If they are able to do that, it should give Terrell Suggs time to wreak havoc in the backfield. What Suggs and the rest of the team has to focus on is staying disciplined. So far this year they’ve done a great job of not taking stupid penalties that extend drives for their opponents. Going into the game they have to know that the refs will frown on anytime rough tactics visited upon Brady and his cohorts so they have to keep their emotions in check.
Along with the pressure in the backfield they also need their secondary to make some plays. Ed Reed, Jimmy Smith, Bernie Pollard, and Cary Williams have to have their best game of the season. They have to know when to go for the pick (which seems to be always) and when to know play the man to prevent the big play. If they keep the receivers in front of them they can make the Patriots work for every yard.
As for Joe Flacco. We’ve had a season of Good Flacco/ Bad Flacco. Hopefully this game sees the return of Good Flacco. That’s the rub, they don’t need Great Flacco to win this game. He doesn’t have to throw for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns. An average day of 250yrds and 2 touchdowns will probably be good enough to win. The key to winning will be Flacco being good enough to take the pressure off of Ray Rice. If he makes enough completions down the field, it’ll force the Patriots to respect the pass and give Rice enough room to make his magic work.
I think the Ravens get physical early, get a defensive touchdown and pull off the upset.
Ravens 27, Patriots 24
New York at San Francisco (-2.5)
I’m not going to lie, I’m thinking along the same lines. With the beatdown the Giants put on the Packers last week I’m kind of surprised that the 49er’s are favored. There has been some late money coming in on the Giants that has pushed the line down to 2 in some casino’s which might indicate the public likes New York’s front seven against the Alex Smith.
By the same token I think San Francisco’s defense is going to present a challenge for Eli and the boys in blue. As I mentioned last week, the 49er’s like picking the ball off. They used that to their advantage last week against the Saints and I think it will be a factor this week as well. However, Eli finds a way to win despite having horrible stats.
Giants 19, 49er’s 10