Saturday, January 21, 2012

TRG, Playoff Edition: AFC/NFC Championship

I'm really looking forward to the games tomorrow. I think both of them will be great! There seems to be a general buzz about a NY-NE Super Bowl, and I can't say I'm surprised... The New York - Boston rivalry seems to some how work its way to the top of every sport. I'm not convinced that either team will have an easy time getting there, though. There's a real possibility we could have a Harbaugh Bowl on our hands, too. That's what makes these games great; you can make an argument for each of the 4 remaining teams to win this weekend and even win the Super Bowl after that. We'll find out which of them does soon enough! Here are my picks for this week.

Flacco would quiet the critics with a great game.
Baltimore +7 over NEW ENGLAND

Oh, how I agonized over picking this game. The Ravens are a tough team to figure out. The offense has been criticized throughout the year, but when you look at their schedule, it was murderous. 2 games a piece against the Steelers, Bengals, and Browns, ranked 1st, 7th, and 10th respectively, in yards allowed. Harder to imagine than that is that they played all but one of the remaining teams in the top 10. The Ravens themselves come in at 3rd, and they had to play Houston (2nd) twice now, San Francisco (4th), the Jets (5th), the Jaguars (6th), and the Seahawks (9th). The Ravens offense has spent a long time playing against good defenses. The Patriots, however, don't have a good defense. They might have looked great against Denver, but that doesn't take much. Against the sub-par defenses of Arizona, Indy, and St. Louis, Flacco threw for a combined 952 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs; not bad numbers. The Patriots have only kept opponents under 20 points 5 times this season, including last week's win over the Broncos. The Ravens have only had 5 opponents score 20+ points on them. The Patriots defense is bad enough to let the Ravens hang around in this game. Flacco isn't that bad of a quarterback. If he has time to throw against a bad secondary, he'll get the job done. Ray Rice will be having a field day as well. The Patriots offense looks unstoppable, but after seeing Green Bay and New Orleans get knocked off, I have a hard time picking them to cover a touchdown. This really feels like a "defense wins championships" season. If the Ravens can get even a few stops throughout the game, you have to think they'll be in it. The Patriots aren't good enough defensively to stop the Ravens from scoring. The Ravens defense is good enough to stop, or at least slow down the Pats. I've got to take the points. I can see this one coming down to one possession at the end of the game, and the Ravens might be the team winning it.

SAN FRANCISCO -1.5 over New York Giants

Gore needs to be effective and take pressure off Alex.
The Giants might not have had a good statistical defense during the season, but you sure wouldn't be able to guess that now. In my recap, I said I thought Aaron Rodgers probably deserved just as much credit for losing as the Giants did for winning, and I stand by that. The Giants defense still gets half the credit for that game, however, as they did a fine job of pressuring Rodgers and not allowing him to make any more throws than he did. Alex Smith takes more sacks than just about anyone, and there's no doubt that they'll be able to slow down the Niners passing game. San Francisco needs to hope to have an effective running game, early and often. If they can, they should be able to somewhat subdue the pass rush. The Giants finished 19th in rushing yards allowed in the regular season, and they gave up a couple of big runs to Ryan Grant last week. Frank Gore should be able to find enough success on the ground to keep the Niners in the game. And, if Alex Smith has somehow morphed into a consistently good QB (you have to hand it to the guy, he was amazing at the end of last week's game), they will have an even easier time moving the chains and scoring points.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants are up against a Niners team that is a staggering +32 in turnover differential, including their playoff game against the Saints. The Niners have 9 more takeaways and 12 fewer giveaways than the Giants at this point. As always, the defense should provide at least a couple of good opportunities for the offense to get points. The Giants inability to run the ball is another key mismatch for me. They only ran for 95 yards last week against the Packers, and they played the majority of that game with a lead. The Niners have the league's top-ranked run defense, and that should make the Giants pretty one-dimensional. While San Francisco has a propensity to give up big plays, evident last week, I think they're facing an easier challenge against this New York offense and I expect them to keep the Giants under 20 points. The offense should have enough success to put them over the top. I'll take San Francisco at home, where they are now 8-0-1 ATS this season.

-The Rambling Gambler

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