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Sunday, January 20, 2013

NFL Conference Championship Predictions

In the Divisional Round, Wild Banshee went 3-1 on her predictions.  I felt very strongly about those picks.  Of course, I should have felt a little less strongly about the Broncos.  This week seems a lot less clear cut.  Despite the relatively large point spreads established by Vegas, I think both of these games are toss-ups.  As I was preparing for this column, I came up with arguments for all four teams to come out victorious.  So, after much internal debate, here are Wild Banshee's Conference Championship predictions.

San Francisco at Atlanta.  Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EST on FOX.  The Falcons are the #1 seed.  This game is being played in Atlanta because they went 13-3 in the regular season.  And yet, the Falcons are a 4.5 point underdog at home.  I am not part of the Falcon bashing crowd.  The Falcons are a very good team.  However, the San Francisco 49ers are a bad matchup for them.  Tony Gonzalez normally presents huge matchup problems for Falcons' opponents.  No so with the 49ers.  The Niners' scheme in the nickel package and the athleticism of their linebackers will allow them to contain Gonzalez.  On the other side of the ball, I do expect the young Kaepernick to struggle at times in the loud Georgia Dome.  But, in the end, I believe that the Niners' physical offensive line will eventually wear down the Falcons in the second half.  I expect this game to be competitive throughout, but the 49ers will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Baltimore at New England.  Sunday at 6:30 p.m. EST on CBS.  The AFC Championship game features two veteran teams whose players and coaches have been in this big spot before.  Vegas has the Patriots favored by more than a touchdown.  That's a lot in a conference championship game.  Any team with Tom Brady at quarterback is capable of an offensive explosion that leads to a blowout.  However, I do not believe that will happen in New England today.  In fact, I do not believe the Patriots will win at all.  The Patriots are playing this game without TE Rob Gronkowski due to a broken arm.  The Patriots played five games in the regular season without Gronkowski.  Statistically, it looks like the Pats didn't miss Gronk very much.  But, four of those five games were against the Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars and the declining Texans.  The Ravens are a cut above that group.  Both teams had defenses that were in the middle of the pack in the regular season.  But, the Patriots primary weakness lines up with the Ravens primary strength.  Although the Patriots have improved lately, their primary weakness has been against the deep pass.  And the Ravens excel at the deep pass.  I expect Flacco to hit Jones and Smith for a couple of game-changing plays.  And I expect those plays will be enough for the Ravens to win a nail biter, thus setting up the Harbowl in New Orleans.

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