NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships

NFL Predictions- Conference Championship edition

By Mike Cannon

Brees? Gone. Rodgers? Peace. Crazy last weekend in the playoffs. If only I went with my gut and picked the Giants instead of whimping out, I could have been 4 for 4. Oh well, 3 for 4 isn’t bad.

The Saints-49ers game on Saturday night was one of the better playoff games I’ve ever seen. What a last couple drives by Alex Smith. Just unbelievable. Every year, crazy things happen in the NFL playoffs. Anyone can be beat. As long as you have a good defense you stand a chance. In the final 4 we have 3 teams with very solid defenses. Can the Patriots break the trend?

Starting with AFC once again, here are the picks:

Baltimore @New England (Sunday 3:00pm)

Before the playoffs started, I made a prediction that it would be a 49ers-Ravens superbowl. I’m sticking to it, but this game makes me very uneasy. After seeing the Patriots embarrass the Broncos last week by being virtually unstoppable on offense, how can I tell myself this team will lose a week later at home? It’s certainly tough. But I think it could happen. Ravens are a different team than Denver; they’ve been here before and have the experience. Guys like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed have faced a Brady offense plenty of times. And I don’t think the Patriots have an answer for Ray Rice.

The Ravens have two keys to their team if they want to win this game. The first is Flacco. The Patriots will score no matter what. But if the Ravens offense can keep pace with them, it leaves a possibility. Flacco has not had a good year by any means. He’s been inaccurate, he’s made poor decisions, and he’s generally just been inconsistent as a QB. Last week was a good example. The Ravens should’ve blown the Texans out of the water, but their lack of execution on offense let the Texans stay in the game. This can’t happen. Flacco needs to be mistake free, and he needs to at least establish a kind of passing game where long drives can happen. The second key is Ed Reed’s health.

Reed is not the player he once was, but he is still arguably the most important man on this Ravens defense. He knows the routes, and he’s a playmaker. He’s also one of the captains and leaders on defense. If he misses this game, I will all but kiss this game goodbye. So him being healthy is huge. I don’t have too much to say about the Patriots. I think we all know their strengths and weaknesses and how good they really are. If Gronkowski isn’t covered well, it will be a long day for any team. Welker will always be a threat too. But when Brady (just like almost every QB) gets pressured, he gets flustered. The Ravens defense is capable of doing it. It’s a longshot but I’m sticking with my gut here. Ravens with the upset.

Prediction: Baltimore: 31 New England: 28

New York @San Francisco (Sunday 6:30pm)

These are two of the most fun teams to watch lately. Who would’ve ever thought that before this year? Both teams have great storylines, and have really gelled into something special. Both teams knocked off two of the more dominant regular season offenses in history last week. And they did it with defense for the most part. Their pass rushes and forcing timely turnovers were huge. That’s not to say their offenses weren’t a factor though. Both teams had incredible drives for important scores. That’s what makes this prediction so tough. In a way, these teams are very similar. I have to go with the 49ers, however.

This team has been through so much, and is just on fire right now. Their defense has always been special, but they now have a quarterback who has shown he is cool and calm under pressure and can lead a team to victory. They have a tight end whose confidence is boosted coming off catching the biggest pass of his life and poses a huge matchup threat to any team. And they have a coach who believes in his team/players, which may be the biggest factor in their success this year and something the 49ers seem to have been lacking the last couple of years. It’s just hard to root against them. Not that it means too much, but the 49ers did already beat the Giants this year too, and they did it with guys like Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis creating confusion and pressure, ultimately leading to Justin Smith batting down a Eli Manning pass to seal the victory. I see this being a similar type of game.

The 49ers scored a lot last week, but that’s partly due to the lack of defense by New Orleans. I don’t see this game being a shootout on offense. Defense and a couple of key offensive plays will determine this one. I think the Giants shoddy run game will also hurt them as they will need to mix it up. And although I don’t see Alex Smith having a great game, I also don’t see him really needing to. Just doing what he has to do to win, something he’s done all year. The final icing on the cake was the 49ers have only lost 1 home game all year, and that was in week 2, at the last second. So I’m sticking with my original superbowl prediction, battle of the Harbough’s. Niners win.

Prediction: New York 17, San Francisco 26

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