Last week I went big for the early games when I posted “Thoughts on the Divisional Round”. I was off when it came to calling the 49ers vs Saints match up as Im sure most people were (outside of loyal bay area fans.) The 49ers performed masterfully in one of the most exciting playoff games of all time. Alex Smith proved he was a valuable quarterback who could make the elite throws when he had to. Their playmakers showed up and they did just enough to slow down that incredibly talented Saints offense. Often times you are in for a let down after putting together such a huge victory against a favorite (I.E.- Seattle last year) but this 49ers team could be different. They are playing at home and we all know how much home field advantages means in the playoffs… (oh wait. It doesn’t mean anything.) What the Giants are doing is remarkable. A team destined for success and clicking at the perfect time has dismantled the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons and Packers in succession. No one looks better right now so how could you pick against them? I sat back and really thought about my picks this week before I wrote this column. After debating the two championship games I settled on my choices.
Giants vs 49ers
When Eli said he was an elite quarterback at the beginning of the year people laughed. Just read the user comments on this message board when the story broke in August (http://www.tsn.ca/nfl/story/?id=373956.) Who’s laughing now? Eli has played above and beyond this season helping guide the Giants to the NFC Championship game once again. He out paced Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and has a set a standard for how to convert when it counts on 3rd down. Manning is closing in on finally stepping out of brother Peyton’s shadow. The Giants are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Their defense is playing at a level unmatched right now in the playoffs and their offense is pure electric. Can they come into San Fran and shut down the 49ers? Logically yes. The 49ers are in for a let down after beating the Saints last week. They were a great team all season long but they showed flashes of mediocrity at times you wouldn’t expect them to. Can they overcome the emotion of a huge victory and put it together this week? Eh I’m just not sure. Jim Harbaraugh would be the guy to get them over that hump but honestly I just don’t see it happening. I’m sorry Niner fans don’t hate me for this one (because I do want to see them win) but I like Eli and that offense in a close one.
Giants 24 – 49ers 16
Ravens vs Patriots
The rematch! Classic offense vs defense here once again to entertain us all. For all the praise Eli Manning gets Tom Brady has been just as good this year. Tom has guided that offense up and down the field at will through out the entire season. This Patriots offense may have not racked up as many points as the 2007 one but they are overall a harder one to stop. The introduction of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as Pro Bowl caliber players has given teams headaches all season. It’s almost impossible to stop these guys. Add in Wes Welker, Deion Branch and a solid ground game and you have the most dynamic offense left playing in the league. What gives Brady and this offense such an advantage over teams is their pacing. The no huddles, the quick passes, the draws, the balance. It’s all perfectly orchestrated like a classic symphony. While that defense has given up a ton of points, they seem to step up in big games when they have to make a play. Baltimore to me is a great defense that can punch you in the mouth if they get rolling. Gritty, smart and they react to the ball better then any defense in the NFL. The formula is simple for the Ravens this week. Pound it, slow Brady down and manage the clock. Can they do this and break through for a Superbowl showing? No they can’t. New England at home is looking for redemption. They are flying some what under the radar for the first time because of Eli and the turmoil in the NFC. Bellicheck and his flunkies should be able to out point Baltimore on their way to a rematch with the New York football Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
Patriots 28- Ravens 24
From a fans perspective I want to see the Giants and Patriots go at it. I am from the New York area and this place would explode if the rematch is set this weekend. As a writer though I want to see Jim and John rematch for the title. It would just be a better story. Either way I am excited for a great weekend of football and can’t wait to see if my predictions are right. Enjoy it everyone!