Gridiron Guesses: Championship Weekend
A Hall of Fame quarterback vs. a legendary linebacker.
A rising star vs. a team trying to break its playoff curse.
Yes, the NFL’s Championship Weekend has the potential to be a great one.
All roads to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, La. must first go through Foxboro, Mass. and Atlanta, Ga. this weekend, and regardless of the outcomes, one thing is certain: all four teams are deserving of a place in the “Big Game” in the “Big Easy.”
So whip up some Boston clam chowder, bake a little Georgian khachpuri, throw on your best Mardi Gras beads and get ready to spend your Sunday afternoon in Gridiron Heaven!
Oh, and here are my Championship Weekend predictions.
“I already believe I am the best linebacker in the game. Now, I have to show one more thing. That I am the most dominating, influential person in the game and the best football player to ever put on a pair of cleats.” - Ray Lewis
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots (-10.0)
It turns out I wasn’t Mile-High dreaming last week.
The temperature in Denver last Saturday was 13-degrees Fahrenheit.
The only thing colder? The blood running through Joe Flacco’s veins.
On the heels of what has since become known as the “Flacco Fling,” the Baltimore Ravens pulled off an improbable last weekend in Denver, stunning Peyton Manning and heavily favoured Broncos, who had not lost since Oct. 7.
With 71 seconds remaining in the game, Flacco heaved a throw down the right sideline that sailed over safety Rahim Moore and into the hands of wide receiver Jacoby Jones, tying the game and stunning the crowd of 76,603, who watched in dismay as Justin Tucker kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime.
A day later on the opposite side of the country, the New England Patriots didn’t stray from the expected, winning in decisive and dominating fashion against the Houston Texans.
Tom Brady, the definition of quarterback consistency, won his NFL-record 17th career playoff game, breaking Joe Montana’s record.
On Sept. 23, the Patriots lost by a point to the Ravens in a thriller in Baltimore. Since then, New England has lost only two games by a combined total of eight points.
While the Ravens, led by electrifying and healthy Ray Lewis, appear to be a rejuvenated and hungry bunch, this game should mark the end of their Super Bowl journey.
With Brady at the helm, and an abundance of reliable weapons at his disposal, the Patriots should win this matchup on their way to a sixth Super Bowl appearance in 12 years.
With that being said, nobody puts Ray Lewis in a corner.
The Patriots should win the game, but expect the Ravens to make things interesting and beat the spread.
Prediction: Patriots 38 - Ravens 31
San Francisco 49ers (-4.5) vs. Atlanta Falcons
I’m still baffled by what transpired last Saturday at Candlestick Park.
Never in the Aaron Rodgers era had I seen the Green Bay Packers embarrassed in a game.
I knew Colin Kaepernick was good.
I didn’t know he was incredible.
The second-year play-caller made the necessary reads, and when no targets were open, he ran, all the way into the record books.
Amassing an incredible 181 yards on the ground, Kaepernick made the Packers defence look downright silly, leaving star lineback Clay Matthews looking the opposite way on multiple occasions.
In a post-game press conference, Rodgers spoke highly of Kaepernick’s abilities.
“He was running all over the field. I mean he's big, strong, athletic, throws the ball well, runs the ball extremely well. We didn't really have a whole lot of answers for him.”
Kaepernick also appears to have found a favourite target in wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who has caught 50 passes and scored seven touchdowns since he took the quarterback reigns from Alex Smith in November.
In contrast, the Falcons are lucky to find themselves playing for the NFC Championship.
After taking a 20-0 halftime lead over the Seattle Seahawks at home, Atlanta allowed a logic-defying 28 points to Russell Wilson and co. in the latter half of the game before Matt Bryant kicked a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
In making a game of it, the Seahawks also exposed a drastic flaw in the Falcons defence.
Their linemen are great and their cornerbacks are solid, but their inability to control what happens between the line of scrimmage and a deep throw could haunt them against a quarterback like Kaepernick who makes it to the “second level” of a defence on almost every run.
The 49ers beat up a healthy Packers team, while the rested Falcons conceded 21 fourth-quarter points to the Seahawks in a game that should have never been close.
I can’t remember the last time a visiting team was favoured to win by four-and-a-half points in the NFC Championship, but I believe there’s a reason why San Francisco is.
The 49ers should cover the spread on their way to punching a ticket to New Orleans.
Prediction: 49ers 35 - Falcons 27