So, in last week’s action, your Fearless Forecaster got two right out of four – nailing the AFC winners — New England and Baltimore — but whiffing completely on the NFC, where New Orleans and Green Bay both fell short to San Francisco and the New York football Giants.
Now it’s time to take a look at pro football’s final four, standing one step away from a trip to the Circle City, Indianapolis – and Super Bowl XLVI.
AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7)
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA – Sunday, 3 PM Eastern/12 Noon Pacific
This game has been described in some corners as “Unstoppable Force (the Patriots’ high flying pass-happy offense) meets Immovable Object (the Ravens’ perennially stout smash-mouth defense).” Having an extra week to prepare meant the Patriots could heal up and prepare, and it showed, as the visiting Denver Broncos were systematically dismantled, 45-10. Meanwhile down the coast, the Ravens made a four point lead stand up through most of the second half while forcing four turnovers in their 20-13 defeat of the Houston Texans.
Prediction: Ravens WIN. While the Patriots lead the all time series 6-1 over the Ravens, that one Baltimore victory came in the playoffs, a wild-card round victory at Foxborough in the playoffs leading up to Super Bowl XLIV. And, while the Patriots’ offensive machine will continue to rack up impressive yardage numbers, the Ravens’ defense will be the difference-maker; “defense wins championships” is not just another oft-repeated sports cliché.
NFC Championship: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (-2.5)
Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA – Sunday, 6:30 PM Eastern/3:30 PM Pacific
Undoubtedly, 19 weeks ago when the season started, these two squads were widely viewed as unlikely to be in the position they are now, battling for the conference championship and the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI. But here they are – the Niners, with a stunning turnaround from 2010-11, and the G-men, with a pair of “Mo’s” on their side: Mo-mentum, having won five out of their last six, and four straight through the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, including a stunning 37-20 takedown of the defending champion Packers; and Mo-tivation, an underdog, shock-the-world mentality.
Prediction: 49ers WIN. Unfortunately for the Giants, though, motivation can only go so far, even if it’s to avenge a previous result. The 49ers have already hung an L on the Giants at the Stick, a 27-20 victory in Week 10; and this will be a mental advantage for the Niners, whose top-ranked run defense will be able to shut down New York, and the pass defense will be sufficient to keep Eli Manning quiet, while Alex Smith will finally reward Niners’ management and fans for his early-career struggles.
So, look for a history-making Super Bowl in Indianapolis, featuring Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh on the sidelines. Bring on the games…