(Credit: Harry How: Getty Images)
Let’s get the bad news out of the way at the jump. Last week we went 0-4 with the picks, not good. After a 4-0 week to start the playoffs, I expected some adjustment but 0-4 is just brutal. Saturday was especially a mess, we were laying 9 points with Denver, they really never pulled away when they had the chance, and in the late game the Packers started strong but eventually got blown out in San Francisco. On Sunday I was chalking up a win with Atlanta laying 2 1/2 with a 20-point lead, but the Falcons choked away that lead in epic fashion, they won the game but didn’t cover the spread. And New England tacked on some late points to knock off the Texans +9, and capped off our 0-4 weekend. Again, not good. One gambling note from last week: every game last week went Over the total (significantly), and this week I am expecting the same. Even the 51 1/2 point total in the Patriots/Ravens game looks like it is a little low.
We do have some good storylines this week: the Patriots train keeps rolling to yet another AFC title game; Ray Lewis lives to fight for one more week; Colin Kaepernick continues his magical run; and Matt Ryan and the Falcons look to finally get the monkey off their backs and get to the Super Bowl. My analysis is below, but I’m looking at a San Francisco / New England Super Bowl. My original Super Bowl picks of Denver v. Green Bay went up in flames last week. Let’s hope this week is better for us.
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Let’s get some winners and rebound back from a bad week…
Last Week: 0-4 (boooo!)
Season Record: 126-104-3
Sunday, Jan. 20th
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons (+4, O/U 49)
Colin Kaepernick sure showed something last week. I picked the Packers to win in San Francisco mainly because I expected the rookie to wilt under the playoff pressure. But Kaepernick not only played well, he brought his game to another level. Rushing 181 yards against a pretty good Packers defense? Wow. Jim Harbaugh looked like he went all-in with the Kaepernick playbook, more designed QB rushes, more liberty to run out of the pocket when he was pressured, and it paid off big time. And I’m expecting Kaepernick to do something similar this week. I like the 49ers to win this one.
And truthfully, I’m not going with the Falcons because when you blow a 20 point lead at home in the playoffs, then I can’t put my money on you. I just can’t. Especially from what I saw in the 2nd half against Seattle, the Falcons just looked like a completely different team. Now if they can put together a game that looked more like the first half of the Seattle game then they can win, but I don’t see that happening. Russell Wilson was able to put up 385 yards last week on the Falcons defense, sure he threw more than usual because Seattle fell behind early and they were throwing to try to catch up, but still it was 385 yards.
This week the Falcons will have one of their best defensive lineman – John Abraham – banged up for the game. Abraham should play, but he won’t be 100% and that is huge. The Falcons need to pressure Kaepernick when he is in the pocket because they aren’t going to stop the 49ers run game (including their scrambling QB). Atlanta comes in ranked 20th against the run, while San Francisco is the 3rd ranked rushing team in the league. And if Kaepernick can get loose like he did last week then San Francisco should be able to get out of Atlanta with a win and a trip to the Super Bowl.
Can Atlanta protect Matt Ryan against the 49ers pass rush? That will be another key matchup this week. If Matt Ryan has time to set up and throw to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez then I would lean to Atlanta, but I don’t think it happens. San Francisco is ranked 6th in pass defense and 2nd in rush defense so I would expect the Falcons to have a tough time moving the ball. They won’t jump out to an early 20-point lead, that is for sure.
So, in this game I’ll take the team with the better defense and the better coach playing with the hotter QB. 49ers win on the road, 31-24.
Pick: 49ers -4
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-9, O/U 51 1/2)
Ok, here we go again. Ravens fans you can thank me later. Last week I picked you to lose, and you all know what happened. And this week I’m going against the Ravens again.
I’m picking the Patriots pretty much for one reason, I don’t think the Ravens can get up for another huge road game, not after that double overtime street brawl last week in Denver. They should have lost last week and they know it. But Flacco, to his credit, got it done with a 70 yard touchdown at the end of regulation to force overtime and allow the Ravens to pull off the most improbable upset in recent memory as a 9 point underdog.
But can they do it again? I’m saying no. But don’t get me wrong. I would love to see the Ravens to win this game. One more game for Ray Lewis? In the Super Bowl? Sign me up. And I think we all have Patriots fatigue by now. Another year, another Super Bowl run for Brady. C’mon man, give someone else a chance. But I just think the Pats will be ready for this one.
These teams met back in Week 3, the Ravens came away with a 31-30 win, but the real revenge comes from last year’s AFC Championship game. The Ravens came oh-so-close to the Super Bowl, but a missed field goal at the buzzer sent them home.
So yes, the emotion of Ray Lewis’ retirement and the memory of last season’s Championship game loss are plenty of ammunition to being into a game like this. But I don’t think it’s enough.
The Pats defense isn’t great, but it is playing better than it was in Week 3 and believe it or not, it is ranked higher than the Ravens D this season (NE 15th, Baltimore 19th).
For the Ravens to win this game (or to even hang lose) they’re going to need another big week from Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith. I expect the Patriots to do what they did last week and put up 30+ points (Denver scored 35 on this Ravens defense last week), so can the Ravens score 30 again to keep themselves in the game? I’ll say no. But one thing to note is that Texans TE Owen Daniels had a good game last week (15 targets, 9 catches, 81 yards), so expect Ravens TE Dennis Pitta to see the ball a lot to try to help open up the field for the long passes to Smith and Boldin and company. Will this make a difference? Probably not, but if the Ravens end up winning this one they’ll need Pitta to have a big game.
Last week, the Broncos scored 35 points in a losing effort. Yes, two of those touchdowns came on special teams but I think Brady can move the ball against the Ravens and put up a similar number.
The big injury news for the Patriots is about TE Rob Gronkowski, he re-injured his forearm last week and is out for the remainder of the playoffs. It will be a blow to the passing game, but Gronkowski was out for five games prior to the playoffs and the Patriots did just fine, going 4-1 including 3 wins on the road. The game they lost was to the 49ers, but that will be something we’ll discuss in the Super Bowl preview (foreshadowing!). So, losing Gronkowski will be a setback but it won’t change my pick.
Bill Belichick is 0-2 in AFC Championship games when laying seven points or more but this week I think he gets it done. New England has won 10 of their last 11 games, so they are definitely the hot team here. I’ll say the Patriots get the win and the cover (barely), New England 34-24.
Pick: Patriots -9