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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Wildly Specific Playoff Predictions - Championship Round

Wow. I called the AFC alright, but completely whiffed on the NFC. Just before I get in to my wildly specific picks for the Championship games, here’s a quick review of my main hits and misses from last week (definitely more misses).

1. The Patriots dominated Denver, but that was hardly a controversial pick.
2. Ravens and Texans really was close
3. I had 4 of 5 TD scorers right in the Saints-49ers game. Until the last 5 mins
4. And both Guiness and Single Malt scored for GB, shame about Jaeger and VT. Still, I was only 1 yard out on Eli’s total yardage for the game.

1. Tebow had literally nothing. Neither did BJGE.
2. Neither did Ray Rice.
3. Alex Smith did.
4. And there were no Eli pouts.

And so, Conference Champ weekend after the jump!

Ravens 17-35 Patriots

Expect at least one Gronk-spike Sunday

Your first Superbowl attendees will be the New England Patriots. Going back to the beginning of the season, here at TPL we backed the Patriots and Ravens to go all the way in our preseason reviews of the AFC East and AFC North, and so it has happened. Now that it’s here though, I don’t feel like it’s going to be the matchup I would’ve hoped. The Patriots simply obliterated Denver last week, making light work of a defence that was tipped to give Brady problems thanks to their pass rush. They even held the Denver Tebows to 7 points despite having statistically one of the worst defences in the league. The Ravens on the other hand, made heavy work of the Texans. The fuel of their offence, Ray Rice, was held to only 60 rushing yards, and only 20 more through the air. Once again, Jonathon Joseph completely shut down the receiver he was covering, and the Ravens deep threat Torrey Smith was a non-factor. The Ravens D did play well, and kept the Texans to only 13 points, including picking off TJ Yates a number of times, but messrs Brady, Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker are just a whole different kettle of fish.
The Ravens will need Torrey Smith if they're
going to keep pace with Brady and co.

The Patriots are going to come out all-guns-blazing, and put up points on their first 3 drives. Their TEs are simply too good for the Ravens to be able to cover, even with Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed in the secondary, and the Ravens tactic to play press coverage with linebackers on Gronkowski won’t work well enough. Jamming them at the line would be great, if they weren’t too powerful and quick to avoid it. This will leave them in acres in space 5-10 yards deep, and with their ability to make YAC, they’ll both put up huge totals on the game. Expect Gronkowski to find the endzone once, and Hernandez twice (maybe even once rushing...!), recording 134 and 97 receiving yards each respectively. Welker may well draw man coverage from Lardarius Webb, which would limit his productivity, but if the Ravens leave him to roam, he could go for 150 on his own. And no matter what happens, he’ll score a touchdown. The last Patriots score? I’ll go for something a bit more ridiculous and say a Brady rush. I say rush. I mean ¼ inch QB sneak. For the Ravens, the game is just going to be taken away from them too early. They’ll try to use Ray Rice as much as they can, and with a lot more success than they had against the Texans, but by falling down by 2 scores they’ll be forced to try and keep up with Brady through the air, putting the ball in Flacco’s hands. Rice will go for 120 yards and a score, and Torrey Smith will easily beat the dodgy Patriots secondary deep on at least one occasion, but that’s really all they’ll get. Expect Flacco to turn the ball over twice to McCourty and Chung whilst trying to rescue the game.

I’d love it if the Patriots don’t break out early, because it’ll allow the Ravens to play their game, and could make this a fantastic contest. The first quarter will be the most important of the game, and if the Ravens are within 7 at the start of the second, this one could be excellent. They won’t be, but we can hope.

Giants 27-26 49ers

Left Tackle? What Left Tackle?
Justin Smith ate Jermon Bushrod en route
to Drew Brees

That’s right, a one point game. Because I really don’t have confidence in calling this one either way. The Giants were impressive in their victory over the Packers last week, and not only had the fire power to keep with Rodgers, but had the defensive prowess to shut him down. I don’t think enough is being made of just how bad the Packers receivers were in the game compared to their regular season performances, and had they caught half of the 8 or 9 catchable balls they dropped then it could’ve been a very different result. The 49ers, were, well, unbelievable. Just ask Jermon Bushrod. Justin Smith was a phenom on the D line, and Alex Smith managed to beat Drew Brees at his own game, taking the 49ers the length of the field twice in the last 4 minutes for go-aheads touchdowns. Admittedly, if he was smart, he would’ve taken a knee on the 1 yard line on his scoring run and then knelt out the clock leaving David Akers to win the game with 20 seconds-ish left on the clock. As it was, he scored and gave Drew the ball back with plenty of time on the clock. That the Saints scored a TD and took the lead again PROVED that Smith should’ve taken a knee, even if they subsequently scored again themselves and won the game.

Anyway, this game. My inclination is that the Giants will come out on top of this one, simply because I believe in Eli more than I do in Smith. What the 49ers chose to do in their secondary will really define who does what for the Giants. Nicks has been great in the post-season, because teams have started to double cover Victor Cruz. If the 49ers do the same, then expect Nicks to score another two TDs and top 140 yards. If they react to Nicks’ last 2 games, then Cruz will be freed up, score a TD of his own and gain 116 yards.  Jake Ballard could also be a key factor here, as despite the 49ers secondary playing better than many people could’ve predicted this year, their nickel corner Chris Culliver is exploitable, and Eli will know that. The run game might struggle against Smith, Willis and Bowman, but the Giants will still plug away with it to keep these guys honest. Expect 123 combined rushing yards for Bradshaw and Jacobs.
Who do the 9ers choose to cover? Nicks will make
them pay if it's Cruz.

The 9ers offence will have the Giants D-line to compete with, with Osi, JPP, Canty, Tuck etc all gunning for Smith. The 9ers OL will be absolutely vital if they’re to have any chance in this game. I suspect they will lean heavily on Vernon Davis again, and he’ll get up to 15 targets in the game. The return of Delaney Walker might cut into this slightly, but he will still record 104 yards and a TD. Frank Gore will again not get 100 yards, but he will get 84 and a TD. Brett Swain will score the other TD with one of his only two receptions in the game.

As I’m writing this, I’m starting to convince myself this one could be a bit more one-sided than I initially felt. I know the 9ers offence played well against the Saints, but I just don’t think that’s a true representation of them. The 36 points they scored against New Orleans was their 2nd highest total of the year, and a figure around the 20 mark is much more likely. The Giants on the other hand seem unlikely to score fewer than 3 TDs in the game, and with that they’ll eclipse the 9ers total. I’m changing my score prediction: Giants 27-20 49ers. There.

- Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
- The Pulling Linemen

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