With the NHL opening this weekend, Manti Te'o wrapped up in an 'imaginary girlfriend hoax', Lance Armstrong trying to save face, the Cubs Convention, college hoops, and Bulls buzzer beaters (exhale)...it's been tough to remember about the AFC/NFC Championship Games coming up this weekend.
Our NFL picks, which are usually top notch around here, are ready to surprise AND inspire you. Yes. Inspiration.
Baltimore (+8) at New England
Rarely will you find an NFL pass defense on a winning team that's ranked as low as 29th. Yet, that's where the Patriots finished after 16 regular season games. The Pats have gotten by for years with some patchwork defense. But 'getting by' hasn't equated into 'winning championships.' This poor pass defense is partially the reason that New England hasn't won a Super Bowl since January of 2005. Joe Flacco is playing on the road for the second straight week. A more inexperienced playoff quarterback might not play as well in the elements, but Flacco has been here before. Expect Baltimore to move the ball easily on New England. However, I'll take Belichick's brains over Lewis' passion any day of the week. The Ravens have gotten by with a middling defense all season. It will finally come to bite them this week.
The Ravens will keep it close, but fold in the end to Brady: New England 35, Baltimore 31
San Francisco at Atlanta (+4)
Defenses win championships. That was the motto. Unfortunately, playing in an air-conditioned dome doesn't cater to the old saying. Defenses won championships in January games played at Lambeau Field, Cleveland Stadium, Soldier Field, Giants Stadium, or RFK. Indoors? Not so much. San Francisco's dominance against the run and Atlanta's inability to run would normally matter. But not here. The Niners defense hasn't been the same. The Niners have given up more than 30 points in three of their last four games. The Niners have the #4 rushing team in the NFL. The Falcons? 29th against the run. However, now that they got to see some option with Russell Wilson, the Falcons might be in a better spot getting prepared for Smith.
The Niners will be able to run. The Falcons will be able to throw like Green Bay. What ends up on top? The Falcons are 8-0 in home games that matter (The Falcons lost a season finale that meant nothing). The Niners went 5-3 on the road. The numbers point me to San Francisco, but Atlant's success at home and recent time with Russell Wilson give me a good feeling about them holding the Niners to under 150 on the ground (which is what I think they'll need to do to win...not a big requirement).
Atlanta 20, San Francisco 17 (OT)