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Sunday, 20 January 2013

NFL Play Off Championship Games 2013 (January 20)

Well, well, well, we have finally made it through to the penultimate weekend of the NFL season (I don't count the Pro Bowl) and it has been a positive Play Off run for the picks in what was a disappointing and tough regular season to negotiate.

The run in the Play Offs has reached 7-1 thanks to Seattle and New England covering last Sunday and hopefully that will continue through for three more games.

Just before I get on to the picks, I have to say a little about the Manti Te'o situation- it is very worrying to think someone as intelligent as Te'o was catfished so comprehensively, but there is enough gnawing at me to think there is more to the tale.

I have little belief that he didn't know it was a hoax sooner and there are a lot of interviews that contradict what he is now saying. It is a shame, as he looked a lock for a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft, and I do see that stock falling. What makes it worrying is that someone would think it is correct to perpetuate a lie, to almost go out of their way to let the lie develop and there are so many questions to be answered.

The story shows little to no sign of slowing down at the moment and I think a lot is going to be revealed as to how much Te'o knew about the 'hoax'.

Personally, I think there has to be an opportunity for Jeff Ireland to interview Te'o and see if he can put his foot in his own mouth any worse than when he interviewed Dez Bryant.

San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: The first thing I would say is that the spread is ridiculous as it should be much shorter, although I do believe the right side is being favoured and I do think San Francisco will cover in the win to book their place in New Orleans in two weeks time.

The problem for Atlanta is that they have shown nothing to think they can slow down Colin Kaepernick- both Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have carved up this Defense this season and Kaerpernick has the wheels and the arm to become the latest to make hay in that situation.

I have little doubt that San Francisco will be moving the chains in this one, almost at will, and my only concern is the situation with Michael Crabtree and whether he will be active for the game. I would be surprised if he wasn't, but if Crabtree was unavailable,  Vernon Davis will be given a bigger opportunity in the Offense.

That won't be a bad thing as Davis is more than capable of replicating what Zach Miller did last week for Seattle, although the loss of Crabtree would limit the Offense a little.

Another issue for Atlanta is that their Offense could be made fairly one-dimensional in this one... Michael Turner showed some life last week against Seattle, but the Seahawks are not as stout against the run as the 49ers and I expect all the pressure will be on Matt Ryan.

Ryan banished some of the demons with a come from behind win over Seattle last weekend, but this is a tougher Defense in my opinion and it won't be easy for him to torch the Secondary without a running game established. The likes of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez are top receivers so they will find spaces, but to do that consistently will be an issue for Atlanta in my opinion.

There are a lot of trends that do favour the Falcons in the game that worry me, particularly of sides coming off a huge Offensive output as the 49ers are (teams scoring at least 40 points in the Play Offs are 3-20 against the spread since 1996).

However, they look the better team and I do think the 49ers are going to be too good on both sides of the ball and pull the win.

Pick: Atlanta Falcons 24-30 San Francisco 49ers

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots Pick: Is it destiny or something else? The Baltimore Ravens certainly feel that the whole season was going to boil down to them going back to Foxboro for the AFC Championship Game and a chance to earn some redemption from a season ago. Everyone remembers the Lee Evans dropped touchdown and the Billy Cundiff choke in a game the Ravens deserved to win.

That was the weekend when both Harbaugh brothers saw their team lose in the Championship Round to miss the chance of getting to the SuperBowl and I think they may both be in different situations this time around.

I have no doubt that Baltimore are banged up Defensively, but this unit has come together in the last couple of weeks as they rally around for one last run to the big game as a team. Ray Lewis is gone at the end of the season and I wouldn't be surprised if Ed Reed joins him, but they look like a team that feels they can put the exclamation point at the end of Lewis' career.

Baltimore should have some success through the air and on the ground against this Defense, particularly if Play Off Joe Flacco has another big game. He outplayed Peyton Manning last week and he outplayed Tom Brady last season, while Jim Caldwell has already shown he is a far better Offensive Co-Ordinator than Cam Cameron.

Rob Gronkowski is missing for New England, but I don't think that will have the huge impact that it would have done a season ago, especially with the Patriots playing down the stretch without him this season. Brady will still find a way to move the chains with his receivers and he will get the ball out quickly to avoid pressure, something that Baltimore have rattled him with in the past.

I also expect the Patriots to find some success on the floor with Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen, but something has to be said about how tough Baltimore have played New England throughout recent seasons.

I hate the fact that Bill Belichick is a covering machine when he faces a team he has lost to previously in the season (14-3 against the spread), but teams given at least a touchdown in Conference Championship Games are 8-3 against the spread since 1997.

Baltimore have also played New England tough in their last 3 visits here, going 2-0-1 against the spread in those games too and I'll take more than a touchdown start that they can do the same again.

MY PICKS: San Francisco 49ers - 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens + 8 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)

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