Dis.a.POINT.Ed! And that's really all it is. I am as shocked as anybody that I took this Bronco's loss with a bit of detachment. They did not play a great game, or in some respects even a good game. I would rather this, than that they would have defrauded their way into the Super Bowl. If one wants to dissect that game, I suggest that much better than I have already done so. I would simply like to point out a few of the Broncos who did play championship level football, which hasn't been written of ad nauseum. Wesley Woodyard did a terrific job. He contained Pitta for most of the afternoon. He was always involved in run support. This kid, much as Rod Smith quietly became a premiere receiver, is quickly and quietly becoming a premiere linebacker. Sadly, the second excelling Bronco was the punter, Britton Colquitt. With a bit of help from great special teams play, Colquitt had a terrific day pinning Jacoby Jones for minimal return yardage. And finally, the shortest man in the NFL set one of its biggest records. Trindon Holliday ran a punt and a kickoff back for a touchdown. No one, until now, has done that in the playoffs.
Still, I was 3-1 in last weeks picks, again. Though my heart isn't nearly as into it as before, the Championship games are set.
San Francisco 49ers (2) at Atlanta Falcons (1)
During the first half last week, Atlanta looked like a team that should share the best record in the NFL with the Broncs, in part due to Seattle mistakes. Then the wheels came off, and the Seahawks almost stole the upset. What should have been a blowout became a squeaker for the Falcons. They look vulnerable in the secondary, not a pretty circumstance to bring against the 'Niners. For San Francisco, the Divisional round was the Colin Kaepernick show. He had 180+ yards on the ground, and when Green Bay did put a spotter on him later in the game, he threw the ball with great authority. This kid is a serious weapon, and could likely make all the difference in the Georgia Dome. Though Kaepernick won't likely put up nearly the gaudy rushing numbers from last week, repeating the two rushing touchdowns is not at all out of reach.
The geographic advantage lies of course with Atlanta. They still have the relative advantage in the passing game. Tony Gonzalez, and the immanent threat of his possible retirement, offers the Falcons an emotional boost. But, the Falcons will have to be able to control the line of scrimmage on offense, and that's something of an *if*. Though my wife thinks I may be 'jinxing her boys', I think the 49ers have this in a close contest.
San Francisco - 34, Atlanta - 31
Baltim0re Ravens (4) at New England Patriots (2)
I've written before that I don't think anyone can beat the Patriots in Foxboro. Well, maybe. The loss of Rob Gronkowski means that the Ravens will have a small edge in the pass rush, and can focus more on Hernandez and the tailbacks coming out of the back field. Vereen and Ridley have been impressive on the ground and as receivers. And Brady is still the best at the quick game, all of which usually amounts a to 35+ points even against good defenses.
The Patriots defense has proven very capable against the run, and if they can neutralize Arian Foster, they can certainly stuff Ray Rice. But the Ravens have one of the more frightening groups of receivers in the league with Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. The Raven's offense boils down to Flacco, whether he has a good day or a bad day. I don't think anyone is used to him having two good playoff days in a row, so maybe he's due. The emotional edge will certainly be with the Ravens, after beating Denver last week.
Watching this game will be difficult for me. It's one of those where I won't root for the team I think can, should or will win. I want them both to lose, the question is which I want to lose more. I still want Ray Lewis retired and gone. I want the legacy of Art Modell gone. And I've written too many times already about my disdain for Belichick and the Patriots. Strangely, I will likely be rooting for the Ravens But that doesn't mean I think they can or will win.
Baltimore - 28, New England -38