NFL Championship Week Preview

Hello again and welcome to Cardiac Attack Sports, your home for a variety of words strung out into sentences which may or may not be coherent.

Well America, I fell asleep on the couch and didn’t submit my picks for last Sunday’s contests, so I apologize if anyone was disappointed. For now on, I’ll eat turkey AFTER football games to avoid such future miscues. After a pair of upsets last weekend, we have out Final Four set for an action-packed Sunday, so lets kick things off with:

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots (-9)

(all betting lines courtesy of http://bovada.lv)

The conversation for this game begins and ends with Tom Brady and what he is able to do against an excellent defense in Baltimore. Despite the lack of deep threats, he has managed to make the best of his available weapons, including new record-setting tight end Rob Gronkowski. The only comparable scenario for Baltimore was its two games vs. Pittsburgh when Heath Miller went foe 73 and 42 yards, respectively. However, Miller wasn’t the main target of Big Ben like “Gronko” is for Brady, so their coverage against big guys like him is certainly a question mark.

An amazing percentage of Brady’s passes this season have been short and up the middle, a whopping 203 of his 645 overall, resulting in 1,597 yards and nine TDs. This means the Ravens’ will have to rely on “Ole’ Faithful” Ray Lewis to patrol Brady’s comfort zone and try to force the “Golden Boy” to spread the ball around. Sadly, one has to ask if the 36-year-old is physically up to the challenge late in the season when bumps and bruises start transforming into breaks and tears. He did so in a 2009 Wild Card round victory over the Patriots, forcing Brady to go 7-of-13 for 57 yards and a pick on throws short and over the middle, but can he do it again?

Finally, the Ravens’ offensive line will have to protect Joe Flacco. While the former Delaware standout has taken some unwarranted criticism over the last few weeks, the fact is that he struggles under pressure like many middle-of-the-road quarterbacks in this league. In 147 drop-backs under pressure, he went 66-of-147 for 756 yards and six INTs with a 50.7 passer rating, among the worst in the NFL under such circumstances. For the Ravens to have any chance, his line needs to do what they’ve done well most of the season: keep Flacco upright. It also helps that the Patriots’ pass rush is rated 20th in the league by http://www.profootballfocus.com, and that’s before Andre Carter went down with a quad injury.

All in all, the Ravens have a puncher’s chance due to their solid, veteran defense and ability to protect Flacco, but I don’t see them having the amount of firepower to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. I see the Pats winning big, lets say 38-17, and moving on to their fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons.

Prediction: Patriots Win, 38-17

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers (-3)

With the Niners favored only by the three points associated with home-field advantage, it’s safe to say this game is expected to be a tight one.Unlike the early game, these two teams met earlier this season in Week 10 with San Francisco edging out a 27-20 home victory.

One major key to this game is how New York’s shaky tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie hold up against one of the league’s most dynamic pass-rushing attack. The Giants’ pair is ranked by Pro Football Focus as the worst pair of edge blockers in the NFL, totaling a -41.3 rating on passing downs with McKenzie ranking worst individually at -23.4. McKenzie will have his hands full with All-Pro 3-4 lineman Justin Smith and rookie phenom Aldon Smith who combined to make Jermon Bushrod look like a lost kid at the airport last week. Manning isn’t sacked often, only 30 times in the regular season, but he will certainly feel some pressure in this game.

Manning has done well under pressure this season, compiling an 80.1 passer rating in 267 distressed -, but he excelled when opposing teams brought five or more rushers, posting a 96.4 rating with 18 TD passes. Needless to say, he is capable to carving up overly aggressive defenses, so getting pressure with four or fewer rushers is a must for a 49ers victory. The same goes for New York and its feared pass-rushing defensive line rotation; Alex Smith has a 93.1 passer rating when blitzed but a dismal 63.2 rating when under pressure. The main difference is the quality of both team’s offensive lines. San Francisco’s inexperienced, but talented line was middle-of-the-road when facing a pass rush, as the team’s five starters scored between 5.4 and -15.9 according to Pro Football Focus.

The war in the trenches seems to be about even between the two squads, so the final score will probably come down to what each team’s playmakers can do with the ball in their hands. San Francisco will probably follow its Week 10 strategy and target the middle of the field against the Giants, a tactic that resulted in Smith going 8-of-11 for 128 yards and a TD. The Giants’ linebackers are average at best, while Antrel Rolle is beginning to show his age at safety. I could easily see a scenario in which Vernon Davis splits the safeties down field while Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams find holes just beyond New York’s LBs. Also, the outside pass rush of the Giants could lead to Smith having room to step forward, see the middle of the field well, and exploit poor coverage for big gains.

The Giants have a better corp of receivers, but San Fran showed in its game against New Orleans that its corners can make big plays as their backs get closer to the endzone. Also, the middle of the field will be well-occupied by a pair of All-Pro middle linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Manning could very well accumulate some yards in this game, but touchdowns will be more difficult to come across.

Lets pause for a second…I’ve written all this about defense and pass protection without even mentioning either team’s rushing attack?

Lets dedicate this one to all my friends who failed math at least once in their life:

Frank Gore+Kendall Hunter = Brandon Jacobs+Ahmad Bradshaw

Both teams are good at running the ball, especially New York as of late, but they both are among the best at stopping the run. Despite the expected windy conditions, I don’t feel the running attacks of either team will go off or get stuffed.

So let’s make this official. I feel that the Giants’ run as Cinderella is up. San Francisco’s defense will make Manning uncomfortable, while Alex Smith and his playmakers will have an efficient time matriculating the ball down the field. The Paris of the West will have its sixth Super Bowl appearance after a solid victory over the Giants, 31-23.

Prediction: 49ers Win, 31-23

Thanks again for reading my blog. Please leave a comment if you’d like and follow me on twitter at @lucaskinser.

Until next time, stay safe and be sure to drink your Ovaltine!

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