San Francisco and Atlanta will vie to represent the NFC and Baltimore and New England will battle to represent the AFC. All four teams have played in the Super Bowl with Atlanta being the only team never to have won one.
San Francisco has appeared in five Super Bowls and won five NFL Championships -- the second most in NFL history -- with Pittsburgh being the team with the most titles: six. New England has played in seven Super Bowls and won three titles, all in the early 2000s. They won their first in 2001 here against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and then back to back in 2003-2004. Baltimore has played in one Super Bowl and won that game against the Giants. Atlanta also has played in only one Super Bowl and it came during the 1998 season where the team lost to Denver as John Elway finally won his first of two titles.
Atlanta finished the season 14-3 securing the top spot in the NFC Playoff standings for the second time in three seasons. San Francisco finished the season 12-4-1 and is playing in the NFC Championship game for the second straight year.
It’s a pretty even matchup, judging from the stats. The 49ers average 24.8 points per game while giving up 17.1. Atlanta is averaging 26.2 points per game while giving up 18.7. San Francisco is 23rd in passing averaging 206.1 yards through the air and 4th on the ground with an average of 155.7 yards on the ground. Defensively, the 49ers are fourth in stopping the run and pass by giving up 94.2 yards on the ground and 200.2 yards through the air.
The Falcons escaped out of the Divisional Round thanks to a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal with eight seconds left to win 30-28. San Francisco behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick smashed Green Bay 45-31. Kaepernick could be the key in this game as Atlanta has struggled against versatile QBs. In two games this season against Atlanta, Panthers QB Cam Newton threw for 502 yards with four TDs while on the ground he rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns. In last week’s game, Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw for 385 yards and two touchdowns while picking up 60 yards and a TD on the ground.
Atlanta however has won four straight against the 49ers and San Fran has lost five straight road playoff games.
MY TAKE: This game turns my stomach. The thought of having to cover Atlanta in the Super Bowl and seeing the Falcon logo plastered all over the city is no joy. That said, in many of their games this season Atlanta seems like a team of destiny. Several times they have pulled games out of a hat and do so with little or no time left in the fourth quarter. Are they good enough to win? Yes. They are also vulnerable enough to lose. The team did its best to choke away a game last week blowing a 27-7 lead to Seattle. San Francisco is well coached by Jim Harbaugh and will be ready to play. The 49ers have a solid defense that should keep the game close. Kaepernick played out of his mind last week with four scores but only needs to play half as good for a win Sunday. Give me San Francisco 27-24 where Matt Ryan’s luck runs out on the final drive of the game as they head in for a tie.
This is a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game where Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime, instead the Patriots won 23-20. New England finished 13-4 on the season while Baltimore had an up and down 12-6 campaign.
Much has been made about Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’s final post season run as he mentioned a few weeks ago that he will be retiring at this playoff’s conclusion. The team has rode a wave of emotion the last two playoff games and won over Indianapolis and in a double-overtime thriller at sub-zero Denver last week.
Baltimore is 15th in passing with 233.7 yards per game and averages 118.8 yards on the ground good for 11th in the NFL. Defensively, the Ravens are 17th against the pass giving up 228.1 yards a game and 20th against the run giving up 122.8 yards. New England is fourth in passing with 291.4 yards a game and 7th on the ground averaging 136.5 yards. Defensively, the Patriots are 29th against the pass giving up 271.4 yards and on the ground are ranked 9th giving up 101.9 yards a game.
MY TAKE: Everything and everyone is already giving this game to New England and quite frankly I’ve picked against the Ravens twice already this post season. The thing that changes for me this week is that the Ravens for some reason seem to match up well against the Pats. Baltimore won back in Week 3 31-30 on a Justin Tucker field goal as time ran out after coming back from 13 down.
This will be about the quarterbacks. Tom Brady is Tom Brady. Last week’s win moved him past Joe Montana for post-season victories. Joe Flacco threw the ball at Denver last week like it was 80 degrees, not eight. Flacco in five games against the Patriots has 1,271 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. New England will also be without Rob Gronkowski who broke his forearm last week.
Give me Baltimore in another close one 34-31 to make it the Harbaugh Bowl. San Francisco and Baltimore.