Saturday, January 19, 2013

AFC/NFC Championships Risky Betting Propositions

When the Super Bowl was a lot younger than it is now, the playoffs seemed fairly predictable. Almost always, the better-rested division winners with the superior records advanced to the big game. My perception of recent years, however, is that we’ve had a few notable teams rise up from the wild card ranks, play big games on the road and emerge on top. So things are simply less predictable now, and you have to stay wary about teams who are trending up and appear able to slough off the drudgeries of cross-country air travel, deal with their comparative lack of R&R, and still bring it on conference championship Sunday.

Tomorrow could be an anything-can-happen kinda NFL experience. Or will the chalk quietly win out? On the other hand, can you call it “chalk” when a home team is a 4-point underdog? If I’m the Falcons, I’m at least somewhat insulted. Good bulletin-board material, though, I suppose.

We’re 6-2 so far this postseason, and Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are my equals: Like me, they’ll be at home watching the action. Savor it—because a great Super Bowl is never promised.

San Francisco (12-4-1) at Atlanta (14-3)
Yup, the Falcons enter practically the biggest game in their franchise’s un-storied history as home underdogs. I can’t imagine when, since the merger, a playoff team with the very best record in pro football has ever been getting points on their home turf. It’s inexplicable. So let’s try to “explic” it:

For all their success, the Falcons just look vulnerable. They needed a near-miracle to oust the Seahawks last week, after blowing a considerable lead and, frankly, looking less worthy than their opponent. Yeah, being lucky is sometimes better than being good, but how long do you want to rely on that truism?

The Falcons are good, but they don’t read as dominant. They got a solid (and overdue) performance out of RB Michael Turner vs. the ‘Hawks, but can he repeat vs. the tough 49ers defense?

The unfortunately named “Matty Ice” seems like a softie where NFL elite QBs are concerned. Yes, he has talent—no one disputes that—and good weapons at his disposal. Moxie? In the BIG game?? I dunno—and clearly the handicappers are skittish.

On the Niners side, a late-breaking legal distraction regarding talented wide receiver Michael Crabtree can possibly be put off to the side for now. Sexual assault allegations? Sheesh…where does this stuff end?

Back to business: The Niners looked strong against the Packers, and as long as Wonder QB Colin Kaepernick keeps playing as he has, that balanced yet shifty offense should cause the Falcons some fits.

I don’t know about that point spread. My fingers are crossed, my money stays in my pockets, and I'm assuming there's no "Crabtree Effect." 

Prediction: 49ers 24, Falcons 20 

Baltimore (12-6) at New England (13-4)
In the AFC tilt, the Ravens are being gifted 8 points by the boys in Vegas. Seems a tad generous, unless the Ravens just totally lose all that heart they exhibited in besting the Broncos in Denver. Of course, the Broncos blew it. (They seemed less able to deal with the cold, ironically.)

Is Flacco for real? He seemed as lucky as the Falcons to me. Like Matt Ryan, he does have some weapons, but it’s a matter of whether everyone shows up. As for the Ravens defense, they hustled and played hard in Denver—then gave up 35 points, 14 against the special teams. This team lost six games in 2012, and there are reasons why. Call them inconsistent. 

The Patriots look like the same old, machinelike Patriots. The emergence of Shane Vereen as an offensive threat is pure Belichick gold, and proof again that a running GAME is more important than a running BACK. Tom Brady will be great so long as he is upright, and the loss of Gronk shouldn’t matter too much.

The defenses will have more to say about this outcome than the offenses, though. Can the Ravens muster one more big physical effort and rattle Brady’s cage? Will the Pats’ D always be alert to Ray Rice’s ground explosions or the size and speed of the Ravens wideouts?   

The more I think about this, the closer it gets.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 24   

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