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Tuesday, August 21 2018

NFL Predictions 2012: Championship Games


It was another uneven playoff week for me, a losing one in fact. I was 2-2 straight up (6-2 in playoffs) but 1-3 against the spread (3-5) and 2-2 on the over/under (4-4). Against Vegas my winning week went out the window when Atlanta decided not to sweat out a win over Seattle and instead let them back in the game, failing to cover and allowing the game to go over. The result was a 3-5 week for me instead of 5-3 because of that comeback and as difficult as these playoffs have been to predict that is really frustrating. Worse yet, now there is really no room for error.

San Francisco (12-4-1) @ Atlanta (14-3): Both teams proved something last week, and that’s strange to say about the top two seeds in the NFC because heck they’re the best teams right? Well, by record they certainly were. The 49ers can thank their rival Seahawks for the infamous “Fail Mary” result because the Packers were worn out having expended too much energy fighting with the Vikings twice and traveling across the country. They ran out of gas, and nothing exemplified that more than Colin Kaepernick’s long touchdown run in the second half to break a 24-24 tie. Instead of resting their starters in the season finale, then watching the wild card round play out from the comfort of home, they played two games and got on a plane. Anyone who says that blown call didn’t impact the playoffs is nuts.


The Falcons finally got the monkey off their backs. It falls mostly on quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith, but as a whole this city is not “Title Town”. In fact, I have seen it reported that this is the 154th season for the four major sports (football, hockey, baseball, basketball) and only the 1995 Braves have won it all. The 1998 Falcons went to the Super Bowl, but thanks in part to Eugene Robinson’s poor judgment never stood a chance. Now at least this feels closer to an elite team. The 49ers already are, but I still question if Kaepernick is ready to compete with elite quarterbacks. Of course, I’m not sure Ryan is in that category either so we’ll see.


My big issue with the favored 49ers is dealing with a dome on the road. Their record this season is spotty. In week 3 they were stunned 24-13 in Minnesota by a team led by young Christian Ponder in his first season as their starting quarterback. For a top shelf defense that loss was puzzling. It was one of the highest point totals they allowed all year. In fact only the Giants scored more on them than that prior to their mid-December funk.


Their next two road games in domes came with Kaepernick at quarterback, and the results were not good. First they went to New Orleans and won 31-21, but it was a shaky performance. The defense won on big plays, returning an interception for a score in the final minute of the first half to tie the game at 14, and another early in the second quarter to open a 28-14 lead. Eventually they won 31-21, but the offense put up only 17 and that would not have been enough to win without the defense chiming in. You can’t count on your defense scoring. Aside from that, for all the talk of Kaepernick’s speed on turf he ran 6 times for 27 yards against a historically awful defense in the midst of a bad year.


The very next week they went to rival St. Louis and lost 16-13 in overtime. In this case, it was a game they really should have won. The outcome turned when they called a ridiculous pitch play while nursing a 10-2 lead in the final minutes, only to watch their young quarterback charged with a fumble that the Rams walked in for a touchdown. Still, the 49ers regained the lead with 1:34 to go, then let a mediocre team tie them up at the gun and after nearly a full quarter of overtime allowed the winning kick. In all, Kaepernick had one big run (remember, he’s going to be awesome on turf this week right?) for 50 yards and otherwise ran 8 times for 34 yards. Throwing the ball he was about as effective as Sam Bradford.


My point here is that San Francisco should in no way be a big favorite in this game and it makes me extremely nervous. Atlanta has struggled in the playoffs because they were under pressure. Last week the pressure got to them and they choked away a huge lead. Now everyone is thinking of them as the team that allowed the 28-7 run instead of the one that built a 27-7 lead heading into the final frame. Their problem was containing Russell Wilson’s arm more than his legs. He did ring up 60 yards rushing, but he was throwing lasers down the field piling up 385 yards passing during the comeback. I don’t think this is going to be the same type of game. When it’s tight throughout teams play differently.


Beyond that, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan probably hasn’t slept a wink this week trying to beat the team he quite frankly loves having coached them and watched his father coach as well. He just got a glimpse at what a mobile quarterback can do and now has had the time to adjust his defense to prevent a repeat performance. I can’t see the 49ers coming into this stadium, with the crowd noise and suddenly having an offensive explosion they couldn’t muster in Minnesota (13) New Orleans (17) or St. Louis (13 in 5 quarters). It’s likely they can go over 20 unlike those outings, but beyond that I’m not sure.


Atlanta mostly plays close games at home. They did struggle against the mobile Cam Newton, but they won the game 30-28. The same goes for last week against Wilson, and they won by the same score. Both of those teams have good defenses. I know the Panthers were down, but that was early in the year and they have some talent on the defensive side. These Falcons blew up the Giants 34-0 in a meaningful December game that took the defending champs out of the playoffs ultimately. They slugged past some bad teams at home and ultimately only won twice by more than 6 points, but they won. I expect this to be a close game. The 49ers have an awesome offensive line. They are going to run the ball effectively and keep Kaepernick protected for the most part. There might be lapses due to crowd noise or fatigue from traveling. I like them mostly for the guys up front, not the defense. I think Atlanta’s offense can do some things down the field against this defense. Julio Jones is no joke. They have given up some points on the road of late in New Orleans (21) New England (34) and Seattle (42). Some of that was without Justin Smith, and we’ll see how he holds up here. Aaron Rodgers didn’t torch them last week, but the Packers have no running game to speak of. The Falcons can mix in some Jacquizz Rodgers to keep them off balance at times. It’s going to be closer than most think and I’m tempted to pick what I’m not even sure would be an upset: San Francisco 24, Atlanta 23 (ATL +4.5/under 49)


Baltimore (12-6) @ New England (13-4): First off, I think it’s stupid for Patriots fans to be putting up billboards counting down to Ray Lewis’ retirement. This is totally contrary to what this team stands for. They don’t talk trash. There is really no need for it either. Their team won when it mattered in last year’s AFC Championship Game and took care of business on the field. Why incite the opponent?


On the field this season, way back in September, the Ravens were the victors 31-30 when a field goal on the final played lifted them. The quarterbacks combined for over 700 yards passing, but Flacco got the better of the action with a 3-1 edge in touchdown passes and threw for a higher percentage with a sparkling 71.8%. His early pick, the game’s only turnover, did lead to a 6-yard scoring drive that helped New England build a 13-0 lead after the first quarter. Ultimately, Baltimore piled up 503 yards of offense against a defense that all year has been suspect.


Perhaps one of the most important players in the rematch will be Torrey Smith. He played with a heavy heart last time following the death of his brother and turned in two huge touchdown receptions while amassing 127 yards receiving. Bill Belichick is notorious for taking away an opponent’s best player so he will turn his attention to Smith. The only problem is that his defense is susceptible to the run and not offering support will make it easier for Ray Rice (20 carries for 101 yard the first time) to do what he does. Veteran Anquan Boldin is always a threat to turn in a game with double digit receptions as well, and tight end Dennis Pitta is starting to make people forget about Todd Heap.


New England’s defense was the eighth worst giving up yards (373.3) but tied for ninth when it came to points allowed (20.7) in the regular season. They will tighten up when it matters and a lot of the yards they give up come when their offense has built big leads. The key is not to let Baltimore bite them with a big comeback. Last week it felt like Houston had the ability to pull off such a feat only to fall just a little short on a play or two, and it never materialized. Matt Schaub needed 51 attempts to throw for 343 yards and while the total yardage edge was just 457-425 in favor of the Pats, the outcome was never realistically in question.


One thing Baltimore needs to do with new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is continue running the ball. Let’s be honest about this, if not for Trindon Holliday’s exploits (two return touchdowns) the Ravens blew away the Broncos at Mile High last week and that was a red hot team with a Hall of Fame quarterback. Their offense had posted 28 points even before the blown coverage helped them tie the game late. This was a game they deserved to win in two phases of the game, and they would have been ahead 28-21 getting ready to kick a game-icing field goal late to likely walk away 31-21 winners if not for their special teams.


This is not about Ray Lewis. He has his ring. His place in history is secured. This is about Joe Flacco. The time is now for him to seize the moment. I believe he can, but I’m not sure of it. I do know that his team is not afraid of road playoff games. In his young career he is already set to take over the record for most playoff wins on the road from Eli Manning. He definitely rode the defense for victories early in his career, throwing for 437 yards in three games (that’s total) back in 2008. His play has taken off though now that the defense is no longer dominant. I’ll stick with Tom Brady here. I think he wants to play the 49ers in the Super Bowl and for the rest of this team they are hungry to finish the job that has slipped through their fingers in recent years: New England 28, Baltimore 24 (BAL +8.5/over 50.5)



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NFL Predictions 2012: Championship Games
Authored by: Emman onWednesday, August 24 2016
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NFL Predictions 2012: Championship Games
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