01-18-2012, 09:39 AM
The Best in the World
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Reading MA
Outsiders pick NE vs. SF
AFC Championship Game
No. 2 Baltimore Ravens at No. 1 New England Patriots
There is no doubt that the Patriots have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. Tom Brady & Co. add close to 11 points per game above what a league-average offense would produce, second best in the league. The question, however, lies with their defense.
New England has been criticized all year for its inability to stop opponents. Last week, the Pats held the Broncos to just 10 points in a downright dominant performance. But one game does not a defense make. New England will now go up against the best remaining defense in the playoffs, the No. 3 defense in the league; Baltimore prevents a touchdown per game from being scored that a league-average team would give up. Although Ed Reed's health is in question entering the AFC championship (though it looks as if he'll play), he is far from the only playmaker on that stout Ravens D.
Both teams enter this game scorching hot. The Patriots have won nine straight and scored an average of 37.3 points per game in that period (with no games under 27 points), and the Ravens have won seven of their past eight -- that lone loss coming in a blowout by the Chargers in Week 15.
So, who will come out on top? We use historical similarities to project these games, and, interestingly enough, one of the top predictors comes from last year's Week 6 matchup. Just after the Patriots traded Randy Moss and acquired Deion Branch from Seattle, Baltimore came into Foxborough and jumped out to a 20-10 lead. However, Brady led the Patriots back and Stephen Gostkowski hit two late field goals -- one at the end of regulation and one in overtime -- as New England won 23-20.
What does this tell us about this weekend's game? To pull off the upset, Baltimore's defense will need to make big plays. The Ravens jumped out to that 20-10 lead by pressuring Brady and forcing early turnovers. Nobody in the league looks more comfortable in the pocket than Brady, but even he can be flustered. The Ravens have the ability to generate pressure with Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, who will look to hit Brady early and often. All that said, the Patriots have too much offense. We like the Patriots by four, 27-23.
Upset odds: 40.70 percent
NFC Championship Game
No. 4 New York Giants at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
If you had told me last week that the Saints would score 32 points and lose to the Niners, I would have punched you in the mouth. If you had told me that the Packers would turn the ball over four times and drop as many passes as Alex Smith has had offensive coordinators, it would have elicited an eerily similar reaction. All that said, we originally had the 49ers and touted last week's matchup as a coin flip. The end of one of the most exciting playoff games in memory showed just how much of a toss-up the game was with both teams scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes.
Smith had the game of his career, leading the league's No. 8 opponent-adjusted passing offense into the NFC Championship Game. The San Francisco defense will have its hands full again as it faces Eli Manning and the league's No. 6 opponent-adjusted passing attack. Both quarterbacks are having career years mirrored by the success of their teams.
These teams met in Week 10 in a back-and-forth game at Candlestick Park. Down 27-20 with less than three minutes remaining, the Giants drove down the field, converting on two fourth-down tries. One pass off the fingertips of Mario Manningham at the 1-yard line could have sent this game into OT, but Justin Smith and the 49ers' defense came up big, knocking down Manning's throw on his third fourth-down attempt.
The Giants can win this game by relying on their big-play receivers. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks ranked fourth and 12th in the league respectively in terms of total efficiency added. On every completion to either member of this dynamic duo, the Giants increase their chances of scoring by more than a point.
New York beat Green Bay on Sunday by protecting the ball and capitalizing on the uncharacteristically sloppy play of the league's No. 1 offense. But nobody does a better job of protecting the football than the 49ers. The Niners led the league in the regular season with a plus-28 turnover differential, and Alex Smith led all quarterbacks (among those with at least nine games) with only five interceptions. Compare that to last year, when Smith had five interceptions by Week 3! He has not thrown a pick since Week 12, and that puts the staunch San Francisco defense in manageable situations by limiting opponents' starting field position. Give us San Francisco at home in a close one.
Upset odds: 38.50 percent