Many were penciling in a New England vs. Denver AFC Championship Game heading into last week, but the Baltimore Ravens had other plans. Baltimore and New England both return to the AFC Championship for a rematch of their conference title game last year, and out in the NFC San Francisco returns, this time on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. Here are our picks for this Sunday’s playoff action.
San Francisco 49ers -3.5 vs. Atlanta at 5Dimes
If anyone was still doubting Jim Harbaugh’s decision to take Alex Smith out in favor of Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, that doubt should be long gone after Kaepernick’s monster game in San Francisco’s 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers last week. With the win, San Francisco earned its second straight berth in the NFC Title Game under Jim Harbaugh.
While Atlanta looked to be running away with its game against Seattle, the Falcons’ defensive struggles eventually caught up to them and almost cost them the game. Don’t expect San Francisco to dig itself a similar hole this Sunday. While Atlanta may have a chip on its shoulder trying to earn the league’s respect and its playoff stripes, San Francisco will also be playing hard for that Super Bowl berth that narrowly eluded them last season.
Atlanta struggled mightily with mobile quarterback Cam Newton in two games against Carolina this year. Kaepernick and Gore should give the Falcons trouble on defense, and San Francisco’s pass rush should disrupt Matt Ryan enough to give San Francisco the edge in this one.
Baltimore +9.0 at New England at Bodog
Picking against New England and this elite offense can be scary, but plenty of signs point to taking Baltimore and the points this Sunday.
For one, this team has the look and feel of a “team of destiny”. Entering the playoffs on a 1-4 SU and ATS skid, Baltimore got back its heart-and-soul leader Ray Lewis, who announced he’d be retiring at the end of the season. Since then, Baltimore has knocked off two red-hot teams; Indianapolis was 9-2 SU and ATS in its previous 11 games before losing to Baltimore and Denver was 11-0 SU and 9-2 ATS.
Secondly, these two teams always play close games. Each of the last three games played between Baltimore and New England have been decided by three points or less, and five of the last six have been decided by six points or less. The only game that wasn’t close over the last six was a 33-14 Ravens victory at New England back in 2010.
Baltimore has had success in slowing down Tom Brady before. Even if the Ravens lose, it isn’t likely to be by 10 points.