It’s Championship Game day, which means it’s time for our picks. Last week, my picks were significantly better than in Wildcard Week, as I picked up 13 points in our format. Unfortunately, Andy picked up 13 points as well, so he still has a 24-20 lead. To keep things interesting (and to give me a shot at catching up), we’re going to up the ante with fewer games this week, and make regular picks worth 2 points, and best bets worth three.
|Baltimore @ New England|
|Straight up||New England||New England|
|Spread||Baltimore +9||New England -9|
|Over/Under||Over 51.5||Over 51.5|
|San Francisco @ Atlanta|
|Straight up||San Francisco||San Francisco|
|Spread||San Francisco -4||Atlanta +4|
|Over/Under||Over 49||Under 49|
|Best Bets:||Baltimore @ New England: over 51.5||New England -115|
|San Francisco -4||San Francisco -115|
Our game takes:
Baltimore at New England:
Tony: Baltimore’s inconsistency has to cost them at some point, and I still insist that the emotion of Ray Lewis can only carry them so far. If they win this week, I’ll give them their due in the Super Bowl—but I really don’t think they can hang with the Patriots. I don’t think it will be close, either. The only question then will be if Bill Belichek can finally win the big one again, or if he gets knocked off my yet another NFC (presumed) underdog.
Andy: Baltimore will score some. Joe Flacco has looked better throughout the playoffs, the deep passing game really worked well last week and New England is vulnerable at times on defense. That said, the Patriots lost Danny Woodhead on the first play of the game last week and then tight end Rob Gronkowski later in the first quarter … and proceeded to put 41 up against a Houston Texans team that had been pretty good, particularly on defense, through the first three-quarters of the season. This is the Brady/Belichick time of year and, while I think the Ravens will play gamely, they also will lose comfortably.
San Francisco at Atlanta:
Tony: It disgusts me to see Andy give Jason Whitlock credit (below), and I’m not sure I agree that New England vs. San Francisco is the most compelling matchup—but I do think it’s the matchup we’re going to get. Logic dictated last week that the Seahawks would be able to knock off the Falcons due to their strong pass defense—but the Falcons came out and were able to utilize their running game to jump out to a big lead, and then hang on. The difference this week is that San Francisco has a balanced defense that should be able to shut down the Falcons running game AND limit the passing game, while also bringing an offense that has multiple running options and just enough passing threat to keep the Falcons porous defense honest. I do think the Falcons can keep this one close, but more due to the 49ers grinding the clock than the it being a high-scoring shootout.
Andy: I read a Jason Whitlock column this week indicating that the most compelling matchup for the Super Bowl would be Bill Belichick against Jim Harbaugh, err, New England and San Francisco. I think he’s right. I’m not sure who to blame for the conservative play that prevented Atlanta from blowing out Seattle last week or for the onside, err, squib kick at the end of the game, but for a team that is trying to rectify a reputation for lack of toughness in big-game situations, last week’s nearly come-from-behind loss was not the way to go. San Francisco, Harbaugh and quarterback sensation-of-late Colin Kaepernick will go into Atlanta fresher than Seattle did and won’t suffer the same first half meltdown their division rival did last weekend. The 49ers have played tougher competition throughout the season and I believe they are the better team. Whitlock gets his wish.