After a regular season of picks where I was right twice as often as I was wrong, I currently stand at a mere 4-4 with my playoff picks. I have been maddeningly consistent in compiling this record; on each of the four days of the playoffs thus far (both Saturdays and both Sundays), I have gotten one game right, and one game wrong.
Now, the law of averages would dictate that I will be correct in choosing one of the two teams which will play in the Super Bowl in two weeks. Coincidentally, I feel really confident about one of my picks this week, and rather unsure about the other. Which is which? Read on:
Ravens at Patriots
New England’s offence is humming along like a well-oiled machine right now. Their two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, are a nightmare matchup for any defence, and if you concentrate too much on shutting both of them down, which is almost impossible, then you get killed by the precise route-running of Wes Welker. The Ravens’ best shot at stopping the Pats’ offence is to get pressure on Tom Brady, to hit him and force him to turn the ball over. Baltimore has had trouble with their pass rush for much of the season, and the Pats’ offensive line protects Brady well. If the Ravens resort to a lot of blitzing, they play right into Brady’s hands; Brady kills teams that blitz a lot. As for Baltimore’s offence, I think it’s safe to say that shutting down Ray Rice is the key for New England’s defence. Joe Flacco has been mediocre at best for most of the season, and last week against Houston, he was terrible; despite his decent numbers, many of his passes were off-target, and he was bailed out numerous times by his receivers (And, let’s face it; I just can’t take him seriously when that moustache makes him look like White Goodman... I keep imagining him getting sacked, then getting up and saying, “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood”). New England’s much-maligned defence has played fairly well of late, especially up front, where they have been able to generate good pressure on the QB. When you add it all up, I just can’t see the Ravens being able to score nearly enough to keep pace with the Patriots. Winner: Patriots
Giants at 49ers
For the past few days, I have been hearing that the forecast for Sunday in San Francisco is rain, and quite a bit of it, which makes this most difficult matchup even trickier to predict. I think that New York’s advantages on offence are nullified by San Francisco’s depth on defence. The Giants are deep at wideout, but the 49ers generate enough pressure on the QB without having to blitz, so their defence should be able to keep New York’s passing game from having too damaging an effect. The Giants won’t be able to run the ball for any significant gains. On the other side of the ball, San Francisco needs to be able to win the battle up front, to protect QB Alex Smith and get a good enough push for Frank Gore and company to move the ball on the ground. This shapes up to be a pretty close game, right down to the end. What it comes down to for me is Eli Manning’s ability to pull it out at the end, versus the 49ers’ defence being able to come up with big plays when they really need them. On a wet, sloppy field, I’m picking the team with the better defence. Winner: 49ers
(Note: I wrote most of this column while listening to Pink Floyd: The Wall on headphones. That I managed to get through the whole thing without using the phrase “Run Like Hell,” or worse, predicting that Joe Flacco would shave off his moustache, and eyebrows, during halftime, is nothing short of a miracle.)