NFL Playoff Picks: Picks and Analysis for Championship Weekend
What a weekend of playoff football.
Saturday's games brought enough moments to fill up a highlight reel. You had Alex Smith beating Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in a shootout. Then you had Tom Brady single-handedly crushing "Tebowmania" with a record breaking performance.
Then Sunday didn't fail to disappoint either. The Baltimore Ravens topped the Houston Texans in the best defensive game played all weekend. Then the New York Giants went to Lambeau Field and took down the top seeded Green Bay Packers.
Now our conference championship games are set for next weekend, so let the analysis and debate begin.
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
The top two seeds in the AFC will go head to head to see who will represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots stomped the Denver Broncos Saturday night. The Broncos had no answer for Tom Brady and that passing attack all game long as the Patriots' defense was able to play disciplined football and shut down the creative rushing attack of the Broncos.
The Baltimore Ravens took advantage of the Texans' turnovers and pulled out a close one 20-13. The Ravens' defense looked strong for the majority of the game, but the offense struggled against Houston's defensive unit. While it was a nice win for the Ravens, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had Matt Schaub been healthy.
The Ravens will travel to New England for the first time in the postseason since knocking the Patriots out of the wild card round in 2009.
Both of these teams are very familiar with the postseason and should make for a great matchup of two very different styles.
At the start of the postseason we had the four top ranked passing offenses in the league still alive. Heading into conference championship weekend, there is only one remaining.
That team is the New England Patriots.
The Patriots will face the toughest defense they have in weeks in the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is ranked fourth overall in passing defense and second in rushing defense. They finished as one of the top defensive units in the NFL.
However, they haven't faced an elite passing offense like the Patriots since Week 15 when they played the San Diego Chargers.
The result of that game?
A loss for the Ravens 34-14.
The only other time the Ravens faced a top 10 passing offense was against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the Steelers passing game is nowhere close to what the Patriots' passing attack is.
The Ravens rushing defense also showed some big holes when taking on Arian Foster. The Patriots don't have a running back nearly as talented as Foster, but they do have a group of backs that are specialized for certain situations during the game. The rushing game could be a factor, but have no doubt that this one will come down to Baltimore's ability to stop the passing attack.
Baltimore's offense was less than impressive against the Texans.
While the Texans are one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Ravens may have lost this game had it not been for the four turnovers by Houston. A bone-headed play by Jacoby Jones on a punt return and three awful picks gave the Ravens the edge in this one. They were able to put up 14 of their 20 points off of turnovers.
You can be sure that Tom Brady will not be making some of those throws that T.J. Yates was making on Sunday.
Joe Flacco has not thrown for over 200 yards since the Ravens' loss to San Diego. He only topped 200 in that one because they were down by so much. Meanwhile in wins against the Browns and Bengals, Flacco was unable to put together impressive performances.
It has appeared that everyone has been able to have success against the Patriots' secondary this year. Yet, the Patriots' defense has been able to limit the amount of points scored against them.
Ray Rice is clearly the Ravens most dangerous weapon, but the Patriots' rushing defense has been solid this year. Rice is going to have an impact, but only as long as the game is close.
The last thing Baltimore wants to have happen is this game turn in to a shootout.
Joe Flacco is a solid quarterback, but asking him to go score for score with Tom Brady is completely unreasonable. The Ravens defense will have to get pressure on Brady and force turnovers to give their offense a chance to put points on the board.
Otherwise, it could be an extremely long day for the Ravens' offense.
I'm taking the New England Patriots in this one 27-17.
Tom Brady is going to give that Ravens' defense trouble and continue his hot streak from the Broncos game. The game will come down to Joe Flacco having to pass his way to victory and I don't see him pulling through, even against a weak secondary.
As much as people may hate to see it, Tom Brady will be heading to his fifth Super Bowl appearance.
New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Two of the most historic franchises in the NFL will face off in the NFC championship game next weekend.
The San Francisco 49ers silenced all their critics in their dramatic win over the New Orleans Saints. Their stellar defense was able to force five turnovers that were crucial to their victory. Most importantly of all was Alex Smith showing that he has the ability to lead his team down the field in clutch situations.
The New York Giants rode their hot streak right in to Lambeau Field and dismantled the number one seed Green Bay Packers. The Packers just seemed off rhythm all game long and had a bad case of the drops. Eli and company took advantage lighting up Green Bay's defense for 37 points.
These two teams already met once this season Week 10. The 49ers were able to pick off Manning twice and score two late touchdowns to take home the victory 27-20.
The Giants will return to the west coast looking for revenge against the best turnaround story in the NFL this year.
The Giants have had one of the most up and down seasons of any team this year.
We saw them have several high moments early in the season including a dramatic comeback victory over the New England Patriots. They then went on to lose four straight starting with that loss to the 49ers. Three of those four losses were against playoff teams suggesting that the Giants may not be championship material this year.
They finished their year strong going 3-1 with two big divisional wins over their rival Dallas Cowboys. From there they haven't looked back. Two dominant wins over the Falcons and Packers have the Giants looking like the most complete team left in the playoffs.
It is hard to find a flaw in the 49ers season.
The only loss they had that was more than one score was against the Baltimore Ravens. That was a brutal defensive showdown. Their other two losses were by three points and by two points.
San Francisco could have easily been 15-1 heading in to the postseason with a few slight changes. Nevertheless, they are still one of the best teams remaining in the playoffs.
The first time these two teams met we saw a defensive battle made up of mostly field goals. The first touchdown of the game wasn't scored until the third quarter. The 49ers took over in the fourth with a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis and a touchdown run by Kendall Hunter.
It is a toss up at this point whether or not Frank Gore will be able to find success against the Giants' front seven. The Giants held Michael Turner to just 41 yards in the wild card round, but gave up a combined total of 147 yards on the ground to the Packers.
This game will be decided by the two quarterbacks.
Eli Manning has been playing at an incredibly high level heading in to this game. Manning to Nicks is one of the most feared duos left in the postseason. However, this will certainly be the toughest passing defense that he has seen in several weeks.
Alex Smith is coming off of the defining performance of his career. His comeback against the Saints will be one he will tell his grandkids about some day. The question now is whether or not he can do it again.
The Giants don't have the most elite passing defense in the league, but they do have a great pass rush. The 49ers are going to need to protect Alex Smith and allow him to hit on those quick passing routes.
If the 49ers can't slow down Eli Manning, I have a hard time imaging Alex Smith going score for score with another quarterback two weeks in a row. However, if Eli turns the ball over, this could be a whole different game.
I'm going to go with the San Francisco 49ers 23-20.
Both of the defenses are going to bring their best. I see the Giants generating a good enough pass rush to slow the 49ers offense early. San Francisco's defense will pressure Eli as well and make this one a battle of field goals early.
This one is going to look a lot like their first meeting this season. That means that when it comes down to the crucial points of the game, I see Alex Smith and company coming out on top.