Beer Lover's Guide to the NFC and AFC Championship Games
With the NFL conference championship games set for this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect time to produce my second series of beer battle predictions.
I did this back in December for the five BCS games and now turn the spotlight on the pros.
The way it works is I pick a locally made beer from the cities involved—or at least nearby cities. The battle of suds combines with football analysis for a potent concoction.
The first game Sunday will see the upset-minded Baltimore Ravens traveling to Foxborough to take on the very dangerous Patriots. The second game sees the surging New York Giants visiting San Francisco to play the feel-good-favorite 49ers.
Great football is complemented by amazing beer, and I am here to bridge the two worlds. This weekend will be filled with great competition, so stay away from boring brews.
This is the beer lover’s guide to the conference championship games.
AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Just as the Antimatter Altbier is a single-malt variety, the Patriots appear singularly focused on decimating any opponent that crosses their path.
New England had lost three straight playoff games dating back to Super Bowl XLII, but they looked like the unstoppable dynasty of yore against Denver last week.
It was so laughable that Patriots coach Bill Belichick sent Brady out to punt the ball on a third-down play in the fourth quarter.
They have now won nine straight games, a streak that began Nov. 13. Brady has incredible accuracy and immaculate football intelligence, so the onus is on Baltimore’s defense to slow him down.
Which brings me to the Ravens’ beer of choice. They will need cases of Serum to keep New England’s offense honest. And if there’s a team left in the playoffs that can do so, it’s this one.
Baltimore had the fourth-best pass defense during the regular season (196.3 yards allowed per game) and only gave up an average of 16.6 points. And just in case the Patriots try to get cute with a run game, the Ravens have that covered as well.
Their 92.6 rush yards allowed per game were second only to the 49ers.
On offense, RB Ray Rice leads the charge as an all-purpose threat. He is naturally low to the ground and can maneuver out of tight spots. But considering New England’s atrocious pass defense—they gave up 293.9 yards in the regular season—Joe Flacco may be throwing for glory.
He may also be throwing out of desperation if the Patriots stay hot on offense, and that’s exactly the way I see this game turning out.
Single malt, single focus. New England will be back in the Super Bowl this year.
NFC Championship: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
For a team that finished 9-7 and needed a Week 17 win over Dallas to finish atop the NFC East, the New York Giants look incredibly confident.
They beat Atlanta 24-2 over Wild Card weekend and held the Falcons to fewer than 250 yards of total offense.
Last weekend, the Giants stormed Lambeau Field and looked more like a 15-1 team than the Packers did during a 37-20 win. Eli Manning threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, and the Giants defense recorded four sacks, three fumbles and an interception.
They are demonstrating now, as they did four years ago, that they are a serious playoff threat once they survive the regular season.
The 49ers are coming off one of the greatest playoff victories in recent years, a 36-32 thrill ride against New Orleans. Alex Smith overcame his "game manager" tag and directed a playoff-worthy offense with TE Vernon Davis in the lead role.
The Proving Ground IPA pick is fitting because the 49ers still have more to accomplish. Their run defense is great, but the Giants had the least-utilized run game in the NFL during the regular season (89.2 yards per game).
They got by the Saints, but Drew Brees was still able to rack up 462 yards and four touchdowns in the loss. Manning is also an elite passer, and the Giants have already shown that they can win on the road in big games.
But while the Giants are exhibiting a stout defense and drinking stout beer, they can’t erase the 27-20 loss in San Francisco back in November.
The game was the first of a four-game slide for the Giants, and the 49ers look ready to repeat the moment.
In an NFC Championship no one could have predicted before the season began, I am sticking with the 49ers to complete the unimaginable.