For people like me, it doesn't get better than championship weekend.
It helps even more when my team is still alive this time of the year for the first time since the 2007 season. The New England Patriots are peaking right now and will face a similarly vaunted Baltimore Ravens team.
Meanwhile, in the NFC, things are warming up as well. This Sunday, at Candlestick Park (which, in my opinion, is the best name of any NFL stadium), the New York Giants face off against the San Francisco 49ers. Chris Canty of the Giants expects a "bloodbath."
Here are my bold predictions for this weekend.
The 49ers are favored to win this game. They beat the Giants earlier this year. They just came off a confidence-boosting win against a high-flying Saints team. They totally should beat the Giants, right?
This time of the year, more than any other, is when mental focus needs to be at its peak. I see the same focus in this year's Giants as I saw in their magical 2007 season.
They limited a talented Falcons offense to zero points. They stopped Aaron Rodgers and his amazing cheese head offense.
But get this: they're still underdogs. This Giants team probably still feels doubted.
Another motivation chip was produced when the 49ers said this week that they were glad they were facing the Giants, not the Green Bay Packers.
As Antrel Rolle said, the 49ers "better be careful what they ask for."
This Giants team has the perfect mentality. They have confidence from winning and dominating defensively against two talented teams. Also, they have the motivation of still being underdogs and being called out by the 49ers as the desired opponent.
Pack that with their superior quarterback and experience, I see this Giants team holding a manageable lead throughout the game, and I don't see Alex Smith being able to ignite his offense to a win.
The Giants are the type of team that, when focused, can obliterate you. (That also holds the negative that they often drop to inferior teams because they get lackadaisical in their preparation at times).
But again, when focused, the Giants defense can be seemingly impenetrable, particularly in shutting down a single player. Last year, Arian Foster was going insane, and, suddenly, he hit a blip in the road when the Giants shut him down for 25 yards on 11 carries.
This year, when the Giants played the 49ers in the regular season, the Giants shut down Frank Gore for zero yards on six carries. No 49ers rusher went more than 40 yards.
The 49ers had a similar effort, holding Brandon Jacobs to 55 yards on 18 carries.
Both these teams are potent against the run. The 49ers didn't allow a rushing touchdown until Week 16. The Giants figure to focus on the run again this week. When they do, they could be the hardest team in football to run against.
Want to know what the Ravens have been hearing all week?
Something like this: "You can't stop these Patriots tight ends and Wes Welker. You can stop two of the three, but not all three. You really just have to pick your poision."
The Ravens have to be seething right now. Imagine being told that your defense, arguably the best in the league, has no chance of covering these three guys at the same time.
I can only imagine what's going on in the Ravens locker room. With leaders like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, this defense is going to be extra focused and sharp this week.
That bodes poorly for Brady, who has struggled his entire career against the Ravens.
This Ravens defense is set to have a legendary day. That's exaggerating, but all the factors are in place.
First, as noted in the previous slide, people are questioning their ability to stop a few targets. Second, their entire team is the underdog, after a perhaps modest win against the Houston Texans compared to a convincing New England win against the Denver Broncos.
Third, this defense is one of the best in the league. Fourth, they've had success against Brady before, giving them confidence.
Finally, this could be the last chance for the cornerstones of this defense. Ed Reed may retire. Ray Lewis is getting up there. They are two wins from a Super Bowl ring. If they don't take advantage of this chance, they may never get a better opportunity.
These factors could definitely mean less than 20 points for Brady and company.
Meanwhile, the Patriots defense has been struggling all year. But they have been one of the better teams in points allowed.
Additionally, this defense just gained a lot of confidence from a dominating defensive effort against Denver. Still, many of the doubters remain, and this defense has the potential to pull off a postseason defensive turnaround similar to what the Indianapolis Colts did in 2006.
A defensive AFC Championship game would surprise many, but the pieces are in the right place for one.
Going along with the defensive mantra, I believe more interceptions will be tossed than touchdowns this week.
Let's start with Eli Manning and the Giants. Although Manning is on fire right now, remember this is the guy who led the league in interceptions just in a year ago. And he's facing an amazing 49ers defense that has had a plus-28 turnover ratio this year.
That's not to say I think he'll stink it up. I think he'll have a good game, but we'll see a few picks by Eli.
Then, there's Alex Smith and the 49ers. David Akers led the league in scoring this year, with the 49ers becoming notorious for ending drives with field goals instead of touchdowns. I expect more of the same this week, with Alex Smith tossing a few picks under tremendous pass rush in the process.
Brady struggles against the Ravens, and I fully expect to see a passionate Ravens defense confuse and rattle Brady. We could definitely see another multi-interception game by Brady.
Finally, the Patriots defense this year has lived off turnovers. They are third in the league in turnover differential, behind only the 49ers and the Packers. Flacco is known for his erratic, inconsistent play, and it's definitely possible he throws a few bricks this week.
As noted in the title, this is an "outlandish" prediction. I don't think it will happen, but I think the probability of it happening is much higher this week than any other.
Why? The Ravens figure to stack the middle of the field and dare the outside receivers to beat them one on one.
When Ochocinco played the Ravens in Cincinnati, he was probably a focus of the Raven's defensive game plans. Now, he can use his experience against the Ravens to try to win some one-on-one situations.
Additionally, Brady is less likely to run a up-tempo offense against a Ravens team that is brilliant in disguising its coverages. This means Ochocinco will likely see the field more.
With the middle of the field cluttered and the tight ends being neutralized, this is Ochocinco's chance to make an impact by tapping his "field-stretching" talents.
Here are my final score predictions:
Patriots 16, Ravens 13
Alert: I'm biased, since I'm a Patriots fan.
This game will come down to which team can play the full 60 minutes and can remain mentally tough throughout the entire game. The Patriots have shown that mental toughness this season, and remember, they have dedicated this season to Myra Kraft.
However, I will also say that I think the score could easily be the other way around, because the Ravens want this very badly as well and have the physicality to survive.
I'm interested in seeing what effect Ed Reed's comments will have on Flacco. Will it light a fire under him or create a distraction for the team?
Maybe this game will come down to the Flacco's and Welker's mustaches.
Giants 20, 49ers 6
The Giants are the most complete team remaining in the playoffs. Inexperience and quarterback play will haunt the 49ers this game. I see the Giants leading the entire game, although not by much, and the 49ers never able to lead a drive to come back.
Thanks for reading! Not bold enough for you? Post your BOLD predictions below!