Last weekend's divisional games may not have panned out as we expected—and by we, I mean me—and it isn't going to get any easier to predict how everything will go down during conference championship weekend.
Some teams seem to be riding lots of momentum. Others seemed to have found momentum when there was virtually no time left on the clock, and yet, those teams kind of look the strongest right now. And even in the cases of those teams that seem to have all the momentum, we have to wonder whether it means anything at all—look at what happened to Seattle last week.
Nevertheless, here are my predictions for the most likely teams to end up playing in Super Bowl XLVII.
AFC: Baltimore Ravens
This prediction I really struggle with. By all indications, the Baltimore Ravens shouldn't even be in it this weekend. They lost four of five down the stretch, and doesn't that spell doom for any NFL team? Yet here they are, coming to Foxborough once again for the AFC Championship, on the heels of an improbable double-overtime win at Denver.
I can't help but feel like the Ravens are this year's version of the 2007 and 2011 Giants.
Baltimore didn't play well in December, but neither did the Giants, especially in 2007. The Ravens have turned it on in the postseason, and it takes some character—some serious mental toughness—to do what they did in Denver on Saturday. They were not supposed to win that game, but they came up with the critical big plays and just got it done. The team really seems to be banding together behind the idea of winning one for Ray Lewis, and that can be very powerful.
The Patriots are tough, no question. But they weren't at their best on Sunday against Houston, and that's worrisome. That game was nowhere near as lopsided as the 41-28 score suggests. There were times when New England approached dominance, but there were more times it looked alternately sloppy and ineffective.
There's also the fact that the Patriots will be without their prime weapon in Rob Gronkowski, who underwent season-ending forearm surgery on Monday, according to the Associated Press. Can they win without him? Absolutely. Against Baltimore? Maybe not.
Baltimore plays this New England team really, really hard, and it will be out for blood after what happened in the AFC Championship last year. They've beaten the Patriots once already this year, and given the momentum they're currently riding, they could very well do it again.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers
This one could go either way. But the Atlanta Falcons' fourth-quarter defensive collapse last week against the Seattle Seahawks was extremely troubling, and that's not the stuff championship teams are made of.
In many regards, the Falcons got lucky last week. They were lucky it was a full moon and Seattle's top-ranked defense collapsed at the worst possible time, in the waning seconds of a critical game. They were lucky that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll blatantly called a timeout in an attempt to ice Falcons kicker Matt Bryant and then tried to pretend he didn't when Bryant went ahead with the kick and missed.
There won't be any room for luck this Sunday. Not when the 49ers come in with the nation's second-best defense and an offense that is capable of doing what it did against Green Bay.
True, we don't know how 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is going to perform on the road in his second career playoff start. But given how little the pressure and the expectations affected him last week, it's safe to say he's sort of immune. He compiled 263 passing yards, a record 181 rushing yards and four touchdowns against a very good Packers team, and who's to say he can't do it again?
Kaepernick also has an excellent defense to fall back on. The Falcons have a good defense, but it is one that displayed some serious holes last week. Both of these quarterbacks have zero experience when it comes to conference championships, but one of them was electrifyingly good last week.
Picking San Francisco isn't just about picking the hot team. It's about picking the team that, across the board, was far better last week.