This is my favorite Sunday in the NFL. The winners play each other on February 3rd, the losers go home with a feeling of “so close, and yet so far”. Last weekend’s games were great, with the exception of Houston at New England. Seattle at Atlanta was one of the most exciting playoff games I have ever watched. It was a game of two halves, and the winner was decided with six seconds left.
Sunday’s first game at noon PST, has San Francisco traveling to Atlanta. Both teams had first week byes in the “second season”. The Falcons play at home for the second week in a row thanks to the best record on the NFC.
Atlanta won its first playoff game under Mike Smith’s tutelage, and with Matt Ryan at quarterback. With a resurgence of their running game, and Ryan’s accurate arm, they led 20-0 at halftime. Russell Wilson, the Seahawks rookie quarterback never lost faith in himself or his team. With just 34 seconds left on the clock, the score was Seattle 28, Atlanta 27. “Matty Ice” wasn’t through. With two perfect passes, he put them in position that allowed Matt Bryant to kick a 49 yard field goal. This left too few ticks on the clock for Wilson to work his magic. The win tested the Falcons who proved they had what it took to win a tough game, a big game. There is no doubt that their confidence level was raised for this Sunday’s game.
San Francisco and Green Bay were the best matchup of the day, at least on paper. The Pack came out fast, scoring twice in the first quarter, but after his “big game jitters” settled down, Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a touchdown, and the first quarter ended with a score of 14-7. For the next three quarters, San Francisco outscored Green Bay. Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, and set a rushing record for quarterbacks in the playoffs. He ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns. The final score 45-31.
This Sunday will pit Matt Ryan, a traditional style quarterback, against Colin Kaepernick who is a ‘new age’, “read option” field general. The Falcons have two hard running rushers in Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers who ran for 98 and 64 yards respectively. Ryan has two big and fast targets in Roddy White, and Julio Jones. His most reliable target is future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Kaepernick has Frank Gore to run the ball, one of the best and toughest in the business. His favorite receiver has become Michael Crabtree, but he also has a big and strong target in tight end Vernon Davis. He likes to spread the ball around when he gets comfortable and has Ted Ginn Jr., A.J. Jenkins, and Randy Moss roaming the field.
Atlanta’s defense had a difficult time containing Russel Wilson, whose style of play is similar to Kaepernick’s. I doubt they can contain him for 60 minutes. San Francisco’s defense is tough against the run and pass, and has both Justin Smith (LB), and Aldon Smith (DT) available for the game. They’ll hurry Ryan all day.
I believe Kaepernick will be too much for Atlanta. He will lead them to the Super Bowl by a score of 28-17.
The afternoon game at 3:30 PST has the possibility of being competitive. I’m not sure it will be.
The Baltimore Ravens were given a victory Sunday when coach John Fox played it safe. With just over a minute left, Denver had the ball with 7 yards to go on 3rd down. John Fox did not allow Peyton Manning to attempt a pass. They gained one yard and turned over the ball to Baltimore with just under a minute left. Baltimore had no timeouts left. It took just 38 seconds and a misplay by the Bronco secondary for Flacco to throw a long pass over the defenders heads and tie the game. In the second overtime Manning made a bad decision and threw an ill advised pass across his body for an interception. Baltimore kicked a 47 yard field goal to win the game. Final score 38-35.
New England once again had its way with the Houston Texans. At times the Patriots appeared to be playing by themselves running and passing for long gains at will. Wade Philips defense was feared in the first half of the season, but never materialized in the latter part of the season or in Sunday night’s game. The final score 41-28, but it wasn’t that close.
This Sunday will be repeat of last year’s AFC championship game. The Ravens are anxious to invade Foxboro. They’re riding an emotional high, and are full strength at defense. The problem is that they’re facing Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and one of the best offensive lines in football. If they don’t get to Brady often, they have no chance. I think they are too old and too slow to rush St. Tom, or stay with New England’s talented receivers. Besides, at home, the Patriots are nearly unbeatable. Final score, New England 38, Baltimore 21.
Columnist-The Guardian Express