Thursday, January 17, 2013

NFL Weekly Predictions: Conf. Championships

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: he quotes in this article are fictional.

San Francisco @ Atlanta (+3)

San Francisco is back in the NFC championship game after smashing the Packers, 45-31, in the divisional round. Colin Kaepernick threw for 2 touchdowns and rushed for 181 yards and two scores.

"Colin runs like the wind," Jim Harbaugh said. "And the Packers' defense blows like the wind. I imagine Green Bay will address that issue this offseason, probably by giving Dom Capers a change of address.

"Colin may be the NFL's best athlete. With apologies to Robert Griffin III, Kaepernick is indeed black enough. You probably noticed that Colin likes to kiss his arm after a touchdown. If Alex Smith still doubts my decision, he can do likewise, and kiss his ass goodbye.

The top-seeded Falcons will host the 49ers after nipping the visiting Seahawks, 30-28. Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left put the Falcons in the NFC title game for the first time since 2004.

"We gave everything we had," Matt Ryan said. "We tried our best, for three quarters to win the game, and for one to lose it. Luckily, Pete Carroll called a time out to 'ice' Bryant, who was again clutch for us. He's got ice water in his veins, and a huge pair of cubes. It feels great to get a playoff win under my belt. Two more wins, and I'll be able to wear a belt.

"Our defense has a difficult task in front of them, and that's stopping Kaepernick. The read option offense is like Tim Tebow — it's the next big thing that will undoubtedly turn out to not be the next big thing. We've got a trick up our sleeves to defend Kaepernick that surprisingly slipped the Packers' mind; it's called tackling him."

Can the Falcons stop Kaepernick? Possibly, but their attempts to do so may open up big plays in the passing game for the 49ers? Remember, Randy Moss still has speed, and Jim Harbaugh has discovered the secret to harnessing what's left of Moss' talent — when he tells Moss to "show his ass," Moss understands that to mean "get behind" the defense.

On defense, the 49ers know they can't stop both Roddy White and Julio Jones, so they have a choice to make. White has a big game at the expense of Jones, as constant double-teaming by San Fran renders Julio a "Silent J."

Kaepernick throws for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns, one to Moss, and the 49ers outgun Ryan and the Falcons.

San Francisco wins, 29-24.

Baltimore @ New England (-7½)

The Ravens advanced to their second consecutive AFC title game with a thrilling 38-35 double overtime win in Denver. Joe Flacco passed for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns, including scoring strikes of 59, 32, and 70 yards.

"We stole that one," Joe Flacco said. "The game will likely go down in playoff annals as 'The Mile Heist.' Surprisingly, the mile-high altitude in Denver played to our advantage, because we went 'over the top' all day. They were lacking it on Sunday, but I expect Denver will finally get some 'safety help' this offseason.

"My ultimate goal is a Super Bowl title, and we're one step closer. I want that ring in a bad way. If Tom Brady is 'The Lord of the Rings,' then I guess people would call me 'Gollum.' Hopefully, that's not for my looks. I've been to the playoffs in each of my five years in the league, but I've yet to win the big one. Some literary types call that 'The Habit.'"

New England cruised into the conference championship with a dominant 41-28 win over the Texans. Last year, the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl with a 24-21 win over the Ravens.

"Thanks to the Texans," Tom Brady said, "we had a home playoff game. Thanks to the Broncos, we'll host the AFC championship. Playing in altitude does not appeal to most people. On the other hand, Rex Ryan thinks 5,280 feet are quite sexy.

"Sunday will be a huge day, especially for Ray Lewis. First of all, it's a rematch of last year's AFC championship, so it will be just like old times. Also on that day, there will be some business going down in Atlanta that might concern Ray. So it will be just like older times.

"We've prepared for this game like no other. Every detail has been covered. We've left nothing to chance. We even added Billy Cundiff to our roster, because, as the Ravens well know, having Cundiff in Foxboro for the AFC title game all but assures a win for the home team."

After his big game against the Broncos, the Ravens will again be looking for Ray Rice to find rushing success, but the Patriots might have something to say about that, particularly a large nose tackle, in jersey No. 75, who would likely reply, "Vince Wilfork you up."

The Patriots shut down the running game, while Brady and company on offense put ten quick points on the board. Flacco and the Ravens gather their wits and come back behind Torrey Smith, who finds success thanks to the picture of Champ Bailey taped to the inside of his visor. The Pats take a 17-14 lead into halftime.

In the end, the Ravens wilt in the final seven minutes of the game, due to fatigue from their draining win in Denver, and the emotional roller coaster of Lewis' retirement finally comes to a rolling stop.

New England wins, 31-27.

After the game, the Gillette Stadium cheers Lewis' final dance, then pelts the departing icon with hot clam chowder.

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