Sunday, January 22, 2012

Championship Sunday preview

By Rick Morris

NOTE: Mini-Episode #69 of The FDH Lounge broke down the Championship Sunday matchups and it can be heard here.

On with the picks (1-3 last week, 122-132-10 overall, – what a reversal from last year’s 8-3 in the playoffs! – 27-21-3 in Big Three picks for the season, 9-7-1 gold picks for the season):

New England -7 over Baltimore – FDH Lounge Dignitary Kyle Ross is right that the media is oversimplifying this game as Brady v Flacco, which is certainly quite tilted to one side. And he’s also right that Joe Flacco is overly criticized in the football world (including his own team, we’re looking at you, Ed Reed!), considering his mediocre receiving corps. And Baltimore’s facing a much weaker D than the unit that gave Flacco trouble last week – while Tom Brady faces a much more formidable defensive squad than Denver’s overrated bunch (the Broncos are not poor defensively, but they mirrored Tim Tebow as a “rise to the occasion” group rather than the solid shutdown unit that the media portrays them as being). So that narrows the gap significantly between what the Pats and Ravens did on offense last week. Ray Rice can have a huge game on New England’s front seven, and he’ll need to do so. On the other side of the ball, Terrell Suggs can have a huge game against the New England offensive line, and he’ll need to do so. Having said all of that, the pair of huge tight ends has rendered this New England offense so very different from the one Baltimore thrashed in this very building three years ago in the playoffs. We’ll know very early if the Ravens have a chance: if the first few possessions settle into a field possession battle rather than up-and-down the field. In a groin-punching field goal battle, Baltimore probably wins. It just doesn’t figure to unfold that way. New England 31, Baltimore 16.

New York Giants (+2 ½) over San Francisco. Yes, the 49ers have home field advantage and they proved its worth last week against New Orleans. But still, given the hype about the Giants mirroring their playoff run of four years ago (or the Packers of one year ago) and going into Lambeau Field to decisively knock off the 15-1 defending Super Bowl champions, it is a bit jarring to see them as the underdogs here. Certainly, most observers see them as “live dogs” at the very least. The talk about the Giants being the best-balanced of the remaining squads is almost meaningless, because this final crop of four teams is as unbalanced as we have seen in years. Think about what this is saying for a moment: merely that the Giants defense is better than the 49ers offense, the Ravens offense and the Patriots defense. That really puts it in perspective. Granted, the Giants are significantly better defensively than they’ve been for most of the year now that they are mostly healthy, but they were pretty ugly (especially in pass defense) for most of the year, so even that truism must be put into perspective. Almost certainly, they will be smart enough to avoid what cost New Orleans the game last week and double-team Vernon Davis in the absence of any other San Fran vertical threats – since their standard pass rush should be effective enough to harass Alex Smith without additional help. The bye before last week’s game had to help Frank Gore and today, we may find out just how much, because much like Ray Rice will have to help keep the steam off of Joe Flacco in the early game, so too will Gore have to rise up for Smith in the nightcap. Turnovers may well be the equalizer in this game; both defenses can generate them, but given the offensive disparity (last week’s breakout for Smith notwithstanding), San Francisco needs them worse. That’s a dangerous spot to occupy. New York Giants 23, San Francisco 19.

Super Bowl

New York Giants 34, New England 27

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