By Kyle Soppe
And then there were four. After the NFC gave us two upsets and chalk held in the AFC, we are left with two great games that will determine who will play on February 5th for the Lombardi Trophy. Everybody is picking the favored Patriots and red hot Giants, and I am hear to tell you why neither team will win on Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Let’s start with New England, who shut down Tebowmania last weekend and has been the best team in the AFC for the majority of the season (after the first month or so). First of all, shutting down that Bronco offense isn’t exactly reason to believe that this porous unit has cured what ailed them in the regular season. They got a lead early on Denver, and forced them out of their element, something the stingy Ravens defense won’t allow. Speaking of the Ravens, everybody is down on them for awful road losses, but how about looking at the flip side? Whenever an elite opponent crossed the path of the Ravens (we all considered the Steelers to be elite), Baltimore stepped up to the challenge in a big way.
The Ravens offense, while not a juggernaut, is good enough to win a Super Bowl. They have the game’s best dual threat back, and a QB who has been winning games for all of his career. Anybody else recall another AFC North QB who won a lot the second he entered the league, got a ring, and is now considered a top 5 QB by most? Big Ben was a game manager at one time, and earned a ring by guiding an offense, much like Joe Flacco can do this year. He can’t make all the plays, but he can make enough of them to put up 27 points on an average at best Pats defense. If one WR can step up, the Ravens are a powerhouse that can upset the Golden Boy Tom Brady.
Soppe Score: Ravens 27-24
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
The current Giants feel much like the 2007 G-men that upset the 18-0 Patriots in the super bowl, an underachieving regular season followed by a smoking hot postseason. That being said, the journey ends at Candlestick this weekend, as the surprise 49ers have the formula to stopping the potent Giants attack.
San Fran is the best team in the league at stopping the run, and I don’t see this week any different. By locking down Bradshaw and Jacobs, they will force the Giants to be a one dimensional attack. While Eli Manning has had his best season as a pro, one dimensional offenses have failed in a big way this postseason (just ask Packers, Saints, or Texans fans). Another cause for concern for New York is the health of TE Jake Ballard, who underwent a knee operation on Thursday. While safe money is on him playing this weekend, he certainly will not be 100%, allowing San Fran to game plan for the elite pass catching tandem of Nicks and Cruz.
When San Fran has the ball, the comfort of Alex Smith will go along ways toward determining how many points that can score on the suddenly furious Giants D. He displayed great poise last week in a shootout with Drew Bress, but this defense is far better. If he can avoid getting sacked 4+ times, he has what it takes to beat the aggressive Giants. He doesn’t turn the ball over through the air (only six INT’s in the regular season), and the Giants thrive on takeaways. I like the 49ers to pound Frank Gore, and take a shot or two down the field to Vernon Davis or Michael Crabtree, and dictate the pace of the game. The X-factor could be David Akers, the games best kicker this season. If the game is on the line, I trust “Green” Akers more than anybody else in this game, and I’ve got him down for a 40+ game winner.
Soppe Score: 49ers 23-20