NFL Conference Championships open thread

Say what you will about a playoff series that doesn’t include the Pittsburgh Steelers (sob!), but this has already been a near-legendary post-season.  Baltimore’s comeback in a two-overtime victory on the road against the Denver Broncos.  Seattle’s comeback against the Washington Redskins.  Atlanta’s comeback after blowing a 20-point lead over the Seahawks to win in the final minute last week.  We’ve already had a full slate of highlight-reel games.

Now we have two more to go before the big dance in Tampa New Orleans, and both of these battles should be epic.  Last week I went 2-2 to stretch my playoff record to 5-3.  Let’s see if I can stretch that lead:

  • 49ers at Atlanta (3 pm ET, Fox) – Atlanta had been nearly unbeatable at home this season, but then they blew a big lead against Seattle and looked close to making an early exit.  They put together a last-minute, gut-check drive that may well define this team.  However, San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick look unstoppable after rolling over Green Bay last week.  With a defense that’s only 23rd against the pass and 21st against the rush, facing Kaepernick could be an insurmountable task. In contrast, San Francisco has the fourth-best defense in the league against both the rush and the pass, and the fourth-best rushing offense has only improved since Kaepernick took the helm.  It’s tough to pick against the home team that’s coming off a big comeback win, but I have to go with Kaepernick and the Niners, 31-24 over the Falcons.
  • Ravens at Patriots (6:30 pm, CBS) – How did the Ravens come back to beat the Broncos last week? Denver kept letting their safeties get caught in front of the receivers, including the play that sent the game into OT.  The Pats have a big weakness against the pass, ranked 29th in the league, and that may be an opening for Joe Flacco.  However, the Pats won’t let the Ravens offense onto the field that much, with the fourth-ranked passing offense and seventh-ranked rushing offense in the league.  The Ravens D is only middling this year — 17th against the pass, 20th against the rush, and they gave up 398 yards of offense against the Broncos (and 419 against the Colts the week before).  Even with Ray Lewis, this is an old defense, and even without Rob Gronkowski, the New England offense is going to be too much — especially at home.  Patriots win 35-23 against the Ravens, setting up a rematch between the Pats and 49ers in the Super Bowl.


Update: The Super Bowl is in New Orleans, not Tampa, as I wrote earlier.