The NFL Championship Games Are Set
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THE NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES ARE SET
ARE WE HEADED TO AN ALL-HARBAUGH SUPER BOWL IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS FROM NOW? ...WE SALUTE THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND WINNERS AS RAVENS, 49ERS, FALCONS & PATRIOTS SURVIVE AND ADVANCE
By Jim Hurley:
Want to know who the "real winners" were in the just-completed NFL Divisional Playoff weekend?
The answer (of course):
The guys/gals that let it rip with all the "over" plays as a grand total of 276 points were scored in the four games - that's a whopping 69 points per game, folks, and it sets an all-time NFL record for points scored in a weekend with four post-season games - and a whatta difference from the NFL Wild Card Playoff Round in which 137 points were scored in those four games (or 34.25 ppg) and no wonder we were all glued to our flat-screen TVs this past Saturday/Sunday as the scoring was hot and heavy and there were plenty of great storylines to go around.
Now, the biggest storyline going into this Sunday's NFL Championship Games - that's San Francisco at Atlanta in the NFC title tilt and Baltimore at New England (again) for the AFC Championship Game - is whether or not we're gonna get a Jim Harbaugh vs. John Harbaugh showdown in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3rd in New Orleans.
Okay, so the odds may not be in the favor of that happening as you take a glance at the opening Las Vegas lines for this Sunday's games but in a year in which you really couldn't write the scripts we've been getting - like QB Peyton Manning making an MVP-like return to the league after a year off following multiple neck surgeries and Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson roaring his way to nearly 2,000 yards rushing a year removed from major knee surgery - who knows?
All this week right here in Jim Sez we'll examine the upcoming title games and feed you plenty about all the head coaches too - let's not leave Atlanta's Mike Smith and New England's Bill Belichick out in the proverbial cold, you know! - but now's the time to salute the weekend's winners and shed some light on what really happened this past football weekend.
Here goes in chronological order but first the games in chart form with home teams in CAPS:
THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
|1-12||Baltimore||+ 9.5||DENVER||38-35 (2ot)|
|1-12||SAN FRANCISCO||- 3||Green Bay||45-31|
|1-13||NEW ENGLAND||- 9.5||Houston||41-28|
Here's to the winners...
Let the record state that the Ravens' wildly-exciting 38-35 double-overtime win at 9-point favorite Denver may come down to the QB Joe Flacco-to-WR Jacoby Jones 70-yard scoring play that tied the game with just 31 seconds left in regulation and that ill-fated OT interception tossed by the aforementioned Manning who simply should have known better but dig a little deeper and you'll note the following:
The Ravens turned the ball over just one time -- a Flacco fumble early in the third quarter - in some 74 snaps and ball security was (remember) supposed to be a hot-button issue after RB Ray Rice lost a pair of fumbles in the 24-9 AFC Wild Card Round win against Indianapolis a couple of weekends back. Not only did Flacco steer clear of any picks in the Mile High City but he showed a wonderful touch and not just on that rainbow toss to Jones late in the fourth quarter.
On a day in which the Ravens' special teams were anything but - and isn't that supposed to be coach Harbaugh's forte? - while allowing a Trindon Holliday 90-yard punt return and a 104-yard kick return for touchdowns, Baltimore managed to pick itself up off the canvas to forge a tie on four different occasions and hats off to offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell for noticing that the Ravens' defense needed a blow or two and thus the sudden surge of Rice rushes (he carried 30 times in all for 131 yards).
What's Ahead - The biggest question here is how will the LB Ray Lewis-led Ravens defense hold up against New England's no-huddle attack that specializes in really picking up the pace following a big play and maybe the answer is keeping up to six defensive backs on the field and making WR Wes Welker and mates "pay" for every receiving yard they get this Sunday.
SAN FRANCISCO (12-4-1)
If you didn't know any better, than you might think 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is really the "Amazing Kreskin" as he absolutely fooled/confounded the Green Bay Packers in that convincing 45-31 win last Saturday night at noisy Candlestick Park.
Okay, so Kaepernick's QB-record 181 yards rushing included sleight-of-hand plays against the very best in the business as GB's Clay Matthews had his head spinning all night long but what about the fact that Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and two TDs and didn't throw a single pick after that early-game INT-for-TD by the Packers Sam Shields? No doubt that the Niners' brain-trust - starring the younger Harbaugh - were quick to take post-game bows for Kaepernick's star performance but don't dismiss the fact that while the kid was great, the Niners' rough-and-tumble offensive line played perhaps the best game any O-line has played in the NFL this year ... and don't forget that LT Joe Staley (arm) was really hurting for much of the first half.
Got to say that Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers - oft hailed as a "genius" - had a terrible game plan while the Niners registered 579 offensive yards (the most a Packers defense has ever allowed) and about the only thing the Niners did wrong was pile up silly penalties (8 for 86 yards) and maybe WR Michael Crabtree was a little too chatty for out tastes too!
What's Ahead - The NFC Championship Game in Atlanta this weekend will be a major test for Kaepernick who didn't fare so well in one of his two dome games this year (see 16-13 loss in St. Louis when Kaepernick made a foolish pitchout near his own goal line) but if the 49ers get 7.7 yards an offensive play (as they did against Green Bay) than they will be able to afford a couple of miscues.
Good thing nobody took an EKG of Falcons' boss-man Smith during the fourth quarter of Sunday's wild 30-28 non-cover win against Seattle!
Forget for a moment that the NFC's #1 seed surrendered a 20-0 halftime lead in that final frame and keep in mind that Smith called time out prematurely following those back-to-back chunk plays - that's QB Matt Ryan to WR Harry Douglas for 22 yards and that dart-like 19-yard middle-of-the-field strike to ageless TE Tony Gonzalez that set up PK Matt Bryant's ice-like 49-yard go-ahead field goal.
Why would Smith call time out with 13 seconds left if he was gonna have Bryant kick it from there - all the Falcons coach did was leave time for the Seattle offense that nearly stole it back after that botched squib kickoff (of course brainiac Fox announcers Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick didn't say a thing about the time out call) - but Atlanta lived to tell about it and so the franchise's first playoff win since 2004 and the first one with this regime came after a real sweaty palms second half that proved an active/multi-versatile quarterback (see Seattle's Russell Wilson) really does give this club trouble and that's not necessarily a good thing.
What's Ahead - The Falcons squeezed 186 receiving yards from TE Gonzalez and WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones but the Niners' defensive backs - as you saw in Saturday's twin-figure win - really pack a wallop and we'll see if this Atlanta trio can stand all the heat here.
NEW ENGLAND (13-4)
The reality is most in-the-know NFL folks couldn't have told you the difference between Ben Vereen and Shane Vereen prior to the Patriots' easy 41-28 win/cover against 9 ½-point pup Houston but now that the latter is a certifiable threat in this New England offense (see 83 yards receiving and 41 yards rushing with three total TDs) the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski (gone for the year with a re-break of his forearm) and all-purpose RB Danny Woodhead (thumb) didn't hurt quite as much during this AFC Divisional Playoff tilt.
Hey, it helped matters that QB Tom Brady (344 yards passing with 3 TDs) and the Pats converted a half-dozen at-the-time key third-down plays but the bottom line here is that New England really never let Houston RB Arian Foster hurt 'em badly (90 yards rushing but stuffed 'em early on) and Texans' QB Matt Schaub made enough bad plays to keep the road dogs on the outside looking in at the upset here. No matter that Schaub hooked up on some nice pass plays with both WR Andre Johnson (8 catches for 95 yards) and TE Owen Daniels (9 grabs for 81 yards) the Texans again stubbed their toes in the red zone - again - and that early-game drop by FB James Casey really set the wrong tone for Gary Kubiak's crew.
The Pats didn't exactly have a rave review day on kick coverage but otherwise Bill Belichick's squad was sound with Vereen the biggest noise-maker of 'em all.
What's Ahead - The Pats know that slot-man Welker (8 catches for 131 yards against Houston) will get extra-special attention paid him by a physical Ravens secondary and so expect New England to put him in motion at times and maybe even line up in the backfield at other times. Also, if you noticed, Brady appears to be getting a real rapport with WR Brandon Lloyd (5 catches for 32 yards) and so Baltimore S Ed Reed and mates shouldn't "sleep" on him.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will bang out NFL Championship Game Side/Totals winners this Sunday as we take you right thru Super Bowl XLVII on February 3rd plus get all the NBA and NCAA Basketball Winners each and every day too. So don't you get left out in the cold this wintertime! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners and note the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.
NOTE: There's NFL Championship Game coverage all week long right here at Jim Sez!
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