* Giants over 49ers I give up. This damn New York team may legitimately be a team of destiny and an overall very good football operation, even if they were absolutely gift-wrapped a win from the Packers last week and…..nope, I swore I wouldn't bring this up again….
Ah fuck it, let's bring it up again. New York beat a Green Bay team that played like total garbage from start to finish. San Francisco beat a New Orleans team that had a horrible first quarter but righted the ship thereafter. So really, the 49ers delivered the more overall impressive performance last week and now that they're at home, have the edge over the Giants, right? Unfortunately, I think it may be wrong. New York's defensive line is legitimately crazy. Between Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, you have THREE guys who demand double-teams, leaving openings for the likes of linebacker Michael Boley (also a very good player in his own right) to swoop in and pick up sacks. As fun as the Alex Smith redemption story has been this season, I don't think it will last further than this afternoon, when he'll be picking grass out of his facemask for 60 minutes.
When the season began, some pundits pointed out that due to the lockout and abbreviated training camps, you wouldn't really see the league's elite teams start to rise up until later in the season. This is what's happened with the Giants. They muddled through the first few months but now have everything healthy and on the same page. New York is a tough team to beat and I don't think the Niners can do it. Eli's coming.
* Patriots over Ravens What a rough game to predict. Part of me thinks the Patriots are kind of frauds in the (sigh) Green Bay sense, in that their utter lack of defence will wreck them if their offence has an off-day, and Baltimore's D is certainly tough enough to stall Tom Brady and company. Just look at how many problems the Pats had in losses to the Giants and Steelers this year, who are both very Ravens-like defences. Then again, another part of me thinks that Baltimore has no answer for the Gronkowski/Hernandez combo, especially since Ed Reed seemed to wreck his leg in the dying minutes of last week's game. Then again, Ed Reed has seemingly played half-dead since about 2005 and he's still one of the best safeties ever, so what's one more injury?
Then again (third straight "then again," by the way), there's Joe Flacco. The Flack Daddy has been in the news lately, first by complaining to reporters about how he deserves more credit, and then last week when Reed called both Flacco and the offence as a whole out for being inconsistent. It kind of hurts Flacco's case for more credit when he can't even get credit from the rest of his team.
My Ravens-loving brother* constantly brings up Flacco's "record-setting" performance, as apparently no QB in history has collected as many a) wins and b) playoff wins so early in his career. What shoots this argument to hell is that I think the second-place guy on this list is Mark Sanchez, who's terrible. As they've done for so many years, Baltimore is winning in spite of their quarterback, not because of him, and their lack of adapting to the ever-increasingly pass-friendly NFL is a reason why the Ravens have underachieved for this entire decade. Ozzie Newsome is a tremendous general manager and is a master of drafting talent everywhere except at the QB position, which is a bit of an issue given that it's the most important position on the field. If they'd had even a decent quarterback for the last 10 years, the Ravens would've won at least two Super Bowls and quite possibly more.
* = Here's a fun sidebar to this game. My brother loves the Ravens and my mother loves the Patriots and/or just Tom Brady's chiseled features. It stands to reason there could be a side bet in the ol' household for this one. Probably something like if the Ravens win, my mom will have to cook my bro his favourite meal, and if the Patriots win, my brother is written out of the will. You know, modest stakes like that.
Then again (#4), I'm not sure if Flacco is even that big a factor given the lousy New England defence. Is it a better unit with Patrick Chung back from injury? Sure, but it's still not a GOOD unit by any means. Even if Flacco is his usual Tebow-ish self, Ray Rice can still run wild against this defensive front. New England's best hope would be to stack up against the run and make Flacco beat them; the Pats' lousy cornerbacks, however, make that a "stoppable force vs. the movable object" kind of tossup.
All things considered, I'm going to hesitant pick New England simply because when in doubt, pick the team with the all-time great at quarterback. Brady hasn't had any great playoff moments since 2004, but when the chips are down, he can still deliver. I'm taking the Pats to win but since New England is inexplicably favoured by 7.5 points, Baltimore is a great bet to at least cover.