For those fans clamoring to see someone new in the Super Bowl, the NFC is giving you what you want.
Sorry about the AFC.
Yep, same old, same old is ahead, with the New England Patriots hosting
the Baltimore Ravens for the second straight conference championship
game Sunday. With a similar result, too.
New England (13-4) is a 9 1/2-point favorite to reach its sixth Super
Bowl in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. The Patriots' quarterback and
coach are 3-2 together in the big game, but the last two appearances
have been losses to the Giants.
That surely must irk the two men who otherwise have dominated the last
12 NFL seasons.
The Patriots have never lost an AFC title game at home (4-0, three of
those in those 12 seasons). They certainly came close last January when
Lee Evans couldn't hold onto a pass in the end zone in the final moment
that would have sent the Ravens to their second Super Bowl and first
since the 2000 season, when they won it all.
New England will move the ball on Baltimore (12-6) and could resort to
running it more often than in the past. Not only is Stevan Ridley a
1,000-yard rusher, something very rare for the Patriots, but the Ravens
aren't nearly as stout as they once were at stopping the run. With the
emergence of Shane Vereen and consistency of Danny Woodhead if he is
healthy, the Patriots are deep in the backfield, too.
The loss of star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be damaging for the
Patriots, but not overwhelmingly so. Aaron Hernandez will pick up the
slack in receptions and the blocking of Michael Hoomanawanui against
Houston was exemplary.
Where the Ravens could prosper is in a revitalized pass rush. Terrell Suggs finally is approaching his top defensive player status of 2011
after returning from a partially torn Achilles tendon. Paul Kruger
already is a dynamic sack guy.
Ray Lewis' pending retirement adds an emotional boost for Baltimore.
But in the end, New England's offense will be too persistent, too sharp
and too deep for Baltimore to stop. Look for Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd
and Hernandez to have strong games, and for the Patriots' defense to
keep Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Baltimore's dangerous
offense from doing too much damage.
And look for the Patriots to be in New Orleans next month.
San Francisco (minus 3 1/2) at Atlanta
Had the Falcons kept the rout going against Seattle in last Sunday's
divisional round, the spread here would be different. But Atlanta
(14-3) nearly blew it, raising questions among the odds makers about
how good the Falcons really are.
They're plenty good, as their last-minute rally to Matt Bryant's
49-yard field goal to beat the Seahawks proved. The issue: San
Francisco (12-4-1) simply is better.
Of the remaining four teams, the 49ers are the most balanced. They have
the best defense by far; only Seattle's unit really challenged them
among all the playoff qualifiers.
Atlanta will struggle to run against Patrick Willis, Justin Smith,
NaVorro Bowman and Co. So the Falcons will take to the air, a wise
decision when you have playmakers Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Problem is, the Niners' secondary is as good as any, even if the
interceptions were down this season. And the pass rush, sparked by
Aldon Smith (19 1/2 sacks), is formidable.
Where San Francisco has an edge over last year, when it lost at home to
the Giants for the conference crown, is in its passing game.
Second-year QB Colin Kaepernick has added a dynamic dimension with his
strong arm, escapability and overall athletic skills. Michael Crabtree
has developed into a dependable receiver with big-play abilities.
Add that to Frank Gore's running, and Atlanta's D will be overmatched.
Against spread: 3-1 (117-127-7). Straight up: 2-2 (164-95-1)
Best Bet: 9-8-2 against spread, 13-6 straight up.
Upset special: 11-8 against spread, 9-10 straight up.
One Harbaugh In, One Not?
Patriots Insider Top Stories
LOCKED ON PATRIOTS- 2/21/17Chris Simoneau, Patriots Insider for Scout.com and host of Locked On Patriots, joins Robert Land of Locked On Texans to discuss Jimmy Garoppolo and the possibility of him being…
Patriots InsiderTuesday at 5:50 AM
LOCKED ON PATRIOTS- 2/15/17Chris Simoneau, Patriots Insider for Scout.com, goes through every Patriots free agent and gives his prediction on what the Patriots will do- sign him or let him walk.
A Cinematic Tribute to Super Bowl LIRelive the New England Patriots' legendary comeback in Super Bowl LI vs. the Atlanta Falcons with our 4K cinematic tribute showcasing the beauty and emotion of Tom Brady and the…
LOCKED ON PATRIOTS- Super Bowl LI All-22Chris Simoneau, Patriots Insider for Scout.com, breaks down the All-22 from Super Bowl LI.
LOCKED ON PATRIOTS- 2/11/17Chris Simoneau of Patriots Insider gives his final Studs and Duds segment for the 2016 season.