A Little Unprepared: Since I had predicted New England playing at Denver and Seattle playing at Green Bay, it took me a bit longer than usual to ponder the potential outcomes of the conference championship games. Conventional wisdom seems to have New England defeating a tired Baltimore team and a tough defensive-minded San Francisco overpowering the Falcons in Atlanta. I agree with one of those. Let' see which one, shall we?
San Francisco Forty-Niners at Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons almost let last week's game get away from them, but the important thing is they didn't. They got the playoff monkey off their back and can play looser and with more confidence this week. The Falcons are an incredibly difficult team to beat in the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan has great receivers, a strong running game led by Michael Turner and an underrated defense. That place is loud, as I can attest to as a season ticket holder for three years of the Michael Vick era. San Francisco is coming off a game in which Colin Kaepernick shredded a suspect Green Bay defense and the Falcons had trouble stopping Cam Newton in two games this season. But I'm going against the grain here. As good as San Francisco is and as tough as their schedule has been, I can't ignore the fact that the Falcons are 8-1 at home and coming off a win against a team that destroyed the 'Niners near the end of the season. This should be the game of the weekend, it'll probably be close, most likely go down to the wire, but I have to go with the Falcons. Atlanta Falcons 34 San Francisco Forty-Niners 31.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: I know Mike Greenberg of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio picked the Ravens to win, but with all due respect to him, I just don't see it. The Patriots are playing lights out offensively and will put a lot of pressure on Raven's quarterback Joe Flacco to reproduce what he did last week against the Broncos. Baltimore's offense just hasn't shown me the consistency this season that leads me to believe that will happen. The Ravens defense is a little old, coming off two tough, emotional games and I just think they'll run out of steam in this one. Is it possible new England quarterback Tom Brady can come out a little flat, like he did in last year's game? Certainly. But the Raven's defense isn't nearly as tough this year as it was last season, so Brady won't be facing the same type of pass rush as he did in this game a year ago. And by the way, the Patriots still survived that sub-par Brady outing to advance to the Super Bowl. I've had the Pats just behind Denver the last month, and with the Broncos out, I'll stick with New England. The Ravens lack the consistency to advance. Of course, it would be quite the story if Ray Lewis could work a little magic... New England Patriots 34 Baltimore Ravens 27.