My only miss through the NFC playoffs was the Green Bay loss to the New York Giants. Actually that was the only one on either side of the draw. This was a postseason for staying hard on the home teams, for a reason.
Home teams in playoffs win the preponderance of games. Playing at home is an obvious advantage, but thats really a little backwards.
The reason teams are at home in the playoffs is nearly always because they won more games in the season. Meaning: Theyre the better team. Thats why you ultimately win.
That will be the case Sunday as well.
Baltimore at New England - 2 p.m.
I have long been a Ravens appreciator. Ray Lewis is one of the dominant players of his age and Ed Reed is a close second. Terrell Suggs gives them an elite player in each area of a defense: line, linebacker, secondary.
The Texans were close in the divisional round but only because the Joe Flacco is not a dominant quarterback. Not a seriously deficient one (Suggs comments notwithstanding), and no quarterback has ever been so consistent getting to playoffs this early in a career.
But the Patriots are not the Texans.
New England is one of those rare teams in sport that truly begin each season with the mindset that anything less than a championship is a wasted year. Bill Russells Celtics, Magic Johnsons Lakers, Jordans Bulls, the Steel Curtain Steelers, the MontanaYoung 49ers, the (you pick one) Yankees.
The reason is simply that they are a team that functions perhaps better than any other at the highest moments. Tom Brady does that and with only occasional exception, so does Bill Belichick.
The Ravens are fully capable of storming the gates sufficiently to blunt and disrupt Brady, but seldom has he had the options he has now, particularly in the ranges involved. Deep threats will not be the problem for Baltimore; mid-range daggers, before Suggs can get past Matt Light at left tackle, will be, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Gonzalez along with Wes Welker are the consummate dangers in those underneath areas of the field.
The surprise will be if this game is a blowout.
Patriots, 20 - Ravens, 16
New York at San Francisco - 5:30 p.m.
An entertaining sidebar to this one is that only once previously have two No. 1-overall quarterbacks (Eli Manning 2004, Alex Smith 2005) playing each other in a conference championship. The only other time was when Vinny Testaverde quarterbacked the New York Jets against John Elways Denver Broncos in the 1998 AFC Championship.
Notably here, Manning (San Diego) and Testaverde (Tampa Bay) were not playing for the teams that initially drafted them. Nor was Elway (Indianapolis, then Baltimore).
For that matter, too, No. 1-overall quarterbacks dont necessarily even get to Super Bowls: Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Terry Bradshaw, Elway, Peyton Manning, Jim Plunkett. Paul Hornung reached the first one but he was a running back in the NFL.
Few matchups have as colorful a history as the Giants and 49ers, albeit most of it when the current players were just kids. This one is the same.
The best part of this game is that the Giants and 49ers right now are excellent teams. Both do things well on both sides of the ball, which is rare (see: AFC, BaltimoreNew England) and both are capable of excellence both running and throwing the football.
The Giants hold a huge advantage in Manning over Smith, and the single biggest factor in this game will be Smith if he flusters under pressure from Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and that bunch, and turnovers start, the New York offense will put up points off of short-field position that the 49ers will be hard pressed to match.
But this Alex Smith is not the one who languished under previous coaching (including Mike Martz). Jim Harbaugh has done something with Smith, Vernon Davis and that side of the ball that makes the whole better than the sum of the points.
The 49ers are good enough on defense to take away the New York running game and make the Giants one-dimensional. That in the end will be the difference.
49ers, 23 - Giants, 20