Today marks one of the greatest weekends in all of sports. It’s Championship Weekend in the NFL. The AFC Championship is a rematch of last years game, as the Baltimore Ravens are travelling to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Patriots. While this year’s NFC Championship features one of last year’s teams, the San Francisco 49ers who are travelling to the Atlanta Falcons. After splitting the two games last weekend, picking Atlanta correctly and the Houston Texans incorrectly, my record is now 5-3 for my Playoff Picks for Rugby Heads. Now on to my Championship Round Picks!
San Francisco 49ers (2 Seed) at Atlanta Falcons (1 Seed): Believe it or not, the Atlanta Falcons are a four point underdog at home to San Fran today. Personally, I don’t get it. Everyone on any NFL analysis show is saying that Atlanta is playing the NFL’s hottest team this weekend. But I thought that was last weekend when they were playing Seattle? Honestly, I don’t get it. The Falcons are a great team, the number one seed, and finally got over the hump of winning the duo’s (quarterback Matt Ryan and Coach Mike Smith’s) first playoff game together. I love Atlanta’s offense, led by Matty Ice, the dominant wide receiver pairing of Roddy White and Julio Jones, the ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez, and running back Michael Turner. By the way… Their defense isn’t half bad too. If defense end John Abraham is able to play for the Dirty Birds today, he will play a major role in deciding the outcome of this game. 49ers’ QB Colin Kaepernick is playing in his first NFC Championship game of his young career. And I’m not sold on him just yet. Yes. Kaepernick has great running ability. But most of his runs come when the opposing defense is covering all of his options in the passing game. He then breaks free because of bad pursuit angles by the defense. If the Falcons can contain Kaepernick and at least use good pursuit angles, then they can pull off the victory. My Prediction: 31-10 Falcons
Baltimore Ravens (4 Seed) at New England Patriots (2 Seed): Could this be Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis’ last game? I think not. And people of the Greater Boston area, you can blame yourselves when the Patriots lose later today. Earlier this week billboards were put up in northern Boston along I-93 and I-495 with a countdown to Ray Lewis’ “Retirement Party.” I ask the question… How stupid do you have to be Patriots fans? You’re giving bulletin board material to Ray Lewis. Ray Lewis doesn’t even need bulletin board material because he’s already the most feared player in the NFL. Lewis’ return to the starting lineup in the Wild Card Round was able to spark the Ravens defense on this two game playoff run into the AFC Championship. Baltimore’s key to victory is that they must dismantle the New England defensive backs. If Joe Flacco and company could make future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey look like a fool, then they should have no problem against New England. Success in the passing game will also open up Baltimore’s running game letting Ray Rice run free. For New England, the key to a victory is having a successful run game. You know Tom Brady will come to play today, but it’s crucial that Shane Vereen duplicates his three touchdown performance from last weekend. Without Vereen, New England will be in trouble. My Prediction: 27-24 Ravens
I would like to take a minute to focus on the college game for a second and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. News has leaked that Te’o was subject to a cruel online hoax involving the false portrayal of the existence of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua. If you follow college football and can remember back to September, Te’o lost both his grandmother and Kekua within roughly six hours to leukemia. Te’o then went on to play in his game against Michigan State three days later. The upset victory over then-ranked Michigan State launched Te’o’s Heisman campaign. Yet now we know that Kekua never existed, which means she never died. In an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, Te’o told Schaap he was never in on the hoax and started to feel uncomfortable about the relationship in mid-December. Now Rugby Heads… I ask you, what do you think about the Manti Te’o story? Here is a link to the transcript from Te’o and Schaap’s interview: https://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8859544/highlights-manti-teo-interview-jeremy-schaap