Conference Championship Picks and Game of the Week
posted at 1/16/2013 1:47 PM EST
Just because a team didn't win its division doesn't make it a weakling. Seattle took on the odds, where Atlanta had a bye week and a dome on the east coast. My numbers say that Seattle barely finishes at the top of the ratings.
New England gets due credit for burying Houston by four scores early in the fourth quarter. As might be expected, Houston never made it out of that deep hole. This nudges New England's power rating up just a bit.
1 sea 13.9 (last wk. 1 )
2 ne 13.7 (last wk. 2 )
3 sf 12.8 (last wk. 3 )
4 den 11.3 (last wk. 4 )
5 gb 11.2 (last wk. 5 )
6 atl 10.4 (last wk. 6 )
. . .
9 bal 9.9 (last wk. 11 )
My call for last weekend's game of the week, San Francisco by 14.4 points, was a bull's-eye if you forgive tenths of points. Sometimes I get lucky.
Visitor / home/ my points / the gambling public's opinion / difference
sf atl 5.8 -3.5 9.3
bal ne 9.0 9.5 -0.5
Just because I plugged San Francisco to the hilt last week is no reason to support them this week. Atlanta! What a giftie with only two games on the card. Cross-coast home field advantage is important. Ask Seattle. SF is #1 in the NFL on my home versus road list, and Atlanta is #6. I might bump my forecast a couple of points down because dome weather isn't all that far from San Francisco weather.
My software has almost no point-spread leaning whatsoever on the Baltimore/New England game. Baltimore is a semi-respectable 3-4 in their last seven games, including two playoff victories. My numbers can't tell if Baltimore suddenly got better last Saturday, if Peyton choked or if a little of both took place. Denver looked stupid defending against the Flacco Fling with 31 seconds remaining in regulation time. Baltimore is #2 in the NFL on relative home versus road performances. New England is #20.
Now, the non-numbers info. In the past two weeks, Baltimore's defense has lined up an amazing 188 times including penalty situations. By way of comparison, New England's defense was ahead by four scores early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game. One of New England's strengths is outsmarting the other team's defense when they're tired and beat up. There's no NFL precedent for a team getting almost four games worth of snaps in two weeks, so I can't say what will happen, but this doesn't look at all good for Baltimore.
Ray Rice is the kind of tiny running back that can bother New England, except the guy isn't elusive this year and he fumbles too much. Bernard Pierce, his backup, may be as good right now. Baltimore's O-line wore Denver's D-line down, but this week Baltimore has to run into the teeth of possibly the NFL's heaviest front seven. Ask Houston how their vaunted run game was working when they were down 38-13 early in the fourth quarter.
BB has a history of playing a team better the second time around.
Tom Brady exploits poor pass protection. In this case, Baltimore's Ray Lewis couldn't cover in either of the last two games -- he's lost two steps. Brady loves throwing six yard passes over the middle. Also, Lewis will probably play with his hand in a cast from a bad finger injury at Denver, so don't expect too many interceptions or shoestring tackles. Ed Reed at safety is 37 years old. Terrell Suggs's body has been absorbing punishment for 10 years now. All of these players are legends in their own fans' minds.
The forecast is for near-gale gusts, averaging 21 mph, with 33 degrees at game time dropping to 27, plus wind chills. The cold won't affect Baltimore but the wind will prevent any more Flacco Flings.
The Baltimore kicker will need a sedative in this wind. Baltimore lost the last playoff game by a bad field goal attempt, and the regular season game-winning field goal sailed wide too but the replacement refs blew the call.