It’s Championship Week, and the picks are in! This week we have Sam Michaelson and Max Kaplan joining us for the first time. Last week, Jay Hashop was the only one to pick Atlanta, and therefore the only writer to get two games correct, bringing his record to 6-2 so far. This week he is sticking with them, while the other writers aren’t convinced.
If you’d like to see us justify a bunch of picks that were eventually wrong, here are last week’s picks.
Jay Hashop: Atlanta; Much of San Fransisco’s offensive success against the Packers followed as a result of their 8-for-13 mark on third down. That 62% rate seems anomalous given that the 49ers converted a subpar 36% on third down in Kaepernick’s regular season starts. Atlanta’s run game looked revitalized against Seattle, providing the necessary balance the Falcons will need to continue toward the Super Bowl.
Sam Michaelson: San Francisco; While everyone seems to be discussing Kaepernick’s record-breaking rushing performance, aside from his early interception, he was also nearly perfect through the air. Russell Wilson showed that the Falcons defense is susceptible to a scrambling/playmaking quarterback in the second half last week, and I fully expect Kaepernick to exploit these weaknesses as well. Matt Ryan will need a monster game against arguably the best defense in the league to keep up with the ‘9ers balanced attack.
Max Kaplan: San Francisco; The Falcons almost blew it last week. The 49ers, on the other hand, approached 600 yards. They already had a top defense (2nd to only Seattle in the regular season). The Falcons were the #1 seed and have home field advantage (7-1 in the regular season), but the 49ers just looked unstoppable against the Packers. Kaepernick runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, and the Niners will run their way into the Super Bowl.
Chad Horner: San Francisco; The 49ers are better than the Falcons in passing and rushing DVOA on both offense and defense. They’re simply the better team. If Atlanta is to win, it’ll have to be through the air – they’re 29th in rushing offense DVOA, while San Fran is 2nd in rushing defense. However, the Falcons are only 2-3 in games in which Matt Ryan throws over 40 passes. I think the Niners will run all over Atlanta and win big.
Jay Hashop: New England; Tom Brady is a ridiculous 60-1 for his career in home games when he posts a passer rating over 85.0. In Baltimore’s 10 games against teams whose quarterbacks posted a season passer rating over 85.0, the Ravens held just one of them (Eli Manning) under that 85.0 threshold. Barring another three-first-quarter-interception performance from Brady, I don’t see Ray Lewis’ career continuing to New Orleans.
Sam Michaelson: New England; Flacco has averaged a 70% completion percentage, more than 300 yards, and boasts a 7-2 touchdown-interception ratio over his last three outings against the Patriots. Yet, despite outplaying Brady, Flacco and the Ravens are only 1-2 over these 3 games. It’s hard to imagine Flacco outplaying Brady again, especially with the improved defense of New England. Jacoby Jones could be a factor if the NE kickoff coverage unit continues to struggle.
Max Kaplan: New England; The Patriots had the highest scoring offense in the regular season. They also had a better defense than the Ravens. None of us chose the Ravens to beat the Broncos last week. Lightning doesn’t strike twice (for the Chargers, it doesn’t even strike once). 5 out of the 7 columnists for The Baltimore Sun chose the Pats this weekend. If the Ravens cannot win over their own hometown, how can they expect to beat the Patriots?
Chad Horner: New England; Just as in the other game, the Patriots are clearly the better team. The fact that the Ravens beat them in week 3 means nothing now. The best thing that Baltimore can hope for is that they get into another shootout, because they probably won’t be able to stop the Pats on offense. But Flacco hadn’t even strung together two straight games with a passer rating of over 100 until these first two weeks of the playoffs – can we expect him to have another? Without a game of that quality, I don’t think Baltimore stands a chance.