NFL Q&A with Allen and The Ace is a weekly Wednesday column featured on TJRsports.com. Allen and The Ace are big time NFL junkies and are Falcon and Packer fans, respectively. Each week the guys will ask questions and TJRsports.com editor-in-chief, John Canton will also ask a question for both guys.
Ace: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a very selfish person when it comes to sports. I want my team to be on top and if I see anyone else around me with a different team who’s celebrating in their team’s successes over mine, I hope they go play in traffic. I preached last week that the key to Green Bay defeating San Francisco would be stopping the run. They did not do that, which led to the loss. I knew by the 2nd Quarter that it probably wasn’t going to go my team’s way, I accepted it. Now that I’m sitting down to write this, I’m really angry. I really think Dom Capers needs to reevaluate his defense and when Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy sit down to formulate a draft plan, if any of the positions are anything other than Offensive Line and Defense, then they need to take a long hard look at this game. I saw Atlanta go up 20-0 on Seattle and was incredibly bitter about my team’s performance on Saturday night wondering why in the hell we couldn’t step up like that. This will be my first of many critiques of the Green Bay Packers defense between now and the next seven months, but they need to drastically improve on defense if they want to stop teams like San Francisco and any other upper echelon team.
Baltimore at Denver
I wonder how much money Joe Flacco earned himself in this game. I got a text from my work friend Tom saying that the Ravens would upset the Broncos. He said this at 1:13pm/CT time or about two hours and fifteen minutes prior to kickoff. What a fantastic call. Joe Flacco looked elite and Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith came up huge going over the top of Denver’s defensive backs. Champ Bailey was burned several times. It was a big upset with no one really giving Baltimore a chance, but who can’t be on the Ray Lewis bandwagon?
Green Bay at San Francisco
I loved the way the game started with a Sam Shields interception return for a touchdown. Green Bay needed to come out and get a two score lead. They never could get ahead like that. If they could of then they could control the clock, but San Francisco did that instead. The 49ers looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender after several weeks of playing will they or won’t they run away with it football. Colin Kaepernick is a beast and I’m not sure if Atlanta will have an answer for him.
Seattle at Atlanta
What a way to start off Sunday? Even after Atlanta took a 20-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, I didn’t feel like that lead was completely safe. The Seahawks were a fun story this season, but the bigger story is that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will be hosting the NFC Championship. Atlanta can win, but they need to play flawless football and great defense. Stopping Colin Kaepernick will be the key. If they don’t stop him, they don’t win.
Houston at New England
This was a snoozer of a game, literally since I fell asleep in the second half. I thought Houston was going to hang around after the first half, but who are we kidding? These are the New England Patriots at home. There’s no way Matt Schaub would be able to complete that task. New England looks like a tough test, but I think Baltimore will give them a good run.
Allen: Is this 2005? I haven’t felt this feeling as a fan since that time. The Falcons have won a playoff game along of giving me a near heart attack in the process. I’ll admit I was close to breaking down in tears but I knew Matt Ryan wasn’t going to go out without a fight in the closing seconds. Instead Ryan did what he has done all season; he made two huge throws and led the Falcons to victory. It was unreal and incredible, now the time has come. I’m ecstatic and now look forward to the show down on Sunday. Other than that, Joe Flacco had a great performance and Baltimore somehow pulled the upset against Denver. Colin Kaepernick was fantastic on Saturday night and it justifies on what I’ve been saying for weeks that he’s going to be a star. As for the other game, Tom Brady and New England do what they always do in the playoffs.
Baltimore at Denver
Just like many football fans or writers that analyze the game, I’ll have to admit that I completely underestimated the Ravens. The only thing I can say was that I predicted it wasn’t going to be completely one sided like some others said (John Canton stand up). Baltimore played like their season depended on, while Denver seemed to be going through the motions. Without the electrifying returns from Trindon Holiday, Denver seemed to be very stagnant on both sides of the ball and lacked the explosive plays that made them the number one seed. With key contributions from Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, and Torrey Smith the Ravens moved the ball efficiently. It was a hard fought effort by Baltimore and they got what they deserved.
Green Bay at San Francisco
After reading so many prediction articles for this week, I think about eight people picked the 49ers. I’m proud to say I was one but it wasn’t how I planned it to be. The win was supposed to be showing how good the 49ers defense is instead it was the Colin Kaepernick show. Green Bay was the popular pick to make the Super Bowl but that ended abruptly. It was a very difficult matchup for a defense that isn’t very athletic and very old. It’s clear that the defense isn’t as bad as 2011, but they still need to make some serious improvements especially at linebacker. Green Bay made too many mistakes and San Francisco made them pay time after time.
Seattle at Atlanta
I’m still struggling to recap the game in my head because it was so emotional and nerve racking. How Atlanta gave that lead up is beyond me and it’s very embarrassing especially after playing so well in the first 3 quarters. The defense was playing well and shut down Marshawn Lynch. Then Russell Wilson stepped up and had the best game of his young career showing that he doesn’t need a good running game to succeed. It was an inspiring performance, but you can’t leave time on the clock for Matt Ryan. Ryan proved that despite some turnovers, he can deliver in the playoffs.
Houston at New England
This game was very predictable and it actually played out that way. Houston played hard, but they were too flawed to beat a great team like New England. With a great running game, New England has become better overall offensively and has taken the load off Tom Brady. The offense has become more unpredictable and it kept the Houston defense on their heels. Houston still has a great future but they need to add more pass rushers to help out J.J Watt and some help in the secondary. The defense played poorly in the 2nd half and Matt Schaub couldn’t handle the load of throwing 40 or more times a game.
Ace: As we continue on. Just like last week, we’ll talk about the matchups for this weekend and give our analysis and prediction. The score doesn’t matter, but the outcome does. We’ve had our ‘Elite Football Mind Challenge’ for 19 Weeks and you added two games to your lead and are now 6 games ahead with 3 left to predict. If it were a 4 game lead, we’d of done the Pro Bowl. You sit at 61-32 and I am 55-38.
NFC Championship: #2 San Francisco 49ers at #1 Atlanta Falcons
Allen: In August, I dreamed about just winning one playoff game and seeing what will happen in the divisional round. Instead my pre-season prediction has been exceeded and I couldn’t be more excited. This is a really difficult matchup and I’ve been saying for weeks that the 49ers are the best team in the NFC. Atlanta matches up with Green Bay a lot better, but it’s better to not falter on what it could have been.
The main thing for Atlanta’s offense is pass protection. If Matt Ryan can get protection similar to Sunday’s game, then he should have another great game. San Francisco doesn’t have the secondary on the level of Seattle’s, but they make up for it with their great pass rush. Justin Smith may not be fully healthy, but he’s still making an impact and takes up blockers to free up other players. The great linebacker core led by Patrick Willis is going to give Tony Gonzalez his toughest match up yet. It’s all on the great wide receiver duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White to continue to make big plays, which they did on Sunday. If they can get open against a less tough matchup in San Francisco’s secondary, Atlanta should have success. I’m not sure what to expect from the unpredictable running game, but Michael Turner looks rejuvenated and much more aggressive. I wouldn’t rule out him having a big impact on this game similar to Sunday.
San Francisco’s offense is starting to get scary, but Atlanta’s defense has the ability to make stops. Unlike the Packers, their linebackers are fast and rarely miss tackles. Sean Weatherspoon leads the way and he’s becoming a star that can spy Kaepernick on his every move. The major concern with Atlanta is the pass rush, which was completely non- existent on Sunday. John Abraham is an injury concern, but I expect him to play. It’s nice that he has vowed to play, but can he be effective? Atlanta’s pass rush still relies on him, otherwise they need to blitz to create any pressure. If they can’t get a pass rush, it’s going to be another long day for the talented secondary.
I’m also a believer in sticking with my pick from the beginning, especially when nothing drastic changes. San Francisco hasn’t done anything to make me think they won’t win this game. I’m not convinced they win, but with their pass rush and Kaepernick becoming confident it’s going to be tough for Atlanta. Michael Crabtree has come along as of late and Atlanta always struggles against tight ends, which should mean a big game for Vernon Davis. It won’t be high scoring, but it will be gritty and I just see San Francisco making more stops. I’ll be pretty let down, but this has been such a great year that has exceeded my expectations.
Allen’s Pick: San Francisco 23, Atlanta 20
Ace: Two years ago this was the time slot where the Bears were hosting the Packers, two years later after getting to know my pal Allen and how big of a Falcons fan he is, I’m sure he’s excited, nervous and just a plethora of emotions going into this game. As a football fan this is an exciting game to see your favorite team in. I’ve seen the Green Bay Packers in 5 NFC Championships, winning 3 of them. The two they’ve lost was in 1995 when I was ten years old to cope, I just drew nasty pictures of Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. The other was in 2007 against the Giants, where I a 22 year old man and wept at a bar. What I’m getting at is that Allen, enjoy this and I’m pulling for your Falcons because I want you to experience the same joy I felt two years ago. If the 49ers win, don’t worry about weeping at a bar, I have and I’m The Ace.
Looking at this game it’s really hard for me to look at Atlanta and say they’re going to win. Atlanta looked dominant in the first half against Seattle last week while San Francisco kicked 8 different types of dog manure out of the Packers. Atlanta can score on San Francisco, I don’t doubt that for one second. I question one thing, and that’s Matt Ryan’s poise in this game. The Falcons were ahead and he threw up a risky pass that was intercepted by Seattle which led to a touchdown and brought them within one score. He cannot make those kinds of mistakes this week, because that was the difference between the 49ers running away with the game last week against Green Bay. The muffed punt return and the Aaron Rodgers interception led to 14 points, in a game that was decided by fourteen points. You take away those turnovers and it’s a whole different ball game. Atlanta must not turn the ball over. Defensively Atlanta needs to stop Colin Kaepernick (Really, you’re kidding?).
San Francisco comes into this game as the favorite and rightfully so; they were the most dominant team this weekend and I really think that they might have Atlanta’s number. I’m truly pulling for the Falcons, but it should be a fun game.
The Ace’s Pick: San Francisco 34, Atlanta 24
AFC Championship: #4 Baltimore Ravens at #2 New England Patriots
Allen: Baltimore shocked me and they deserve credit for their performance. I’ve been very critical of Joe Flacco throughout the season, but he really put on a special performance. He connected on numerous deep passes on Sunday and showed how fearless he was. That’s how you got play when your team is considered an underdog. Baltimore was efficient offensively and the defense made enough plays to win. That being said, they really benefited from Denver’s mistakes in coverage and strange play calling. What safety loses that deep pass like that on a professional level? The Ravens may have played well, but they are very fortunate for Denver’s miscues.
New England continues to play well and they are in a great position to get back to the Super Bowl. The defense may not be on the level of 2005, but they are much better than last year. The pass rush is better this season and the addition of Aqib Talib gives the secondary an edge that they lacked last season. They are more of a complete team this season and I can’t see them making mistakes like Denver did. Bill Belichick isn’t John Fox and New England will give safety help if Torrey Smith scores on another deep touchdown. Champ Bailey may be a future Hall Of Famer, but it’s clear that he couldn’t hang with Smith.
I’m confident in this pick because New England rarely loses at home in the playoffs. They are a better team this year, while Baltimore has still regressed. They may have momentum right now, but I’m still not sold on them to beat a complete team like New England. Unlike Denver, New England can run the ball and they can be more unpredictable offensively. There won’t be a Harbaugh bowl, sorry folks.
Allen’s Pick: New England 27, Baltimore 17.
Ace: I’m really looking forward to this game. What will it be? The 6th Super Bowl appearance for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick or will Ray Lewis’ final NFL Game be a Super Bowl? This is Joe Flacco’s third appearance in an AFC Championship game with last year being in perfect position to defeat New England if it weren’t for Lee Evans forgetting what his hands do and Billy Cundiff missing a field goal.
Aaron Hernandez stepped up quite well in the absence of Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski will be out the rest of the postseason after reinjuring his forearm. Tom Brady was fantastic as well. For the Patriots to be successful against Baltimore this weekend, they need to get Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley involved the way they were involved against the Texans. New England has so many weapons, it’s hard to predict who will have a big game, but as long as Tom Brady is the one under center, they should never be counted out.
For Baltimore to win they need to come out with the same intensity as they did against Denver. Joe Flacco needs to play like there’s no tomorrow and that he’s not playing for a contract. Houston was able to throw a bit against the Patriots and I feel Joe Flacco is much better than Matt Schaub. Schaub has Andre Johnson, but I think Flacco has much more effective weapons with Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. This game has the feel of a classic, much like Denver/Baltimore last week. Baltimore has proven to win in New England, they did it a little over three years ago when they came out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. I don’t think it will be like that, but I feel Baltimore has all the momentum in the world and they take Ray Lewis to the Super Bowl.
The Ace’s Pick: Baltimore 30, New England 27
Allen: This is another week that will keep me up at night in anticipation of the showdown. After years of disappointment, Atlanta is finally in position to make the Super Bowl. I’m overjoyed right now and win or lose, I’m proud of them. That may sound corny but when your favorite team exceeds expectations, you should be happy. I’m not a homer, my expectations are set out in August and I always sleep on that until the season is over. Other than that, the championship games should deliver. There isn’t really any true mismatch, unless Joe Flacco plays terrible which wouldn’t surprise me. I doubt there are any blowouts, but stranger things have happened. I’m not going to go on an emotional tangent despite being a Falcons fan since 1998. This is a special team and hopefully they can prove me wrong. Otherwise I’m expecting a rematch from the classic regular season game between the 49ers and Patriots. That was the best regular season game for me and how fitting it would be for that to be the Super Bowl. We shall see, I’ll be saying my prayers at night.
Ace: I don't have much to say. My team is out and for the first time in about five months, I have no excitement for the following weekend. There are three more NFL games this season (Well, four if you count the Pro Bowl, but I'll be watching the Royal Rumble). I'm going to enjoy each and every one of them. I know I picked San Francisco and Baltimore, but I'm pulling for Allen's Falcons. I made the guarantee that Baltimore would NOT lose this game last night on Macho Men Radio. Check it out! Enjoy the Conference Championship Weekend!