It's time to get serious.
SF -4 @ ATL, 49.5
I have been thinking about the Atlanta angle from the point of view that “nobody” respects them. They are seventh #1 seed to not be favored at home since 1978. The flaw in the thinking that Atlanta is just simply disrespected is that Vegas bookmakers were right five of the other six times. A few of those games were blowouts, too.
I certainly see scenarios in my head that favors a Falcons win and they all involve the wide receivers having a field day while Tony Gonzalez bullies people, runs perfect routes and makes three one –footed one-handed catches in the back of the end zone. Unfortunately, I see the game coming down to a few key points.
First, it is about Copernicus finding out that Vernon Davis still is on the team while Atlanta takes away Michael Crabtree. Atlanta was good against #1 receivers this season. Next, the ability of each team to pressure the passer is trending in opposite directions. Justin Smith has had an extra week to get healthier and help Aldon Smith get to the quarterback by doing borderline dirty, uh, savvy things like grabbing the shoulder pad of Aldon’s blocker. Meanwhile, Jonathan Abraham is hobbled again. Finally, it cannot be ignored that Atlanta was terrible against quarterbacks who could run.
Sometimes, it pays to just go with the simple plan. PICK: San Francisco, The Under
Does everyone here remember when this used to be a division game? The Atlanta Falcons won the NFC West a whole three times (1980, 1982, and 1998), and so they've already won the NFC South as many times in ten seasons as they won the West in about forty. The 49ers, too, were doormat once upon a time, having won only three playoffs games prior to 1981. Obviously, things have changed.
I think, over the past few weeks and months, we've really beaten the numbers to death. You guys know where I stand. I believe in San Francisco's defense and I believe their offense is coming on. I was in the middle of talking myself into believing that Michael Crabtree was going to have a monster fantasy season next year with Colin Kaepernick under center for a full season (and I do still believe that), provided, you know, he doesn't get suspended. PICK: San Francisco, The Over
BAL @ NE -8, 51.5
I went with the simple explanation for the first game. This game is more about hope and history and trends.
Eight points is a ton of points. It is easy to forget that the Ravens have already beaten this same Patriots team THIS season. Sure, the field goal was questionable, but the replacement refs allowed it to stand. Last year, the game came down to a field goal. A few years before that, the Ravens stunned the Pats 33-14 behind a crowd-quieting early run by Ray Rice. Of the other five recent games between the teams, four have been decided by three points or less.
The last point is a bit of a gambler’s fallacy, but the real point here is that eight points is a lot when two teams are definitely rivals and know each other so well. The Ravens won’t be fooled like Houston was by the Pats running their quick-to-the-line plays after significant gains. Also, the only recent covers as favorites the Pats have had in the playoffs were against Tebow last year and the over-rated Texans last week.
In the last six playoffs games each have played, Joe Flacco is every bit the quarterback Tom Brady has been. Flacco has gone 4-2 with a 58.1 completion percentage, 1,485 yards, 8.1 YPA, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Tom Brady has gone 3-3 with a 63.9 completion percentage, 1,675 yards, 7.0 YPA, 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Lastly, the hope portion of this is simply that the Ravens certainly are playing for Ray Lewis. That maligned defense allowed 7 points in the final 45 minutes of a playoff against a MVP candidate on the road. That score was set up by a dubious pass interference call. PICK: Baltimore, The Over
Joe Flacco is completing about 52% of his passes this post-season and is still rolling with 10.75 yards per attempt. If you don't look at the deep heaves--and obviously, they count, but stay with me here--his numbers are horrifyingly bad. Like the Ravens' offense, he sputters but busted coverages and speed on the perimeter are keeping them in the game. Or, inexplicably allowing them to tie games with 30 seconds left.
The Patriots are 26th in the league against the pass, but this can happen pretty easily to a team that finishes 12-4, but they also finished 9th in points allowed. They'll limit the big plays and force Baltimore to drive. The Ravens will still keep it close because their defense will show up for one last stand, but it's not going to be enough in the end. PICK: Baltimore, The Under
What you'll need: Bacon (4 strips) Garlic (4 cloves, whole), Yellow or White Onion (1, finely chopped), Chicken Thighs (say, 2-3 pounds, bone-in), brown mustard (if you can get it, Cleveland's own Bertman's Ballpark Mustard does the job the best), Hungarian Hot Paprika (2 tsp), Paprika (1 tsp), Salt and Black Pepper (to taste, but don't skimp on this), Water, Sour Cream
Growing up in northeast Ohio, this Hungarian classic is one of my all-time favorite comfort food. It's also incredibly simple. First take your chicken thighs and add enough brown mustard to cover them, sprinkling them with your hot paprika, paprika, and salt and pepper. Render the fat from your bacon in a dutch oven or a stainless steel pot with tall sides on top of the stove at medium heat. Once your bacon is cooked, removed it from the pan (it's done for our purposes, and you can feel free to eat delicious bacon) and brown your chicken thighs on both sides (this should take about 5-10 minutes). At this point, add your onions and garlic, allowing them to sweat and soften. Once the onions are soft after about five minutes of cooking, add the chicken thighs back to the pot along with just enough water to cover your chicken. At this point, add a few more tablespoons of brown mustard, a few teaspoons of hot paprika, and a nice handful of salt. Once the mixture reaches begins to reach a boil, place the heat on low and cover, cooking until the chicken gets fork tender (I'd say somewhere around an hour and a half). You can also add a few teaspoons of tomato paste if you wish to thicken it a bit, and tomatoes of course help the braising process.
Once the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and turn off the heat. To create the proper gravy, add tablespoons of sour cream to the red cooking liquid, until it thickens and is orange in color. Ladle over the chicken and serve over egg noodles.
It won't be the best-looking (or the healthiest) thing you've ever eaten, but I promise it will taste good.
Our beer of the week is Ziegenbock
. Texas actually has a fairly sizable community of brewers, and this amber stands up very nicely to its more famous (and slightly more expensive) competitor Shiner Bock. This beer doesn't travel far outside of the Lone Star State, so if you're visiting the Republic of Texas (or somewhere nearby) give one of these a try.
RG: 66-52-1, 2-3 last week
MK: 44-39, 4-1 last week