Ron Glover’s Championship Sunday Picks: Colin Kaepernick and the 49’ers are on the brink of glory. Can Joe Flacco remain unflappable?

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Can Ray Lewis take one, maybe two more heart-stopping moments.

The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons shared some memorable games as members of the NFC West. Sunday, they meet again for the first time in the NFC Championship. The 49ers are headed to their 14th NFC Championship game, the Falcons are playing in their third.

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will meet in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a potentially game-tying 32-yard field goal. Instead, the Patriots went on to Super Bowl XLVI. The Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 in Week 3 on last second field goal by Justin Tucker as time expired.

NFC Championship: Sunday January 20, 2013 3:00 pm:

Hopefully, the Falcons have done their homework on Colin Kaepernick.

San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1) at Atlanta Falcons (14-3) – The Atlanta Falcons dodged a bullet last week against the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons blew two 20-point leads and somehow managed to escape with a 30-28 victory. The Falcons defense has struggled with versatile quarterbacks this season. Cam Newton gained over 700 yards of total offense with six touchdowns in two meetings against the Falcons. Last week, Russell Wilson passed for 385 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Wilson also ran for 60 yards and another score.

It’s clear Niners’ head coach Jim Harbaugh made the right choice in going with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith. Kaepernick literally ran circles around the Green Bay Packers defense to the tune of 263 yards and two touchdowns. Kaepernick set an NFL record for quarterbacks with 181 rushing yards and two more scores in the Niners Divisional Round win over Green Bay. Kaepernick’s running ability is just one element in what is now a very dangerous offense. Frank Gore is licking his chops as he prepares to face a soft Falcons run defense. San Francisco’s receiving corps should be able to produce against an Atlanta secondary which is less physical than Green Bay’s. At some point, the chemistry between Kaepernick and tight end Vernon Davis is going to happen — as if the aforementioned weapons were not enough.

Matt Ryan’s trust in Roddy White and Julio Jones will be severely tested. Not only do the 49ers have the NFL’s most physical secondary, it’s one of the most skilled. Ryan likes to force passes into tight spots, something he may want to think twice about. The Falcons have to work the underneath patterns before taking their shots deep. Michael Turner ran hard and did not go down on first contact. He faces one of the league’s best against the run in the 49ers. Tony Gonzalez always finds a way to get involved — no matter who’s on the other side. Gonzalez is the key to the Falcons offensive success. As far as stopping Kaepernick and the Niners expanded run game, the Falcons lineman will have to stay in their gaps and stretch plays east to west. The Falcons held Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch to 46 yards on 16 carries last week, despite poor tackling.

Prediction: The Falcons have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire — at home no less. Atlanta has won four in a row over the Niners. San Francisco’s plan is to wear this team down. Atlanta’s defensive meltdown in critical moments last week at home raises a flag. The Niners pass rush of Aldon and Justin Smith is enough to force two Matt Ryan picks.

49ers 27 – Falcons 17


AFC Championship: Sunday January 20, 2013 6:30 pm:

The Ravens don’t want to hear Ray Lewis speak those words again.

Baltimore Ravens (12-6) at New England Patriots (13-4) – The wild ride of the Baltimore Ravens has come full circle. Baltimore heads into New England at full strength and confident they can overcome the underdog tag for the second straight week.

The absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski leaves a hole in the Patriots offense, but the Patriots were 4-1 when he originally broke his forearm back in November. Once again the depth of the Patriots shines through with Aaron Hernandez — who had 85 receiving yards last week against the Texans. Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd were very productive. Running backs Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen give Tom Brady options all over the field. Vereen was instrumental in the passing game, accounting for three touchdowns last week against the Texans.

The Patriots can bring pressure off the edges and up the middle — something the Broncos were unable to do last week. Vince Wilfork is capable of disrupting the Ravens rhythm by himself. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo will have their eyes set on Ray Rice and will blitz when it’s available. The Patriots secondary is very solid with the move of cornerback Devin McCourty to safety and the late season acquisition of corner Aqib Talib. The Pats special teams is a concern, they gave up returns of 94 and 69 yards last week.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has gained confidence as the playoffs have progressed. Just when you thought the Ravens shot their offensive load, Flacco brought them back. In the most hostile of environments, the Ravens used a great offensive mix to keep the Broncos pass rush at bay. The Ravens turned several Broncos penalties into points. If there is a concern for Baltimore, it lies in the special teams game. Denver gashed Baltimore in the return game for over 200 yards.

Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have been outstanding this postseason. Boldin has caught anything within reach and Smith has been the deep threat who opens the door for Ray Rice to get yards in bunches. Rice rushed for over 100 yards last week. At times Rice looked like a man intent on keeping the Ray Lewis Farewell Tour going. On more than one occasion, Rice could be seen twisting and turning for additional yardage needed to move the chains.

Ray Lewis isn’t just going along for the ride, he’s driving the damn bus. Staring retirement in the face, Lewis is averaging 13.5 tackles in the postseason. Safety Ed Reed is faced with the task of trying to read Tom Brady’s mind. Bernard Pollard brings the hammer in this underrated secondary. I don’t see the Ravens taking many gambles due to the weapons at Brady’s disposal. Terrell Suggs was lights out last week, getting two sacks on Peyton Manning. Defensive end Paul Kreuger was as a nightmare with pressure coming from the other side. Haloti Ngata has been solid, but he’s due to make an impact play at some point.

Prediction: Tom Brady has the weapons necessary to make things tough on Baltimore, but the Ravens defense has grown more stingy as the season progressed. I don’t expect big numbers similar to their meeting in Week 3. This will be a contest carefully thought out by both coaches. This one comes down to turnovers and special teams. Once again, I believe Joe Flacco’s confidence will be the difference.

Ravens 22 – Patriots 20


Last Week: 2-2

2012 Playoffs 5-3

6 Responses to “Ron Glover’s Championship Sunday Picks: Colin Kaepernick and the 49’ers are on the brink of glory. Can Joe Flacco remain unflappable?”

  1. Patrick says:

    The Falcons had no business winning that game against Seattle, but the benefit of having a bye and West Coast team traveling across the country for consecutive weeks provided enough cover for the Falcons to stay close despite blowing two twenty-point leads.

    Matt Bryant, the Falcons’ FG kicker has been more of the MVP and if it is close, he can propel the Falcons to victory.

    The only way this game is close is if San Fran turns the ball over MULTIPLE TIMES–especially early. Last year in the NFC Championship game, Kyle Wlliams fumbled punt returns and what if the struggling David Akers missed makeable FGs throughout the game? These types of unfortunate mistaakes could leave the door open for the Falcons and undermine Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers defense.

    It could be an EPIC WIN or an EPIC FAIL for either team. The Falcons are opportunistic defensively, but statistically their defense struggles against the run and the pass. Cam Newton has provided problems, but the Panthers’ defense is not on the same level as the 49ers and their running game isn’t as physical and effective as the 49ers.

    If San Fran scores early and often, Matt Ryan is more likely to have ‘happy feet syndrome’ and the game could become a blowout by halftime.

    San Fran with Harbaugh coaching, will not let up if the get an early lead…and the road game at New England is a prime example in which San Fran was able to recover and pull out a win in Foxboro.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if San Fran put 40+ on the scoreboard.

    I expect Frank Gore to get a lot of carries and LaMichael James will get a few carries as well.

    Matt Ryan, if pressured, will throw INTs–period. Will Ryan be able to get away with this against the 49ers who will not be ‘sleepwalking’ in the first half like Seattle.

  2. CAvard says:

    I’ll be rooting for the Patriots vs. whoever … but imagine the storyline the media will create if it’s Ravens v. Falcons. You know they’re going to milk the Super Bowl XXXIV party to high hell. Heck, I’m sure they will even if it’s Ravens-49ers. Good luck Ray.

  3. Michelle says:

    WTH Is going on??? My Niners look like they are playing in quicksand….sigh 🙁

  4. mapoui says:

    time travel syndrome early. the niners shook that off and won handily though they did not cover the spread.

    and as I said at the start of the season the Pats are on the decline and wont make it through. one could see the rot last week but Houston is such a bad team they could not capitalise.

    but not his week. I knew the Ravens defense would wear down Brady by the third quarter…and same for the Pats defense.

    and of course with Jim Caldwell running the Ravens offense Flacco is a new man, a different QB all entirely. he cant loose.

    will Caldwell win the second superbowl he coahces in?

    should be a great game!

  5. Patrick says:

    Jim Caldwell should have received more head coaching consideration, and recognition.

    Harbaugh made a gutsy call by replacing Cam Cameron with Caldwell in the middle of the season for Baltimore, and his brother Jim made a surprising move to replace Alex Smith with Colin Kapernick at mid-season.

    Eight coaching vacancies were available, but no African-Americans seriously considered. And Lovie Smith was treated mostly as an afterthought despite his respectable resume and record as a coach.

  6. mapoui says:

    I am not too spaced out by the coaching choices…

    keep up the fighting, the pressure by increasing the flow of brilliant football men on the admin side… and that ever increasing flow will soon render the ethnic coaching question moot.

    also the capital is not ours and in principle the man who owns can do as he pleases.

    yet it is who is available the owner must choose from that is decisive. if he wants to win and the talent does not reside in his preferred choices, he must chose the best available..or face losing, possibly threatening the value of his investment.

    pressure in the media but critically, pressure from ever increasing administrative brilliance by the numbers of available contenders will be decisive.

    black ownership of a few NFL franchises would also help.

    ha ha ha haha

    I should mention that Lovie Smith got a bad deal in Chicago on the offensive side of the football. Smith deserved to keep his job and be provided with quality offensive personnel.

    Lovie Smith never had a really good offensive team by personnel..and made the best he could out of whoever he was given to coach

    Smith went to the super bowl with Rex Grossman..Chosen number 1 by Angelo. then there were Kyle Orton, Cutler and Caleb Hanie..not your best offensive leaders

    Cutler is the best of that Bunch and he does not figure anywhere in my assessment of NFL QB’s…save low down the list.

    Cutler is not as bad as Sanchez with the Jets…..but he is not much better than Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo

    Smith’s rap as an offensively challenged head coach is a bad rap in my estimation. we actually don’t know how good Smith can be offensively, given the situation in his years with the bears