Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
We break down the AFC and NFC Conference championship matchups, with picks against the spread for each game.
We've reached the NFL's version of the "Final Four" and we've got a pair of intriguing matchups. Our San Francisco 49ers travel to face the Atlanta Falcons, while the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in a rematch of last year's AFC title game.
The 49ers are currently ranging between four and five points favorites, after opening as a three point favorite. Money has been pouring in pretty steadily on the 49ers, even as the line has been raised. While there is always that concern about the 49ers in favorite status, I do think this is a game where the 49ers can very much cover.
The folks at covers.com asked me to write up a quick blurb on why I think the 49ers can cover on Sunday. I think we can point to a host of reasons why, but I went with the Kaepernick factor. After his monster rushing day against the Packers, one would imagine the Falcons would line up somebody to spy Kaepernick for much of Sunday. If the Falcons do that, it potentially opens up another zone for the 49ers to exploit. Kaepernick will need to show he can handle being spied, so that is obviously still a potential concern.
On the other hand, if the Falcons play him a bit more straight up, his legs could give them trouble. After all, Russell Wilson was in a position to use his legs, rushing for 60 yards against the Falcons. Of course, they also shut down Marshawn Lynch, so that's something to consider.
If the Falcons are going to cover and potentially win this game against the 49ers, I see it coming down to Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers getting something going on the ground. They did great work against the Seahawks, but otherwise have been very inconsistent this season. The Falcons have a dynamic passing attack, but if the 49ers are able to take away the ground game, that becomes a bit less of an overall concern in this one.
New England Patriots (-8) over Baltimore Ravens
I really would love to see the Ravens Cinderella story continue for one more week before getting dashed by the 49ers. However, I think the clock will strike midnight on Sunday. I don't think a let down is the issue, so much as just running out of steam. I could be proven entirely wrong by a fired-up Ravens squad, but I just don't see it.
In this game, I just don't see the Ravens keeping up on offense with the Patriots. Even though New England lost Rob Gronkowski for the season, they've still got Aaron Hernandez at tight end, and they've still got some dynamic weapons. I see this one turning into a shootout, and I see the Ravens losing by a couple scores. I think they hang around for a bit, and make it interesting, but the Patriots pull away in the second half.