by Ryan Meehan
So it’s down to the Final Four of NFL football, and everyone has their own idea of who should be playing in the Super Bowl. Truth be told, there are only four scenarios that face us.
Scenario One: The Ravens vs. The 49ers
Even with Las Vegas weilding the power that they do, I don’t think they’d be able to find a way to rig it so it comes out like this. It’s too easy with brothers coaching each other and…no, I don’t really want to see the hoopla that would surround it. The sad part is, it would end up being an awesome game if you were a die hard fan, but the casual fan would lose interest in it really quick. Would be a hell of a defensive showdown, but the last thing the NFL wants is a Super Bowl that ends up with a final score of 9-6. The odds of this happening are very, very low anyway.
Scenario Two: The Ravens vs. The Giants
Here again, too obvious. A rematch but not really. Kerry Collins played quarterback during that season, suffice to say a lot has changed for the G-Men. It’s going to take a lot of persuading this week to get me to imagine the Ravens becoming better than New England, and I’ll explain myself here in just a few minutes. My guess would be that if this matchup did really transpire, a majority of America would be behind the Giants because it’s an easy pick.
Scenario Three: The Patriots vs. The Giants
Obviously, would be the biggest draw out of the four and would likely be a blowout and a terrible game. Everybody on earth would be watching and it would be very desirable for American football as a whole. I’ll watch the hell out of it, but the Giants would end up getting blown out of the water for sure. It would take a colossal collapse from the Patriots in order for New York to win the rematch.
Scenario Four: The Patriots vs. The 49ers
Unless the 49ers have another huge TV moment like they did Divisional Playoff week, I can’t imagine that this game would be close either. Would you take the Niners here? Of course not…If they were to somehow win, there would be this cheesy “Dragonslayer” thing going on though and that would be super weak. And it would briefly create the illusion that on that day Alex Smith would somehow be better than Tom Brady, which is only true when viewed through a mirror in some alternate universe.
So there are your possibilities. But that’s still to be determined, and three weeks from now seems like an eternity to me. Now let’s look at the conference championship games.
Baltimore (14-3) at New England (14-3) 2PM CBS-TV
Bonus Fun Thoughts: In an alternate universe, Bill Belichick would totally be the type of coach that would love to coach a team like Baltimore. When Bill B was DC of the NYG back in the SB YRS, he loved that type of football. When you hear about Super Bowl era linebackers, the two that immediately come to mind would be Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor. Taylor thrived under the Belichick model, and helped Bill learn a lot about what teams were doing on both sides of the football. At very least, he was subconciously learning what offenses shouldn’t be doing. He’s been here before and has the upper hand when it comes to the playoff experience of the head coach by several endangered elephant tusk lengths. So it should be a good time; The Ravens aren’t going to hold the Patriots to 13 points I’ll guarantee you that. And if John Harbaugh wheels out his defense like he’s not playing Tom Brady, this game could take a good long while to finish. Oh and by the way, download some new songs from your favorite artist on iTunes. That way you can turn the sound of this game down without having to listen to Phil Simms talk. I’m throwing a Super Bowl party just because I found out CBS didn’t HAVE the Super Bowl this year. Here’s another bonus fun fact: The Patriots didn’t beat a single team this year that finished with a winning record. That’s significant because it’s completely insignificant here: Totally meaningless.
The Game: First things first, it looks like Ravens corner Ed Reed is going to be alright after all and no MRI was scheduled as of midnight Sunday. Even though I’m not the world’s biggest Ravens fan, I want Ed Reed to play because I like the way he plays football…most of the time. Since the Ravens’ strength lies in their defense and the Patriots’ strength lies in their offense, it’s quite possible that half of this game could be extremely boring.
When the Ravens have the ball, look for them to operate at about a 60% run/40% pass balance, with most of the big pass plays being thrown in Anquan Boldin’s general direction. If Baltimore has any hope of winning this game at all, Ray Rice and Ricky Williams are going to have to rush for more than the combined 87 yards that they put up against the Texans. (That’s just not going to cut it here) Although Belichick made his name building strong defenses, I think we can all agree that this isn’t one of them. They don’t have the visionary presence of a Mike Vrabel or the Tedy Bruschi that they had during previous Super Bowl runs. So if they get worn out and give up a couple of first down conversions on that first drive, expect the Ravens to go deep and succeed.
Now, this won’t happen every single drive, and even though they’re one win away from being in a Super Bowl I still don’t look at the Ravens as being any kind of offensive powerhouse. They aren’t the type of team that can put up more than 25 points this late in the year, they’re just not built that way. The Patriots could give up twenty-five points in a game like this, but the reality is that Baltimore just doesn’t have the weapons to challenge them. If the Ravens could create some points off of turnovers, then they might actually have something, so let’s discuss that while we flip sides.
When the Patriots are on offense, they become essentially what St. Louis was when they were considered to be the greatest show on turf except they use tight ends instead of receivers. The Denver Broncos had both great games and abysmal ones this year, but even if they did have a great one last week I can honestly say I doubt the score would have been any different. It’s highly likely that even though the Ravens are the most athletic team in the world for their age, they aren’t going to be able to compete with what the Patriots are about to shove down their throats. And that’s an interesting figure of speech to use because that’s precisely what they do. They can beat you on a deep ball, but it’s much more demoralizing if they can get you with three twenty-five yard gains as opposed to a bomb that’s equally as long. And like I said last week, yes there is virtually no running game there, but so what. You have to expect that Tom Brady has on his mind is that he’s just two games short of tying Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for that fourth Super Bowl ring, and that realistically this is his best chance to do it since most would argue that comparatively the field is a bit thin this year. Honestly anything after that is going to be gravy and even if he ends up with five or six there’s still going to be plenty of people that will argue that he’s not the greatest quarterback of the Super Bowl era, and I’m sure he’s ready for that.
The Truth: The truth is Tom Brady is better than Joe Flacco. And while you will always hear plenty of that “Any Given Sunday” rhetoric, 94% of the time Tom is going to be better than Joe is. If I’m wrong here, my whole approach to life will be flipped on its head once again, because Ricky Williams will be playing for a World Championship.
Obviously everybody is zeroing in on the tight end thing but it is pretty unique when you think about it. Getting three, good, hard headed guys that will run across the middle for anything AND are incredibly athletic is pretty hard to do even if you own a professional sports franchise and you have hundreds of millions of dollars. I know this because if it wasn’t hard to do, there would be a lot of other teams that had three tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker and the Hall of Fame voting fifteen years from now would be a hot mess.
Speaking of a hot mess, anyone can go out that way in the playoffs. The odds of the Patriots going out like that this week are about 8%. Expect the Ravens to lose this game barring some severe circumstances.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Ravens 18
New York (11-7) at San Francisco (14-3) 5:30PM FOX TV
Bonus fun thoughts: The Giants don’t play well in San Francisco. They never have. Trust me, I can remember getting carved up by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice plenty of times when I was wearing pajamas against my better judgment. Tom Coughlin is hardly Bill Parcells, and this past week he actually looked a little bit different on the sidelines than he had over the past couple of years. The Giants didn’t commit a whole lot of penalties, which killed them in the middle of the season. He remained calm when it’s not really his gig. So hopefully for me, I’ll see him without that attitude as opposed to having the attitude of once Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin.
History tells us that the Giants are 0-4 against the Niners in the playoffs at Candlestick Park, with most of those losses coming during the Montana era. The Giants are 2-0 at home against the 49ers in the postseason including a 49-3 drubbing during their 1986-87 Super Bowl Run, although that is hardly relevant here. It’s been a decade since the game in which Jeremy Shockey dropped a sure touchdown pass, Terrell Owens took the game over, and the Niners came back to win. But you can go ahead and throw all that out the window as that was then and this is now, and let’s not forget that the Giants are road warriors this year.
The Game: Boy, where do I even start? The Giants’ front line on defense has been brutal and had Aaron Rodgers running for his life just a week ago. Smith has the ability to run as most younger guys do, but I still say he could start to lose his composure of they pressured him early. The only problem with that is, if you do that then you risk going down early. And teams like the Giants don’t do well early against teams like the 49ers. The 49ers took the regular season meeting between these two 27-20, ironically enough the week after they beat the Patriots 24-20. Does that really tell us anything? Probably not, other than both of the losing teams could have easily won those games.
When the Niners are on offense, they will rely on Frank Gore to get them from one set of downs to the next, whom the Giants held to zero yards on six carries in the first meeting. QB Alex Smith has struggled in his career up until the beginning of this season, where he is flourishing under his third head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh has got everybody on that offense believing that they can be just as exciting and dominating as some of the other teams in the league which excel at putting points up on the board. Now that offense will face off against the Giants defensive line which has proved to be very punishing, especially with the return of Osi Umenyiora. Jason Pierre Paul can get over on ANY offensive lineman in the league, and Justin Tuck is equally threatening. It should also be noted that Tuck, Osi, and running back Ahmad Bradshaw were all out due to injury in that seven point loss earlier this season. I was listening to AM radio on the way to work this morning and they mentioned that when it comes down to it, the Giants are the healthiest of the four remaining teams. DE Chris Canty will be ready to go after some concern as to whether or not he had reaggravated that hamstring that’s bothered him the past three years. As a fan who’s probably more than a tad biased, it certainly feels like this never happens. By this time of the year (if we even get here) we’re usually down to Eli, one running back, and a bunch of last minute CFL signings. Let’s discuss that offense next.
When the Giants have the ball, it should be pretty apparent by Eli’s facial expressions on the first two drives whether or not they are going to win this game. The ground attack in the Green Bay game was very uncharacteristic of Big Blue. Bradshaw and Jacobs are big, stocky dudes who rarely break off runs of fifteen yards or more but provided New York with some crucial advances last week against the Packers. I don’t expect that to happen against the 49ers, and I do see the Giants coming out throwing long on the second play. The Giants’ biggest consistent mental mistakes happen when they can’t keep the offense on the field long enough for the D to grab a rest. 3 and outs have been a huge issue for Eli and the gang this year, and facing Patrick Willis and that electric Niners defense could potentially cause problems for them. Donte Whitner has also impressed me a lot this season and has been one of the team’s more vocal leaders, and produced a very interesting quote this week: “We’re not really trying to hurt people. But when we play physical, people get hurt.” That’s a great way to sum it up: The guys that AREN’T leading with their heads really aren’t trying to hurt anyone, that’s just the way it’s happens sometimes. In conclusion, the Giants need to get on top early to have any chance at winning. And if they don’t, they’d better have some serious tricks up their sleeve for later on in a playoff road game. I’d say the first route would obviously be the best option: There’s less of a chance that they’ll have to rely on last-second heroics and much less of a chance that I’ll have a heart attack. There was a report out Thursday that Eli had to take a little bit of time out of practice because of stomch flu-like symptoms, but this game is WAY too important to just assume he’s too sick and just hand David Carr the football.
The Truth: The truth is that San Francisco is actually coming off of a much bigger win. Even though the Giants derailed a team that had gone undefeated, the 49ers accomplishment was more impressive for a couple of reasons. 1) They hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002, it’s very important to the franchise. The Giants had been there just four years back. 2) You didn’t figure that Alex Smith was going to be the big story Saturday night. Everybody had 49ers obituary stuff on standby for when they lost that game (including myself), but when they didn’t a lot of writers ended up feeling dumbfounded. 3) The Niners win came in very dramatic fashion and at the last second. There’s a lot more reasons to believe that the Niners will win than the Giants. Although there are a ton of analysts picking the Giants to win, San Francisco making the Super Bowl would be a huge story because it would mean out of the last four years, twice the NFC would be represented by a team ouf ot the West – a division we are all guilty of bashing during the regular season. While the other game is definitely leaning in one direction, this one leaves both teams with about a 50% chance of winning.
So far, I’ve picked the Giants to lose two straight and they’ve surprised the hell out of me. And when something’s working, you develop all of these silly baseballesque superstitions and are afraid to come off your deck. And that’s why I will continue to pick against my own team.
Prediction: 49ers 28, Giants 26
Summary: In my own personal opinion, for the Saints and the Packers both being out the remaining four teams possess a lot of good qualities: The Patriots look seemingly unstoppable, none of the Ravens have been allegedly identified as a person of interest in a capital murder trial, The Giants knocked off the “best” team in the league, and the Niners have a lot of mojo/hype going and are playing at home.
It’s funny that we use the term “Final Four” with respect to the NCAA tournament, as it almost pertains a little more to the NFL. There’s four teams left and if you go out there and beat the shit out of yourself enough and can outplay the other team, then guess what? You get to play another week all roughed up and concussed!!! There’s nothing in sports that seems more “Final” than that. I’ve always thought “The NBA Finals” was a sort of a dumb name for a championship series. “Finals”? Plural? Huh? It’s interesting that someone as insightful, relevant, and hip as their commissioner wouldn’t have fixed that name by now.
My point is, these are going to be some great games. Enjoy with friends, family, or whoever else you might owe money to. We’ll back up here Monday to wrapup the conference round and start talking some Super Bowl 46. I sent an email to ex-Guns’ N’ Roses’ drummer Steven Adler’s publicist asking if he’d help me dissect the Pro Bowl but nobody’s contacted me yet. I expect him to come around though, he seems like he’s really got his shit together.
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