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The Peanut Gallery’s Conference Championships Picks

It’s that time of the week again, time for The Peanut Gallery’s conference championships picks. I had only one pick correct last week, making for quite the long week thus far. Vince Veritas got all four picks right, making sure all week that I point that out, so there you go. Xavier Huntington has a respectable three right so far, remaining in the picks contest, though he technically is winning due to the fact his name is easily worth two bonus points.

There are some lengthy takes below, and the games this week deserve it. With three of the four defenses this week playing well in recent weeks facing off in matchups that will send two teams to the Super Bowl, this is surely going to be one hard-hitting weekend of NFL football. As always, your very own Wayne Galaxy will start the picks. Let’s hope this week I have better luck.

Ravens @ Patriots

Wayne Galaxy
Pick: Ravens 36, Patriots 24
Take: A team with a defense outside the top 25 has never won the Super Bowl. The Patriots defense is outside the top 25. I am reluctant to go for Harbaugh over Belichick, given the shellacking the Patriots gave the Broncos, but the Ravens defense has been strong all year, keeping teams within range of their often mediocre offense. Between Ed Reed calling out Joe Flacco and the front line, and the Ravens losing home field advantage despite earning a bye in the wild card round, the Ravens will find a way to come through and keep the Patriots from scoring 45 points for the second straight playoff game against a top-ranked defense.

Xavier Huntington
Pick:
Ravens 27, Patriots 24
Take: This game appears to be evolving into a shootout.  Naturally, discounting defensive performance, Tom Brady has the advantage here.  When defense is entered into the equation the solution becomes a bit more convoluted.  The Patriots live and die by their top 5 ranked offense and succeed despite the 31st ranked defense.  The Ravens are just the opposite, a highly regarded defense supporting a middling offense.  Obviously a game of strength against strength.  It comes down to this:  Is the Ravens offense, better than the Patriots defense.  My answer?  Yes.  The Patriots defense is horrendous, a fact that Ravens QB Joe Flacco (playing with a chip on his shoulder) should be able to exploit successfully.  He has good rapport with both Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, the deep route speedster.  I don’t think the Patriots will be able to stop them.  Another factor in both the ground and air game is Ray Rice, who 2 seasons ago gashed the Patriots with an 83 yard run for a touchdown on the opening play.  The Patriots offense averaged 32.8 points a game this season in defeating a veritable who’s who of nobody teams.  In their 2 games against playoff caliber teams (both losses) they were held to 17 and 20 points respectively.  I believe the Ravens defense is good enough to accomplish this feat against the almighty Brady. A little pressure from the defensive line or linebackers sporting names such as Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs on Brady will throw off his timing as evidenced time and time again whenever the Patriots QB feels hurried or gets knocked down.  This will open up the opportunity for the ever present ball hawk Ed Reed to grab at least one INT.  This game will not be as close as the final score makes it appear as the Ravens defense will relax a bit towards the end of the game, allowing Brady to put up some points in garbage time.

Vince Veritas
Pick:
Patriots 24, Ravens  21
Take: Despite the Patriots record, they know, deep down, that the book on them the last few seasons is that they’re soft against tough teams. Will they “man up”. Well, if they don’t now they never will. I believe the Ravens will start to deconstruct if they fall behind by 10 or more. Both Reed and Lewis have been critical of Flacco and the offensive unit this season (even this week following their victory against the Texans) and that’s no way to play for a championship. Brady and company will do enough to win, only to face plant in the Super Bowl.

Giants @ 49ers

Wayne Galaxy
Pick:
49ers 31, Giants 21
Take: The combination of strong running for both teams in this matchup will create some problems for the defenses, but hopefully it only creates big hits. Between Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw, these two teams have their work cut out for them on the defensive front line. As I said above about the Ravens and Patriots game, a team whose defense is outside the top 25 has never won a Super Bowl. A team whose offense was outside of the top 25, however, has also failed to ever win a Super Bowl. In the end, defense will be the deciding factor in this game. Alex Smith had a great game during the divisional round considering he doesn’t have a receiver in the top 30 with total yards through the regular season, and Eli Manning has had some great games when Hakeem Nicks catches those crazy ‘falling meteor’ deep passes and Victor Cruz turns a couple of catches into highlights and touchdowns. This game will be all about the defense, though it may not look that way from the final score. The 49ers will find a way to pull away.

Xavier Huntington
Pick:
49ers 20, Giants 17
Take: This is going to be a hard fought game decided by defense and a hard-nosed rushing attack.  This is not the same Giants team that the 49ers defeated earlier in the season.  After Vernon Davis’ explosive game against the Saints the Giants will do their best to stifle that outlet for Alex Smith.  One of the 49ers other receivers will have to step up to help the offense move the football.  The Giants have several key defensive players in this game that were out for the previous matchup, running the ball will not be easy for either team.  The 49ers have removed 7 running backs from games they played this year, 6 did not return.  This statistic does not bode well for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  A win in this game will hinge on at least one or all of several aspects:  A successful ground game, an advantage in takeaways, and special teams.  Judging by the preceding season the 49ers hold the advantage in all.

Vince Veritas
Pick:
Giants 31, 49ers 27
Take: This is a tough one–the toughest to call in these playoffs. I like both coaches, both quarterbacks, both defenses. Both teams are workmanlike without a lot of braggadocio. The Giants are peaking and have been for several weeks. One week they run over people, the next they win through air assault, all the while playing staunch defense. The 49ers are for real in every aspect of the game, including, it appears, the emerging passing game of Alex Smith. Last week was a real break-out game for him, as he matched Brees down the stretch and was Mr. Clutch. In the end, he’s going up against the original Mr. Clutch in Eli Manning. If the 49ers are plus-two on turnovers they have an excellent chance to come away with the victory. If not, I see a close game that the Giants win. As I said, both have Good defenses, but despite the 49ers overall #1 ranking, the Giants playoff D has been, frankly, better thus far. Pretty impressive to not allow a TD in two playoff games, against the Falcons and Packers no less, without the help of two terrible drive sustaining calls by the refs in the Green Bay game (resulting in the TDs).  I still feel that the Giants feel, quietly, that they’re disrespected. They fuel themselves with their Road Warrior mentality and are not affected by lack of home field advantage; in fact, they thrive on it. So, in the end, it’s the battle-tested Giants in the Super Bowl.

I’m very happy to report that we did not bet the most correct picks for a sandwich. Although if somehow, though impossible, I can come back and tie for first in the picks contest, I will be very unhappy to report that I wish we had bet for that sandwich.

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