Sport

NFL: Exciting Divisonal playoffs

... And now the clash of the final four

BY TONY SCOTT

Friday, January 18, 2013    

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YOU couldn't ask for much better as the Divisional Playoffs weekend delivered some of the best football I have ever seen. It did not deliver the results I anticipated or predicted, but then again, in this great game, what do we so-called experts really know?

Most of us didn't know, for example, that the Baltimore Ravens would turn up at Mile High Stadium to confront Mr Manning and his Broncos. Neither did we expect them to put an early end to what had been a wonderful comeback season, which could have ended with a Super Bowl appearance in Manning's hometown of New Orleans. That was not to be. Instead we got a heck of a game that went into overtime and resulted in a win for the Ravens and a berth in the Conference Championships.

We also never believed for one moment that the upstart San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would upstage the veteran Aaron Rodgers and put the Green Bay Packers out of contention.

Neither did I think that the Atlanta Falcons would prevail over the red hot Seattle Seahawks after blowing a considerable lead. After all, the Falcons usually choke in crunch situations. Not this time around. The only result that occurred as anticipated was the Patriots beatdown of the Houston Texans. Mr Brady and his bunch proved too much for the Texans and displayed once again that the road to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII inevitably goes through New England.

When these playoffs began there were 12 teams chasing the elusive goal of being invited to the big dance. Now there are four and the clock is ticking. After Sunday, two will be left standing and two will have departed. We can, and will, speculate who those two will be, but we can never be sure. Not only is this the NFL, this is playoff time and emotions are running high. Every man is going to be the best that he can be, laying it all on the line for his team, his pride, and, hopefully, his prize -- the Vince Lombardi trophy. The Super Bowl.

This process of elimination continues as the final four go head-to-head to determine who will represent their respective Conferences in the final clash. So brace yourself for what should be one heck of a day.

Both games are on Sunday. In the early NFC Championship game the San Francisco 49ers will visit the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. This game is scheduled for 3:00 pm and will be on FOX. In the later AFC Championship game, the Baltimore Ravens face the New England Patriots at New England. This game is scheduled for 6:30 pm and will be on CBS.

At the end of the day, we will know who will be facing-off in New Orleans to play in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, February 3.

Before we get into the predictions, there are a few things to consider, the first being the home field factor or advantage. Teams tend to play better in a friendly atmosphere than in hostile stadiums. So the "12th man" advantage, ie the home crowd support, goes to the Falcons and the Patriots. In the case of the Falcons and 49ers, the last time they met was back in the 2010 regular season where the 49ers eked out a 16-14 victory.

But that was then and this is now. The 49ers under Kaepernick are a different team. If the Falcons veteran tight-end Tony Gonzalez has a good game, it could be close. If Colin Kaepernick has a good game, it won't be close. I pick the San Francisco 49ers to beat the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC title.

Over in the AFC, the Ravens are trash-talking the Patriots and saying some very uncomplimentary things. Trash-talking never won a game and the Patriots are not responding. They are saving theirs until game time on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how Ravens' quarterback, Joe Flacco, performs under the stress of this playoff game. I suspect he will be cool and collected. He's faced Tom Brady before and has acquitted himself very well. Also, he's coming off a big victory over the Broncos, so there must be some impetus going. The Patriots and Ravens met back on in Week 3 of this past regular season in Baltimore with the Ravens winning a close one, 31-30. They also met at this same stage last season, in the AFC Championship game, with the Patriots winning another tight one, 23-20, to book their spot in Super Bowl XLVI, which they eventually lost to the New York Giants. Having said all that, I find it difficult to believe that any team can go into Foxboro and beat the Patriots this time around. They are just too much of a well oiled and efficient machine. Patriots win!

So how did we do in our picks against the spread last weekend? Well the Seahawks didn't beat the Falcons but they did beat the point spread by whisker, which was good for most of us. At the end of the day, it was Andre Hutchinson who went 3-1 in his picks last week to lead the way. Yours truly went 2-2, as did Peter Lindo, while Andrei Roper went 1-3. Just two weeks to go in our season, which suffice it to say has been an up and down one.

Well, that's it for now folks. We'll take a break next weekend and when this column returns on Friday February 1, we'll preview the big one, the Super Bowl. Enjoy the games on Sunday and remember to place your bets with JustBet!!!

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NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE

*Point Spreads and Under/Over included*

* Point Spreads and Under/Over subject to change without notice, prior to kick-off

Sunday January 20

Atl Falcons +2.5 v SF 49ers, Under/Over 48.5

NE Patriots v Bal Ravens +9.5, Under/Over 51.5

EXPERTS' PICKS AGAINST THE SPREAD

Tony Scott's Conference Championship picks (in bold)

Falcons v 49ers

Patriots v Ravens

Last week: 2-2

Playoff record to date: 5-3

Andre Hutchinson's Conference Championship picks (in bold)

Falcons v 49ers

Patriots v Ravens

Last week: 3-1

Playoff record to date: 4-4

Peter Lindo's Conference Championship picks (in bold)

Falcons v 49ers

Patriots v Ravens

Last week: 2-2

Playoff record to date: 4-4

Andrei Roper's Conference Championship picks (in bold)

Falcons v 49ers

Patriots v Ravens

Last week: 1-3

Playoff record to date: 3-5

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