A re-imagining of the logos of the four teams left in the hunt for the Super Bowl
(C) Steven O’Rourke
IF YOU’RE WONDERING what the above picture is, then there’s a very simple explanation. I was struggling to come up with an angle on this weekend’s Conference Championship games that you wouldn’t find elsewhere, my mind wandered and the above re-imaginings are the result.
Writing about the NFL is difficult, especially when you’re trying to come up with something original. The 24-hour news cycle and vast number of websites dedicated to the sport - though you read here first of course – means that it’s very difficult to come up with something you haven’t read somewhere before.
That said, around these parts, we try our best. Why else would I re-design the logos of the four teams taking part in this weekend’s action? Why else would I tell you that every time I hear Joe Flacco’s name I sing “he’s got to be Joe Flacco” to the tune of 1985 hit “So Macho”? And I mean every time. It’s a compulsion.
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
The Ravens and Patriots have enjoyed some titanic tussles of late and the closeness of the encounters is reflected in the statistics of the two quarterbacks. In 2010, the aforementioned Flacco and Tom Brady both completed 27 passes as the Ravens went into Foxboro and emerged with a 33-14 win.
In last year’s AFC Championship game, won by the Patriots, the two quarterbacks completed 22 passes apiece while, in September’s narrow one point victory for the Ravens, they both completed 28.
However, while many claim Flacco outplayed Brady in last season’s AFC Championship game, it is worth remembering he threw two incompletions from the Patriots’ 14-yard line before Billy Cundiff’s kick sailed wide of the uprights, costing Baltimore the game. And while his cannon arm must be respected, he has completed just 53% of his passes this postseason despite relatively little pressure.
The Ravens are undoubtedly Tom Brady’s toughest opponents and are the only team in the NFL against whom he has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven). Despite this, he still holds a 5-2 winning record against Baltimore and is 11-2 all-time in the playoffs at home.
On defence, much is being made about the performances of Ray Lewis this postseason and while the veteran has has recorded a whopping 30 tackles over the past two games he has become something of a liability against the pass and Wes Weker and the New England running backs will look to take advantage, particularly on crossing routes and screens.
That said, the Patriots only dipped under 3.3 yards per run once this season and that was against, you guessed it, the Ravens run defence in week three when when they averaged 2.2 yards per pop so, if the run game stops, they may be able to put an extra man into pass coverage to help out.
Verdict: I honestly don’t know how an ageing Ravens defence, on the back of a double overtime win at altitude last week, handle the speed of the New England no-huddle offence fresh from a relatively easy game against the Texans.
Baltimore 21 @ New England 31
San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons
People don’t believe in the Atlanta Falcons. They were one stupid decision to ice the kicker away from losing a fourth successive playoff game and, perhaps because of that, their 4.5 – 5 point underdog status is one of the largest spreads against a home team in the history of Conference Championship games.
They did, however, do really well against the Seahawks last week, at least for three quarters of the game and have actually put up decent numbers on offence this year with Matty Ice throwing for more than 4,700 yards while Michael Turner ran for 800 and carried the ball into the endzone then times.
On Sunday they face the league’s third best defence though (294.4 yards per game) and Matt Ryan will have to release the ball quicker than he normally does when he stands across from one of the best pass rushing defensive fronts in the NFL.
Jim Harbaugh’s decision to bench Alex Smith in week 11 continues to pay dividends as Colin Kaepernick looks almost unplayable at times. If he rushes for over 100 yards, never mind the 181 he had last week, the Falcons could find themselves wondering where it all went wrong at home. Again.
They do, however, have the advantage – if you can call it that – of playing Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers twice each year so they have faced a quarterback who can run and throw before. That said, they did lose their week 14 match up with Carolina.
Verdict: The Falcons have lost just once this season at home while the Niners are an average 5-3 on the road. I really think this will be a closer game than most people would have you believe. Back in my season preview I said the Falcons could be the NFC’s dark horses this year. Time for them to prove me right.
San Francisco 49ers 35 @ Atlanta Falcons 38.