Championship Game picks; A Harbaugh Bowl looming?

We’ve reached the Final Four and perhaps more refreshingly,
two of the league’s three offensive sideshows have been put to rest. The Saints
and Packers and their circus-like attack will be home watching three teams at
least built in large part on defense, while the one dragon left to slay resides
in Foxborough. The Ravens and Giants are built to win on the road, but in
championship weekend history, only twice have both road teams won  (1992 and 1997). Still, from 1997-2005
at least one road team won each year, though it’s happened only twice in the
past five seasons. Baltimore and New England have played close games in their
history but haven’t met this season, while Giants-49ers is a rematch from Week
10, won by San Francisco, 27-20.


Last week: 3-1

Postseason: 5-3


Baltimore at New England (-7)

Analysis:            These
teams always play pretty tight games, so those predicting another Patriots
playoff rout may be out of luck. Baltimore brings a defense, New England brings
an offense, this much we know. What ultimately will decide the game is the
other matchup, particularly Joe Flacco and how well his offensive line protects
him. Ray Rice needs to have a big – nay, monstrous – day for the Ravens to win,
but he’s done it before, most notably in the 2009 Wild Card victory for the
Ravens. Baltimore might have trouble slowing down Patriots tight ends Rob
Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but a strong red-zone defense, solid run game,
and sheer confidence will allow them to keep this one close throughout. Whether
or not that results in a trip to Indianapolis remains to be seen. The pick:


New York Giants at San Francisco (-2.5)

Analysis:            In
Week 10, the 6-2 Giants met the 7-1 49ers and people believed the 49ers would
begin their descent to earth. Rather, it was the Giants who began a slide,
falling 27-20, as San Francisco cruised to a 13-3 record while Big Blue needed
a Week 17 win to get in at 9-7. New York is conjuring up memories of their 2007
title run, but they did not face a defense the caliber of the one they will see
Sunday during that postseason. Frank Gore missed more than half of that first
meeting, and with poor weather conditions expected, he could be the X-factor in
a facet of the game the 49ers already expect to have an edge in. Eli Manning is
on fire, but Alex Smith proved he can handle the playoff pressure, and if Gore
gets going early, that neutralizes the Giants’ biggest strength, their pass
rush. I expect this one to be close throughout, but the formula for success of
a good run game and great defense favors the 49ers. This is the sixth rematch
of a regular-season meeting, with the team that won the first meeting being 4-1
in those rematches thus far. The Giants are the lone exception, avenging a
38-35 loss to Green Bay at Lambeau last Sunday. The pick: 49ers.

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