By Doug Halberstadt
The teams are now set for both the AFC and NFC championship games. I, for one, could not be happier with the results. Even though last week I didn’t pick the Giants or the 49ers, I am delighted they prevailed and will be facing one another this weekend.
Both teams owe a word or two of thanks to their respective quarterbacks. The 49ers’ Alex Smith led his team to a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback, and the Giants’ Eli Manning surgically tore apart the Green Bay Packers’ defensive backs.
Now, those heroes from last weekend will lead their teams into battle against one another at Candlestick Park in San Francisco this Sunday (Jan. 22).
These two special quarterbacks will bring entirely different styles of leadership to the stadium. Manning possesses a calm demeanor and a ton of post-season experience. That will be contrasted against Smith’s let-it-all-hang-out/we have nothing to lose style of play.
I’m predicting a well-played game by both teams. This game may very well come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. If it’s a clean game, the other determining factor may come down to coaching.
I like the Giants’ coach, Tom Coughlin, and have little doubt he is very capable of taking his team all the way to his second Super Bowl championship.
The intangible element in this game might be the 49ers’ head coach, Jim Harbaugh. He’s proven he has a way of getting his players to give their all for him. They believe in what he is selling. This game is undoubtedly the biggest of his young professional coaching career. His players are already well aware of that fact.
My brain is telling me to go with the experienced, calm, surgeon-like quarterback coached by the guy who has been there before. For some reason, I’m ignoring the brain and going with the youthful exuberance of Smith and Harbaugh in a close game. I’ll say 31-28 San Francisco.
In the AFC, it’s the Baltimore Ravens at the New England Patriots. I did correctly predict these two teams would battle for the title. They are not strangers in the post-season.
The teams have met once before in the playoffs, following the 2009 season. Back then, the wild-card Ravens became the first team to win a playoff game in New England since 1978 and only the second in history. The Ravens shocked the Pats by scoring 24 first-quarter points and running away with a 33-14 victory.
This year’s Ravens aren’t likely to repeat the shellacking their predecessors laid on New England back then. That doesn’t mean they can’t win, though. As a matter of fact, I like their chances.
For much the same reason I’m taking the 49ers over the Giants, I’m taking the Ravens over the Patriots. Let’s call it the Harbaugh factor. The elder Harbaugh brother, John, coaches Baltimore. I think it would be great to have a Super Bowl rematch of the Thanksgiving night game between the two brothers. The Ravens won that week 12 game 16-6 in Baltimore.
Their defense dominated that night. They tied a franchise record by sacking Smith nine times. They will have to try to duplicate that effort this weekend if they intend to move past the Pats.
Tom Brady and his receivers may be the only thing left standing in the way of an all-Harbaugh Super Bowl. No doubt, that’s a huge obstacle, but one I think the Ravens’ defense can overcome.
I think this might be a lower scoring game than most fans would predict. I’m going with the Ravens 20-16.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Jan. 18-24, 2012, issue