Championship NFL picks: 49ers, Patriots to advance to Super Bowl

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

It’s déjà vu all over again in the AFC Championship Game. The New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday (Jan. 20) for the opportunity to represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl. It’s a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. It’s the first rematch of an AFC Championship since the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns in 1986 and 1987.

Last year, the Patriots beat the Ravens 23-20 in the championship matchup. The two teams met again during this year’s regular season. In week three, the Ravens got a little revenge when they escaped with a 1-point win (31-30) on their home turf. Something tells me their mission won’t be complete unless they can knock off the Patriots in Gillette Stadium and get into the Super Bowl.

To accomplish the task, they’ll have to shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots’ explosive offense. The Pats put up 41 points against the Houston Texans in last week’s game. The Ravens’ defense is led by perennial all-pro linebacker Ray Lewis. He’s announced his retirement following this season. He’s been able to stave off hanging up his pads for the final time by continuing to win during the postseason. Now, he’s one game away from ending his storied career by playing his final game in the Super Bowl.

As dramatic as Lewis’ story could be, I don’t see it playing out that way. I think Brady and the Patriots are going to write a different ending to that story. The Patriots might not score 41 points against Lewis and his teammates, but they will win and make it to their second straight Super Bowl, thereby ending Lewis’ career one game shy of the Super Bowl.

Whom will the Patriots play is the next question. It’ll either be the San Francisco 49ers or the Atlanta Falcons. Those two teams will battle it out in Atlanta. The Falcons snatched victory from the jaws of defeat last weekend with a game-winning field goal during the final seconds of their game to eliminate the Seattle Seahawks 30-28.

The 49ers, on the other hand, looked invincible behind the play of quarterback Colin Kaeperick in their victory over the Green Bay Packers last week. He not only threw for two touchdowns, he also rushed for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and another two touchdowns. If Kaepernick can repeat his effort against the Falcons this Sunday afternoon (Jan. 20), I don’t think there’s any way the 49ers won’t advance to the Super Bowl in New Orleans Feb. 3.

As soon as anyone makes a prediction like that, something usually goes wildly astray. Barring something totally weird, I plan on watching the Patriots and the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at

From the Jan. 16-22, 2013, issue

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