First, the Baltimore Ravens! The Ravens came into the 2012 season as an aging defense that didn’t spark the fear it once did in the first decade of the 21st century. In addition, the injury bug feasted bountifully on the unit, resulting in the absences of such key players as Terrell Suggs (Linebacker), Ed Reed (Safety), Bernard Pollard (Safety), Haloti Ngata (Defensive Tackle), Terrence Cody (Nose Tackle), Courtney Upshaw (Linebacker), Lardarius Webb (Cornerback) and Ray Lewis (Linebacker).
Next, you have the New England Patriots. Their biggest issue came in the form of Wes Welker. While there was nothing wrong with Welker campaigning for a contract extension, the Patriots’ front office, in typical fashion, made a spectacle out of Welker by demoting him in favor of Julian Edelman, who posted 21 catches, 235 yards and a whopping three touchdowns. Mr. Belichik, thankfully you got over yourself because that is a faaaar cry from Welker’s 118 receptions, 1,354 yards and six visits into pay dirt (touchdowns).
Then, there is the 49ers of San Francisco. All it took for Alex Smith to lose his job, who led the 49ers to the NFC championship a season ago, was a midseason concussion. To the skepticism of many NFL brain trust, the heir apparent Colin Kaepernick was given the job in week 10 and with 10 total touchdowns and over 1,800 yards passing, at least for this season, he won’t look back.
Finally, the Atlanta Falcons, who shouldered the greatest amount of adversity. Coming into 2012, Atlanta’s greatest indictment, and rightfully so, was its inability to show up in the playoffs. Last season, they were manhandled in a wildcard matchup with the New York Giants 24-2. In fact, before last week’s divisional round, the Dirty Birds didn’t have much to brag on since 2004, a 47-17 mollywhopping of the St. Louis Rams.
Although these teams had their share of issues, they have emerged as the four best teams this postseason has to offer. The Ravens got through their injury and aging woes, Wes Welker is once again being treated as a vital piece to New England’s success, Kaepernick has yet to make Jim Harbaugh regret his decision and the Falcons got a monkey off its back with a narrow playoff win.
49ers over Falcons– Although Atlanta got the playoff win they have yearned for, they almost blew it. Yes, a win is a win, but the lesson taken from that Seattle game is killer instinct has yet to be mastered by the Dirty Birds. The 49ers will make their way to the Big Easy, in hopes of matching Pittsburgh with six Lombardi trophies.
Ravens over Patriots– While conventional wisdom says the Patriots do not lose AFC championship games in Foxborough/Gillette Stadium, I can’t help but buy into a brand of Kool Aid, labeled “Number 52”. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a mix of blackberry and grape flavors, with an energy booster. In other words, forget the stats & history that sides with the Patriots; destiny beckons Ray Lewis. It’s his last ride!
Championship weekend is among us and these are my picks. Can Super Bowl 47 be the first to have brothers coaching against one another? We’ll find out in a few days. Enjoy the games everyone!
By Antoine Hoffman