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CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND & THE PA. PERSPECTIVE

In Pro Football on January 20, 2012 at 9:10 am

I’m working in our office in Cranberry Township PA, 20 miles north of Pittsburgh, this week. Obviously this is Steelers country. I was at lunch yesterday with three work buddies so of course the conversation was about the NFL playoffs. It was very enlightening being from Philly and them being from Pittsburgh. The conversation started with, “”I don’t care who wins because I hate both the Patriots and the Ravens but despise the Ravens and everything about them.” I thought I was talking to my buddies about the Cowgirls, oops, Cowboys and the “Little “ Giants. The conversation went something like this. “I can’t stand Ray Lewis or anything about him. I hate him but he’s still a pretty good player” and “Joe Flacco is horrible, he might be the worst QB in the league”. That led me to say, “There is no QB any worse than Eli Manning unless you’re talking about Tony Romo”. The reply was “are you kidding me, Eli is the most clutch QB in the league in the 4th quarter, check the stats”. I didn’t because I’ve seen him play too many times. I don’t call tossing balls in the air to be caught by David Tyree on his helmet and jump balls in the end zone clutch. That discussion was followed up with this gem, “why is it that Tom Brady is so great? He can beat everybody except the Steelers. If it weren’t for the Ravens being the Ravens I’d hate Brady more than anybody”. Seriously? As usual it was a great time for a sports debate that was clearly being looked at from very different perspectives. It’s amazing what 300 miles across the turnpike can do for ones perspective.

On to this weekends Championship games.

Ravens at Patriots. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I’d take the Pats to win and the Ravens to cover the 7 ½ points. I think this could be a great game. The way to stop the Patriots is to pressure Brady all day long but to do that the Ravens defense will have to take chances in man-to man coverage. With the Patriots tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and the underneath crossing routes by Wes Welker it will be difficult to match up. Linebackers can’t cover these guys so the Ravens better get to Brady and do it quick. If he has time to sit in the pocket he’s unstoppable. Matt Light protecting against Tyrell Suggs will be a great matchup to watch. Both are among the best at their job. For the Ravens they have to have a big game from Ray Rice and not turn the ball over on offense. Snow is on the way to Foxboro on Saturday but Sunday temperatures are expected to be 35 degrees. It looks like a great day for football.

“Little” Giants at 49ers. My bias has to come out on this one because I wouldn’t pick the Little Giants if they were playing anybody except maybe Dallas. With that said Manning is probably playing the best football of his career. Hakeem Nicks has been unbelievable. The key for me is Ahmad Bradshaw. They are so much better when they can team Bradshaw with Brandon Jacobs. I can’t figure out how their defense can come alive in the playoffs because they’re not that good. The defensive line has been over rated since they had Michael Strahan. Osi Umenyiora is a New York media publicity stunt. Justin Tuck is over rated. They have gotten a great season from Jason Pierre-Paul. I’m just not a believer in the Little Giants. In order for the Giants to win they have to run the ball consistently with Bradshaw and Jacobs and minimize Manning in 3rd and long situations where he’s prone to turn the ball over. As for the 49ers they have to be able to run the ball with Frank Gore and not have to put the game in the hands of Alex Smith. Smith was huge last week but he’s not Joe Montana or Steve Young in that Niners uniform. On defense the Niners have to have big games from the outstanding linebacker group led by Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman (another great Penn State LB). By the way, Justin Smith is a beast on the defensive line. I’ll take the 49ers at home giving the 2.5 points. The 49ers will win on the foot of David Akers. Remember him Philly fans? They are calling for game time temperatures of 53 degrees with afternoon rains.

Let the great debate begin! I wonder what my Pittsburgh buddies think the results will be. I think they like the Little Giants and anybody playing the Ravens.

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