NFL Playoff Power Rankings, NFC/AFC Championship Round
Alex Smith drove down the field for the thrilling final touchdown of one of the best games of football I’ve ever seen. Never thought I’d type that sentence. I can’t imagine what kind of Koolaid Jim Harbaugh pumped into Smith to give the former first round bust that much confidence, but I got to get me some of that. That QB draw he ran for a touchdown? Pure clutch. In Green Bay, Eli made good on his declaration that he’s an elite quarterback and the Packers did… I don’t even know. That was ugly.
1. Patriots, 13-3 (4): Patriots-Giants again? This is a bad sequel to a blockbuster movie I didn’t even like that much in the first place. New England’s pass-attack is murderous in large part because no one wants to catch Gronk’s herpes (pornstar herpes are the worst herpes), and their ground-game got a huge boost from… Aaron Hernandez? This year’s Patriots lack the stout defense that characterized their first Super Bowl seasons of the Belichick era, or the offensive pop that made the 2007 team so easy to hate (and hard to bet against), but Brady is the definition of a playoff veteran, and he is two wins from scrubbing off the spygate scandal forever. –Matt
2. 49ers, 13-3 (5): The three telling moments for the 49ers from Sunday’s game:
1. Donte Whitner’s paralyzing hit on Pierre Thomas at the 1-yard-line to force a fumble and prevent the Saints from scoring first blood. It wasn’t just Whitner. The 49ers attacked and hit intensely all day. This is the most physical defense we’ve seen since the 2000 Ravens. (Though their pass defense isn’t nearly as good.)
2. Alex Smith’s beautiful throw to Vernon Davis to score the game-winning touchdown, and Davis’ fantastic catch. Smith’s fantastic play against the Saints proved that this season wasn’t a fluke–Alex Smith has what it takes to win you a Super Bowl. I can’t believe I just typed those words.
3. Jim Harbaugh tightly hugging a sobbing Vernon Davis after the play. I don’t think any team loves their coach as much as the 49ers love Jim Harbaugh. There’s some Coach Eric Taylor shit going on in the Bay Area.
But after watching this past weekend of football, you have to wonder if the 49ers can stop the Giants passing attack and if Alex Smith can handle their rabid pass rush. It’s going to be a great game. -Joe
3. Giants, 9-7 (6): Nope. Not saying a thing. –Anthony
4. Ravens, 12-4 (3): Before we hand the Patriots this game by default, I’d like to point out that New England hasn’t played a team with a record over .500 since the Giants in week 9, and they lost that game. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice both looked shaky against the Texans, but Houston was the 2nd best defense in the NFL this year. There’s enough talent in Baltimore’s receiving corps to generate problematic mismatches against Bill Belichick’s collection of wideouts and cast offs in the secondary, and Ray Lewis sure as shit isn’t going to let a tight end run all over him. –Matt
Tim Tebow Bonus Round… Broncos, 8-8 (8): Tebowmania was certainly fun while it lasted, and with Elway having declared Timmy the starter going into Denver’s camp next season, we must now endure a whole new season of bullshit questions that have more or less already been answered. For all the questions about Tebow, all you need to know is this: he thrived (and that’s not just relatively speaking, he went 8-5 as a starter with wins over the Jets and Steelers) in an offense that was designed for Kyle Orton and re-tooled to fit Tebow’s weird-ass skill set more or less on the fly. Denver was simply outcoached against New England in the playoffs, something that’s hardly appropriate to blame on the second-year quarterback. Nitpick his mechanics all you want (and there’s certainly plenty to nitpick), but this year proved, in the same way talented teams like the Jets and Cowboys can collapse without the proper balls to back them up, that it’s impossible to account for Tebow’s intangibles. The guy is made with every bone in his body to win games. Build the team around him, install an offense that doesn’t rely solely on the run-option and, yes, fine-tune his mechanics a bit, and he will. –Anthony
Written by Joe Lazauskas, Anthony Benigno, and Matt Alberswerth
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