Super Bowl Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding Super Bowl XLVII…

Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.39 – Baltimore, 7.22 – San Francisco
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 26.95, San Francisco 30.94
Quick Thoughts:
1. Remember the era of NFL history when the Super Bowl was just one long string of blowout after blowout after blowout after blowout? I actually don’t, since I’m a young pup and have no recollection of Michael Jackson being any other skin color than white, but for the first, oh, 30 years or so of the Super Bowl, the game itself was usually lopsided and dull, with a close game thrown in every five years to keep everyone on their toes. And even the “close” games weren’t that particularly compelling. The Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V on a last-second field goal, but there were a total of eleven combined turnovers in that game and even the Colts players were embarrassed by their performance. The Steelers’ 35-31 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII is often regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, but the Steelers led that game 35-17 with seven minutes left and the Cowboys didn’t start going no-huddle until there were two minutes left. By the time they got the game back to four points, there were only 22 seconds left. That crap was never in doubt after the midway point of the fourth quarter. Really, if we’re making a list of truly great games from the first thirty Super Bowls, we’re left with XXIII (Joe Montana leading the the 49ers to the 92-yard game-winning drive), XXV (WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT), and maybe X (the first Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl). Outside of that, you basically just have a loop of the Vikings, Bills and Broncos getting slaughtered over and over again and America gaining a collective 1.2 billion pounds on one day for no good reason.
2. Starting with Super Bowl XXXII (Broncos-Packers), however, the game has been consistently entertaining and memorable. Sure, we’ve still gotten a few clunkers like Super Bowl XXXV (where Kerry Collins tried to complete more passes to the Ravens than to his own team) and XXXVII (where Bill Callahan THREW THE SUPER BOWL BECAUSE HE HAD A BROMANCE GOING WITH JON GRUDEN AND DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED IN THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF HIS LIFE! Sorry, Tim Brown just took over control of the keyboard). But think of how many other incredible, classic moments we’ve seen in this game just in the past fifteen years. Elway helicoptering his way to a first down and finally getting that Super Bowl victory. Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson one yard short of the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Adam Vinatieri thwarting Ricky Proehl’s heroics with a kick on the last play from scrimmage – twice. The Helmet Catch and the end to the perfect season. James Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Santonio Holmes and everything else about Super Bowl XLIII. Tracy Porter’s pick-six. Mario Manningham’s incredible toe tap last year. And now last night’s game, which, after a time where a old-time Super Bowl blowout seemed likely, turned into one of the wackiest and most thrilling games of recent vintage – which is saying a lot. Let’s all just say a collective thank-you for not having being subjugated to a Cowboys-Bills crapfest in a LONG time.
3. I remain fairly confident in saying that the 49ers were a better team than the Ravens this year  – just like New England and Denver probably were, as well – and as you can see above, the advanced stats seem to agree. In a vacuum, the 49ers were much more efficient than the Ravens last night, picked up large chunks of yards much more easily, and made far more amusing facial gestures from their head coaching position. But being “better” does not necessarily equal “deserving” a victory. The Ravens were much, MUCH better than the 49ers in situational aspects (9-for-18 on combined third and fourth downs compared to 2-for-10, 50% touchdown rate in the red zone compared to 33%, one killer turnover compared to two, etc.) and came up with a huge play in special teams as well. They shot themselves in the foot with far less frequency than the 49ers and they deserved to win.
4. Whenever an underdog team ends up going on a great postseason run like the Ravens did this season, the tendency from the advanced stats community is to badmouth the overachiever and explain all the factors that had to do with pure luck and weren’t related to team quality at all that caused the perceived “best” team to stumble. This always smacks a bit of sour grapes to me. Of course luck was involved! You usually don’t win three or four consecutive games against quality teams without getting a little good fortune tossed your way. Outside of a string of champions from the mid-to-late ’80s, the list of teams that pranced through the postseason without playing a one-score game is really small and limited to all-time great teams like the ’73 Dolphins and ’92 Cowboys. The fact that the Ravens needed a near-miraculous play in the Divisional Round to advance on doesn’t detract at all from their accomplishment. Good statistical analysis explains why a team is likely to win, not why they will win. An underdog team will always have a chance to win a single game and string together a streak of victories. It’s unlikely, of course. But it can happen. And from their opening-round dispatching of the lone inferior opponent they faced to their classic double-overtime win in Denver to their out-coaching and out-witting effort in New England all the way through their hang-on-for-dear-life victory last night against San Francisco, the Ravens personified that fact.
5. Okay, so Jerome Boger did a terrible-as-expected job as referee, but I have no complaint with the no-call on San Francisco’s final fourth-down play last night. If anything, it would have felt just a little wrong if the referees had bailed out the 49ers with an illegal contact call. Remember, Dannell Ellerbe was coming scot-free on a blitz that Colin Kaepernick did not recognize and forced Kaepernick to toss up an inaccurate, back-footed heave WAY before he wanted to. Baltimore completely dictated the play on its terms and to then have a cheap holding penalty in an instance where Michael Crabtree was doing just as much shoving would have made me just a bit queasy to my stomach. Players should be the ones deciding the Super Bowl and they ultimately did last night. So that’s at least one thing Jerome got right. (Compared to about 187 he got wrong, but still.).
6. The greatest play of the night was undoubtedly Joe Flacco’s scrambling heave at the end of the first quarter to Anquan Boldin. That was the point where you gave the person stuffing their face with food next to you a wide-eyed look and said, “It’s looking like Baltimore’s night.” Because Flacco had no business even getting out of the sack in that situation and his ambling heave while trying to not get effed didn’t exactly put a whole lot on the ball. That and Carlos Rogers did EVERYTHING HE COULD to prevent that completion. He had phenomenal coverage on that play. Anquan Boldin’s just a man, pure and simple. They didn’t end up scoring on that drive because Flacco ended up taking a dumb sack, but my golly if that didn’t set the tone for the whole game.
7. An early look at how Joe Flacco’s 11 touchdown, no interception postseason ranks among the greatest of all time (as measured by Adjusted Yards per Attempt). Short of some schmo going 27-of-30 for 400 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no picks every game in a single postseason, I don’t think anybody’s going to knock Joe Montana’s 1989 playoff run off the #1 spot in those rankings, but Flacco does come in at #2 on that list. I’d probably argue the non-21st century passers on that list were a bit more impressive than Joe was this postseason, simply because this is the easiest era in which to pass in NFL history, but even with all those caveats I’d think Flacco’s 2012 probably has to rank in the top ten or fifteen best postseasons of all time. He had to make such a high percentage of difficult throws to get to that figure as well; it’s not like he was throwing wide receiver screens half the time. For the record, Colin Kaepernick’s postseason run comes in #9 on that list; outside of that terribly overthrown interception, he played extremely well last night as well. Overall, Flacco and Kaepernick combined for the third-highest yards per attempt average in Super Bowl history (9.18), trailing only Terry Bradshaw and Vince Ferragamo (yes, Vince Ferragamo) in Super Bowl XIV and Jim Plunkett and Ron Jaworski in Super Bowl XV. Not bad, fellas.
8. The only practical effect the Super Bowl has on the next season is determining where the season-opening game will be held. So make your plans to be at M&T Bank Stadium on the night of September 5 now, Ravens fans. And as you can see from the list of 2013 opponents that has already been released, there’s no shortage of interesting possible sparring partners for the Ravens’ banner-raising party. My personal bet would be either the Patriots (two-time AFC Championship rematch, Tom Brady, etc.) or the Steelers (word has it that they’re pretty big rivals with the Ravens), with the Packers being a dark horse candidate. Least likely opponent? Cleveland. The NFL would sooner schedule the corpse of Alf Landon to appear at a huge nationally televised game than Brandon Weeden.
9. The Super Bowl’s been over for only about 15 hours at this point and I’ve already seen multiple commercials urging San Francisco fans to not feel so glum about things. I’m sorry, but if my team just lost the Super Bowl, I don’t think a free Jell-O pudding pop would make me feel all hunky-dory again. I’d more likely use that pudding cup as a weapon to besmirch any piece of Ravens merchandise I could find. But that’s just me, though. I have a natural inclination towards staining objects with chocolate pudding.
10. Finally…only 181 more days until the Hall of Fame Game. And, yes, it’s extremely sad that this is what we’re reduced to looking forward to. 2012-13 NFL season, we hardly knew ye…
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Expert Opinion: Coach Lombardi Weighs In On Super Bowl XLVII

There’s no shortage of Super Bowl predictions out there this week – everyone from Boomer Esiason to Andray Blatche to Nate Silver to Frankie the Saki Monkey has provided a succinct and salient reason why either the 49ers or the Ravens will win this coming Sunday. And you know what? They’ve all got an approximately 50% chance of being correct. But we here at Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron had bigger ideas. “Who knows more about what it takes to win the Lombardi Trophy than the GUY THE TROPHY IS NAMED AFTER?” we said to ourselves. So after calling up Browns VP of Player Personnel Mike Lombardi and learning that he was not the namesake of the Super Bowl Champion’s trophy, we dug a little deeper in our Rolodex and found someone even better: former Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Read his thoughts below and get prepared to learn…and be inspired…

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON OUT HERE? I’m looking at a bunch of clowns on tape here that wouldn’t know the intricacies of the toss sweep play if it hit ’em in the head with a baseball bat and asked for their wallet and identification. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said a hundred thousand times: you need A SEAL HERE, A SEAL HERE, and RAM IT UP THE ALLEY. That motto has helped me in whatever walk of life I have encountered: whether we’re talking about my time with the Packers or the deck and patio staining job I had back in Brooklyn in my teenage years or the legendary bowling competitions I would undertake with Charlie Conerly during my years as the offensive coordinator for the Giants. You can only be successful at something if you’ve done it thousands and thousands of times, building up so many repetitions that it makes the useless part of your brain – the portion that is weak, fearful, and cries out to Mama at the slightest hint of turmoil – sit in complete and obedient silence. And I’m not seeing that type of DEDICATION TO PERFECTION when I throw on the tape of these teams that are playing today. Of course, the rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement may have something to do with that, too; you can’t practice your players for twelve hours a day (or longer if they haven’t gotten the first 5,000 repetitions of the toss play correct) under the current rules. Sometimes I think it was easier to coach back in the old days. The players make too much money now. But I digress.

I always said that the difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. You look on any NFL roster today and you can find enough talent to to field a winning team – except Jacksonville. That’s a lost cause. But every other team in the league could be turned into a winning ballclub if they had the heart and desire to work harder than everyone else and make winning their only objective in their profession. The sad truth, however, is that few men actually do whatever it takes to be successful – they hang to a few bad vices, watch only 11 hours of film a day instead of 23, and settle for “great” instead of “GREATNESS IS FOR WEAKLINGS, I WANT TO BE FREAKING IMMORTAL.” To reach that last stage, that hardest stage to attain, everything in your life must revolve around your profession.

And I mean everything. Look at me, I’m a Lombardi! I grew up the son of Italian immigrants in Brooklyn! You think my mother didn’t make the greatest spaghetti and meatballs human taste buds have ever savored? YOU’RE WRONG. YOU’RE DEAD WRONG. I loved my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs more than anything other than football, but it came with a terrible side effect. Approximately two hours and thirty minutes after consumption, the meatballs would march on through my digestive system as reliably as Paul Hornung would womanize until all hours of the morning and cause me great gastrointestinal distress for roughly thirty minutes, sometimes as long as forty. During an especially long reign on the can during my time as assistant coach at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, I determined that this wasted time was an unacceptable detriment to my professional aspirations. Right then and there, I swore off Mama’s spaghetti and meatballs forever and vowed only to eat tuna fish sandwiches every day until the day I died. And for the next thirty-one years, I kept that vow – the tuna fish provided acceptable sustenance to ease my hunger, my bowels no longer howled out in distress like a banshee haunting the spirit of King James I of Scotland, and my COMPLETE attention could now be directed toward perfecting the Packer Sweep (even though I wouldn’t become the coach of the Packers for another twenty years).

THAT is the type of dedication that is necessary to become a true winner – you must be willing to forsake even your dear mother’s cooking for the sake of the greater goal. Have Jim and John Harbaugh done the same thing? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS WE MUST BE ASKING DURING MEDIA DAY AND NOT SOME INANE RIFF-RAFF ON WHETHER THEY LIKE BARBECUE OR NOT! They’re grown American men, of course they like barbecue! The bigger question is: are they willing to submit to the desire of WINNING even over the desire of delicious barbecued ribs? Why didn’t any of you jokers ask THAT question Tuesday afternoon, huh? Ah, you’re all a bunch of birdbrains. We’ll deal with this later.

I must say, however, that when all is said and done, football is still football. And even if the two teams playing on Sunday – the 49ers and the replacement Colts whose name I can’t remember at the moment – are a pale imitation of the sport at its highest peak, there are still players I’m looking forward to watching Sunday. Joe Flacco – what an bazooka for an arm and what a delightfully ethnic schnozz! He reminds me of Norm Snead before poor Norm had his confidence irrecoverably shaken from playing for the Eagles too many years. And the man who’s starting against him – the Kaepernick fellow – he can throw it just as hard AND run like a deer! My God! I loved Bart Starr to death, but if I’d been fortunate enough to get my hands on that fellow early in my career, we would have won ten championships in a row! And this Patrick Willis plays with a real mean streak to him – he doesn’t like to hear himself talk as much as that Ray Lewis, but he hits just as hard as that guy ever did. By golly, whenever I see or that Bowman fellow crunch a tight end going over the middle, it makes me want to throw my pads back on and smack the bejeezus out of some poor shmuck running an in route. YOU’VE NEVER FELT ADEQUATELY ALIVE UNTIL YOU’VE HIT A LAD SO HARD, HIS SNOT WINDS UP IN THE BACK OF YOUR NOSE! As far as I’m concerned, that’s real heaven on earth. None of this televangelist mumbo-jumbo that promises you lifelong happiness if you send them a check for $50 every week. SOME OF US NEED TO SAVE OUR MONEY FOR UPGRADING OUR FILM PROJECTERS, MISTER OSTEEN!

In summary: any of my ’60s Packers teams would beat either of the two teams playing on Sunday by approximately two touchdowns and thus this game is meaningless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tuna fish sandwich that’s calling my name and 6,000 more repetitions of the toss sweep play to get through before sundown. IT’S JANUARY, WE LOSE ALL SEMBLANCE OF LIGHT BY 5:30! Ah, the time I waste writing these things…

The ESPN Super Pick ‘Em Extravaganza

Apparently not satisfied with his hard-earned victory in the Pigskin Pick ‘Em challenge during the regular season, Lucas invited me this week to participate in the Confessions of a Sportscaster Super Pick’Em challenge on ESPN.com. Eager for a chance at redemption, I accepted that invitation and spent minutes of thought on the following Super Bowl prop bets. Please note that Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron does not condone ACTUALLY betting on these items – unless you’re pretty sure they’re going to be correct, that is (and is actually legal for you to do so in your region and so on and so forth). For the sake of banging out a fast and fun column, let’s take a look at my personal choices (noted in bold) for the Super Pick ‘Em challenge below…

1. Which team will win the game – Baltimore (6 points) or San Francisco (4 points)?

Whoops, letting the prediction for my super-ultra-mega-jumbo Super Bowl preview later this week out of the bag early. Just pretend to be surprised when you see it on Friday, okay? Thank you!

2. What will be the length of the National anthem sung by Alicia Keys – 113 seconds or fewer (4 points) or 114 seconds or more (6 points)?

I find it hard to believe that anyone other than Bleeding Gums Murphy would be able to stretch “The Star-Spangled Banner” to two minutes or more. Even Christina Aguilera couldn’t go longer than 1:53 two years ago – and that was with horribly butchering the song in the process. I don’t doubt Ms. Keys’ dedication to embellishing the song beyond all normal recognition, but c’mon. Two minutes is insane.

3. What will be the result of the coin toss – Heads (5 points) or Tails (5 points)?

I’d just like to repeat my admonition from above that if you are actually betting on this particular proposition, YOU HAVE A MASSIVE GAMBLING PROBLEM AND NEED TO SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP FOR YOUR ADDICTION. Although…now that you mention it, 50/50 odds ain’t so bad…

4. Which team will receive the opening kickoff – Baltimore Ravens (7 points) or San Francisco 49ers (3 points)?

This seems like a nice calculated gamble to me. You’d assume whichever team wins the coin toss would just defer to the second half, right? Well, then why aren’t the point totals for this prop just 5 and 5 again? Does ESPN know something that we don’t? Or is there a tendency on the 49ers’ part to elect to receive the opening kickoff if they win the toss that I haven’t adequately researched because I’m lazy? TOO LATE TO CHANGE NOW, ON TO THE NEXT PROP…

5. Will either team have a double digit lead in the 1st Quarter– Yes: Either has a double digit lead in 1st Qtr (7 points) or No: Neither has a double digit lead in 1st Qtr (3 points)?

Double-digit leads that early on in a game are relatively rare, particularly for a game that seems like it will be fairly close. I now look forward to the 35-0 lead the Ravens will jump out to in the first ten minutes.

6. Will both Ray Rice (BAL) and Frank Gore (SF) rush for 50+ Yards in the 1st Half – Yes: Both rush for 50+ 1st Half Yards (8 points) or No: Either doesn’t rush for 50+ 1st Half Yards (2 points)?

Ray Rice has been having trouble getting to 50 yards TOTAL in the playoffs so far – plus, it’s not like the 49ers’ run defense is one of the best in the league or anything. And with Ray Lewis back at inside linebacker, the Ravens’ run defense has been much improved during the postseason, meaning Frank Gore’s going to have a rough go of it, too. I’m rooting for both these guys to make it because the game would be more exciting that way, but I have to choose the sure points.

7. Will a Touchdown be scored in every Quarter – Yes: 1+ TDs in every Qtr (7 points) or No: Any Other Result (3 points)?

If you figure that an average NFL game has around five or six touchdowns, that equals out to more than one a quarter, right? Taking another calculated risk here because the odds aren’t horrendous and the downside isn’t particularly steep.

8. Which side will record a higher total – Total Points Scored (4 points) or Jersey Number of the first TD Scorer or Tie (6 points)?

Essentially by choosing the jersey number option, I am guessing that the first touchdown comes on a pass to a wide receiver or a tight end (please, Lord, don’t let it be Michael Crabtree or Jacoby Jones!). But even if a running back scores the first touchdown, there’s always the possibility this could turn into a 13-7 defensive slugfest and my prop wins anyway. Can I get a what-what for making risky choices without any benefit of research?!

9. Will Beyonce perform the song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” during the Halftime show – Yes (3 points) or No (7 points)?

I don’t know that I’ve ever listened to a Beyonce song all the way through in my life and even I know she’s going to play that song Sunday night. Thanks for the free points, ESPN!

10. Which player will score the first TD of the Super Bowl – Torrey Smith, Ray Rice or Frank Gore (6 points) or Any Other Player (4 points)?

In general, if your potential answers for a question are “Player A, Player B, Player C, or the Field”…well, you take the field. Particularly when you have 87 other options to choose from (yes, it’s possible that Mike Iupati could score a touchdown. Don’t take that possibility away from him!).

11. What will be the result of the first coach’s challenge – Upheld (4 points) or Overturned or No Challenge (6 points)?

I’d like to think that the HarBros are both smart enough to avoid the Mike Tomlin School of Challenging and will use their red flags in an intelligent and judicious manner. The wild-card here, of course, is Jerome Boger; he’s grossly incompetent and yet he’ll be refereeing the Super Bowl. NOTHING SHADY HERE. At this point, Jerome could look at a forward progress replay and determine that there needs to be a free kick on the next play and it wouldn’t surprise me. So this is a clear STAY AWAY for all you real gamblers out there.

12. Which player will be named Super Bowl MVP – Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick (3 points) or Any Other Player (7 points)?

See Question #10. Although the winning quarterback, admittedly, IS usually the one who ends up winning the award. Meh, we’ll keep our options open and laugh with glee when Pernell McPhee is hoisting that trophy after the game.

13. Which QB will record more Touchdowns in the game – Joe Flacco (BAL) (6 points) or Colin Kaepernick (SF) or Tie (4 points)?

My assumption is Dean Pees is smart enough to not try the Dom Capers defense against Kaepernick, but since I’m picking San Francisco overall, I might as well stick with Kaepernick in this category. Because throwing all your eggs in one basket is never a bad idea.

14. Will WR Randy Moss (SF) score a Touchdown in the game – Yes: Moss scores 1+ TDs (8 points) or No: Moss doesn’t score a TD (2 points)?

I will predict, however, that Jerry Rice snickers with glee at least three times during the course of the game.

15. How many points will be scored in the game – 47 Points or Fewer (5 points) or 48 Points or More (5 points)?

One of the toughest props on the table because San Francisco was one of the most deliberate teams in the league during the regular season – Seattle was the only team that played at a slower pace – but during the playoffs they’ve played two high-scoring games. I’ll stick to the lower point total for now, but I don’t feel good about it.

16. Which side will record a higher total in the game – Joe Flacco (BAL): Completions or Tie (6 points) or 49ers: Points Scored (4 points)?

Flacco’s averaged 19.37 completions per game this season (including playoffs); I think the 49ers will score at least 20 points. This one’s pretty straightforward!

17. Will there be a lead change in the 2nd Half – Yes: 1+ lead changes in the 2nd Half (6 points) or No: No lead change in the 2nd Half (4 points)?

Since, as stated previously, I believe the game will be a close one, this is a decent calculated risk, particularly since the 49ers are the superior team but will likely be behind at some point due to their laborious style of play. I now look forward to the 49ers’ 56-3 halftime lead.

18. What will be the length of the longest TD play in the game – 49 Yards or Fewer or No TD (3 points) or 50 Yards or More (7 points)?

Look, there are a lot of players on both sides who are capable of producing LONG touchdowns: Kaepernick, Torrey Smith, Vernon Davis, Jacoby Jones, etc. With that said, though…50 yards is a really long way away! And you’d think that both teams are well-coached enough to not give up back-breaking 80-yard plays in the biggest game of their lives, right? This is another one I hope I get wrong for entertainment’s sake, but I’ve gotta go under, captain.

19. Will there be a Defensive or Special teams TD scored in the game – Yes: 1+ Defensive or Special teams TD (7 points) or No: No Defensive or Special teams TD (3 points)?

10.7% of the touchdowns scored during the regular season came on either defense or special teams. So if the average game will have around five or six touchdowns, then we could reasonably expect .5 or .6 non-offensive touchdowns per game. Factor in two defenses with some of the greatest playmakers in the league today and two electric kick returners in Jones and Ted Ginn Jr. and I would have to think that the non-offensive touchdown expectation for THIS game would have to be higher than the above figure. So I’m going to toss this out as a low-risk, high-reward gamble and proceed to cry profuse tears of anger if Ed Reed gets tackled on the one-yard-line on an interception return.

20. Will any points be scored in the last 2 minutes of 4th quarter – Yes (5 points) or No (5 points)?

Finally, we end on another prop where the scoring distribution seems to be way out of whack. Are you suggesting, ESPN.com, that there’s a 50-50 shot of any points being scored in the final two minutes of the game when the average game this season only had 8.45 scoring events total? Surely you can’t be serious! But I’ll take it.

Evolution of Opinion: The Story of the 2012 49ers and Ravens

There’s going to be plenty of time later in the week to delve into the key Super Bowl matchups with the proper amount of depth (get psyched for our 10,000 word preview of the long snappers on Thursday!), but today we’re going to take a look back at how the 49ers and Ravens got to this point, one game away from fondling the Lombardi Trophy with their sweaty, mangled hands. Each NFL season begins with a set of preconceived notions we harbor for every team based on their previous season’s performance, the moves they made in the offseason, and the unintentional comedy potential they possess. As the season progresses, however, those preconceived notions change virtually by a week-to-week basis. When a team wins one week, they’re unstoppable and can’t be beaten! (See: the Cowboys after their opening-night win over the Giants). When they lost the next week, they’re unspeakably awful and it’s time to blow up the franchise (See: the Ravens after their blowout loss to Houston).

With that in mind, I thought it would be entertaining to revisit some of the things I wrote about both the 49ers and Ravens to see how my views of each team changed over the course of the season. To start out with, I was slightly wrong on both team’s playoff chances in the preseason – I picked both teams to finish 3rd in their respective divisions (that Steelers-Eagles Super Bowl prediction’s looking pretty good right now, am I right?) and didn’t expect either team to crack nine wins. Once the season started, however, I was a relatively early adopter to the 49ers-for-the-Super-Bowl bandwagon; on the other hand, I remained bearish on the Ravens’ championship hopes all the way through the AFC Championship Game. Hindsight is so accurate, isn’t it? Let’s use it as a fun tool for examining these past posts of mine:

San Francisco 49ers

August 22, 2012 (preseason preview) “[The 49ers’] success last season was completely built around unsustainably favorable turnover differential and unsustainably excellent special teams. Move the turnover margin around to about average and downgrade the special teams from great to merely good and you see a team with a good but not great defense and an offense that is wholly dependent on receiving great field position from the other phases of the team. ‘Regression to the mean’ was a term created with the 2012 49ers in mind.”

September 10, 2012 (Week 1: beat Green Bay 30-22)“Everyone looking to slow down Green Bay’s offense: the blueprint has officially been provided. The 49ers copied the Giants’ defensive game plan from the NFC Divisional Round last year, focusing most of their efforts on preventing the likes of Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, and James Jones from beating them deep and instead forcing Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball underneath the drop-prone Jermichael Finley and fourth receiver Randall Cobb…Massive credit has to go to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, however: they joined the Cowboys as owners of the most impressive victories of Week 1.”

September 17, 2012 (Week 2: beat Detroit 27-19)“The best part of San Francisco’s 2-0 start this year has been the efficiency with which they’ve moved the ball offensively thus far. Their outstanding turnover luck from last season that has continued in the first two games of 2012 will not last and eventually the 49ers will have suffer through some three-turnover stinkbombs this year. But so far through two games, the San Francisco offense is averaging 5.9 yards per play, a mark that would have tied for tenth in the league last year. If the Niners continue to move the ball at something approaching that rate the rest of the season, they will once again win the NFC West by several games.”

September 24, 2012 (Week 3: lose to Minnesota 24-13)“Naturally, the one week I cave in and pick the Niners against the spread, they finally decide to throw some turnover regression to the mean into their gameplan and turn Christian Ponder into Fran Tarkenton. I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT FOOTBALL.”

October 3, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“San Francisco has fought off the regression alert we were forecasting for them and actually looks better this year; their offense can actually move the ball and their defense is pretty close to dominant…Expect San Francisco to eventually pull away with this thing.”

October 8, 2012 (Week 5: beat Buffalo 45-3) The 49ers are on as dominant a two-game stretch as you will ever find in the NFL. Against the Jets and Bills, they racked up 1130 Adjusted Yards and allowed 59. This is insane. Jim Harbaugh deserves to win Coach of the Year again.”

October 10, 2012 (Preview of Week 6 game vs. NY Giants)“Let’s put it this way: the only team in the last FIFTY YEARS to outgain their opponents at the same pace as this 49ers team over a full season was the 2001 Rams. Subpar play in the Super Bowl aside, that’s a pretty good team to be compared to…Houston and Atlanta are still unbeaten, yes, but there’s no doubt who the most impressive team in football has been so far. And it’s the one with Alex Smith at quarterback. Just as we all would have suspected eighteen months ago…

October 15, 2012 (Week 6: lost to NY Giants 26-3) As is its wont, the NFL season absolutely refuses all requests to be figured out. The 49ers were coming off utterly dominant victories – and ”utterly dominant” might be selling it short – against the Jets and Bills and responded in a vengeance game against the team that cost them their shot at last year’s Super Bowl with…a complete dud. Maybe Jim Harbaugh let the pep-talking fan in the Visa ad do the gameplanning for this one, too? The blame for this loss can be spread equally amongst all phases of San Francisco’s team, but the common thread between both this week and the Niners’ Week 3 loss to Minnesota is Alex Smith’s ineffectiveness throwing the ball when the defense KNEW he had to throw. Jumping out to a double-digit lead and thereby forcing Smith into predictable passing situations isn’t exactly the easiest blueprint to carry out against the Niners, but Smith will have to carry a comeback on his arm at some point this season for San Francisco to win the Super Bowl.”

October 19, 2012 (Week 7: beat Seattle 13-6)“Man, that 49ers running game is a thing of beauty. The NFL is a passing league now and I’m all for that because, honestly, it’s more exciting to watch a 38-34 crapfest than a 10-6 crapfest. But there’s something intrinsically beautiful/demoralizing (depending on your rooting interest) about seeing a team just ram the ball down another’s throat like the 49ers were doing to the Seahawks in the second half last night. And the Seahawks came in only giving up 3.3 yards per carry! Incredible. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the newest inductee into the Great Backdoor Covers Hall of Fame: Jim Harbaugh’s refusal of the 4th-down holding penalty in the end zone for a safety, instead choosing to just take the ball and kneel out the rest of the clock. And as someone who may or may not have had Seattle +7.5 points, let me just say that I think it was a smart strategical move!”

October 30, 2012 (Week 8: beat Arizona 24-3)“Maybe the bigger takeway from last night’s game is Michael Crabtree might not be a phenomenal bust? I mean, that first touchdown catch at the goalline when [Patrick] Peterson was doing everything short of sodomy in an attempt to knock the ball out of his hands…well, that was a pretty good catch. Megatron himself got the very same type of pass knocked out of his hands last week (then again, Peanut Tillman is a ball-punching god). Is Michael Crabtree a better wide receiver than Megatron? CAN’T RULE IT OUT.”

November 12, 2012 (Week 10: tied St. Louis 24-24) A tie! A tie! A tie! After David Akers missed his field goal attempt midway through the overtime period, I knew it was a possibility, but you never really think that it’s actually going to happen until Sam Bradford throws a fiften-yard out eighty yards away from the end zone on the final play of the game. So unfulfilling. So inconclusive. What a rush these ties are!”

November 20, 2012 (Week 11: beat Chicago 32-7)“I’m sure all of you are aware of this already after watching him play last night and hearing Jon Gruden hyperventilate over him, but holy crap was Colin Kaepernick impressive. He was showing touch on deep throws, great arm strength on stick throws, the great athleticism we already knew he had…I mean, the Bears pass defense in the first nine games of this season was virtually inpenetrable and he went over ten Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt against it. Just phenomenal. Other than the one game a month they seem to take off, the 49ers have looked like the clear best team in the league and if Kaepernick can approximate that level of performance for the rest of the season…oh crap.”

November 26, 2012 (Week 12: beat New Orleans 31-21)“The biggest difference between Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith thus far? In his two starts, Kaepernick has been sacked twice in 50 dropbacks for a sack rate of 4.0%. Smith has been sacked 24 times in 241 dropbacks for a sack rate of 10.0%. The 49ers offensive line is nothing short of phenomenal in run blocking, but honestly they look pretty bad against a pass rush. Kaepernick repeatedly dodged and scrambled his way out of pressure against a below-average Saints front four; Smith likely would have been sacked at least three or four times. I think that’s the biggest reason Kaepernick’s taken over the job; Smith can make and has made 95% of the throws Kaepernick’s completed over the past two games. Kaepernick just gives himself more chances for completions.”

December 3, 2012 (Week 13: lost to St. Louis 16-13 [OT])“How hilarious would it have been if Legatron had missed that field goal with 26 seconds left in OT? The thought of the same two teams playing to a tie TWICE in the same season would have been enough to make Donovan McNabb’s head explode…A measure of respect is due for the 49ers and Rams for trying to accomplish the impossible. Their attempt to make the tie fashionable again is something that we can all attempt to avoid in our own lives.”

December 6, 2012 (Preview of Week 14 game vs. Miami)“[The 49ers are] the only team I really feel good about picking even when they’re giving double-digit points.”

December 10, 2012 (Week 14: beat Miami 24-10)“Anybody else take an, ahem, active interest in how Colin Kaepernick’s last fourth-quarter run turned out? Given that I had picked the 49ers at -10.5, I was obviously standing up at the dinner table while clenching my fork with white knuckles and repeatedly shouting, ‘DON’T STOP AT THE ONE! DON’T STOP AT THE ONE!’ And he didn’t! Would it have technically been a smarter play to stop at the one, so that your team could just kneel out the rest of the clock and not worry about further injury to your players in meaningless action? Of course. But on behalf of all people who picked the Niners yesterday, I’d like to stand and salute Colin Kaepernick for his selfish decision to score the touchdown. Godspeed, buddy.”

December 14, 2012 (Preview of Week 15 game vs. New England)“Jim Harbaugh may be this decade’s great coach, following in the footsteps of [Bill] Belichick, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Vince Lombardi, and Paul Brown before him. Under his direction, 49ers players have rarely if ever looked flummoxed. They maintain outstanding discipline and almost never try to do something they’re incapable of. Like Belichick in the first half of last decade, Harbaugh has been excellent at drawing up novel concepts to play to his players’ strengths and putting them in a position where they can succeed.”

December 17, 2012 (Week 15: beat New England 41-34)“In a span of fourteen game minutes and sixteen seconds (and seemingly five minutes of actual time), New England turned a 31-3 deficit into a 31-31 tie and had ALL THE MOMENTUM IN THE WORLD and obviously Kaepernick was going to throw a pick and Brady would milk the clock down and score one last touchdown and the Patriots would have their greatest win of the- oh wait, LaMichael James just took that kickoff back sixty yards. Oh wait, Kaepernick just hit Michael Crabtree on a thirty-eight yard touchdown pass. Huh. San Francisco won anyway. WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE, GUYS? WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE????”

December 24, 2012 (Week 16: lost to Seattle 42-13)“Much like it seemed EVERYTHING bounced the 49ers’ way during the first 35 minutes of last week’s game at New England, virtually everything seemed to go against them last night, most notably on David Akers’ blocked field goal that bounced RIGHT TO Richard Sherman streaking in the opposite direction. In summary: let’s neither exalt the Seahawks too highly or bury the 49ers too emphatically in the next week or so, okay?”

January 2, 2013 (Postseason Preview)“On paper, this is as close to a bulletproof team as you’re going to find. You’ve known about Frank Gore for about five or six years now and you know that Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman are utterly terrifying and it’s nothing short of obscenity that they all play on the same defense. Now it looks like they’ve got a real quarterback – an inexperienced one, yes, but a real quarterback nonetheless…From where we are right now, the San Francisco 49ers look like the favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII.”

January 14, 2013 (Divisional Round: beat Green Bay 45-31)“Before we go any further, we must acknowledge that, yes, HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK. However, we must also acknowledge that HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK doesn’t happen if Dom Capers remotely trains his players against the possibility of the quarterback running. Now Dom’s a very good defensive coordinator, he has been for decades, he’s led the Packers to an above-average defense 3 out of the 4 years he’s been there – firing him over one game probably is an overreaction. But the fact that it’s even a question? Oh, man. It’s like the Packers just re-watched the game film from their Week 1 game against the Niners, got their blitzes all dialed in for Alex Smith, and tossed out the play at the end of the first half where Kaepernick gained 17 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. ‘Who? Kaeperdinck? Don’t think they’re gonna run that surprise play again, let’s just delete that play off the hard drive.'”

January 21, 2013 (NFC Championship: beat Atlanta 28-24): “It took me a long while to get on the 49ers’ bandwagon this year – you may remember a certain 6.9 win projection coming out from these parts around August that started looking ridiculous around late September – but it became clear around the midway point of the season that this was clearly the best team in the league if you disregarded the quarterback position. And given how well Alex Smith was playing before he got Wally Pipped by Colin Kaepernick in November, maybe they would have still made the Super Bowl without making the switch around Thanksgiving. But Kaepernick definitely lifts this team up a level with not only his speed (which is well-celebrated at this point) but also his ability to make strong throws into tight coverage. He made several such throws yesterday over the middle for critical first downs, throws that Smith was not often eager to make.”

Baltimore Ravens

July 24, 2012 (preseason preview): “The projection [of 7.7 wins] for the Ravens is probably a bit too pessimistic, but I can’t shake the feeling that last year was their big opportunity and they came up just a little short. They were finally able to get past the Steelers for the division title, taking advantage of an easier-than-average schedule, had a genuine chance at winning the Super Bowl in a year where there were no truly great teams (no, not even the Packers), and basically played the Patriots to a draw in a great AFC Championship game. Unfortunately, the Ravens were the team that had to lose. And now Terrell Suggs will largely be lost from a defense that has slipped from great to very good in the past few years and will likely slide down another level this year. Couple that with one of the toughest schedules in the league and improved teams in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and 2012 shapes up to be a year where Baltimore will truly have to earn its way back to the postseason.”

September 11, 2012 (Week 1: beat Cincinnati 44-13): “The Ravens’ plan to move towards a up-tempo, no-huddle attack offensively seemed fairly laughable in the preseason; after marching through Cincinnati’s defense with little resistance last night, however, no one’s laughing now. Hat tip, in particular, to Joe Flacco for making some phenomenal throws – in particular, the one in which he threaded the needle to Anquan Boldin 34 yards down the field while Boldin was sandwiched between two defenders.”

September 17, 2012 (Week 2: lost to Philadelphia 24-23)“As for the Ravens, it turns out you can probably shelve those Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly comparisons for their offense. Facing what looks to be a considerably better defense this week than the Bengals’ unit they faced last Monday night, Joe Flacco and Co. largely reverted to the form they’ve shown in years past: streaky periods of success mixed in with prolonged dry spells. The reason Sunday was the lack of success throwing to Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin: Rice only got 53 yards on ten targets (37 of which came on one play) and Boldin only picked seven yards on four targets. The Ravens struggled on third down as a result.”

September 20, 2012 (preview of Week 3 game against New England)“The normally mild-mannered Flacco had some scathing remarks for the officials following the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the Eagles. In particular, Joe took issue with the iffy Offensive Pass Interference call on Jacoby Jones in the fourth quarter that took a Ravens touchdown off the board. So if another bad call goes against the Ravens Sunday night, will Flacco try picking off the replacements one-by-one with his cannon? I was about to toss out the question of which quarterback in the NFL would be the best at murdering mass amounts of people simply by throwing a football at them. But, as it is with most quarterback discussions these days, the correct answer to that question is Aaron Rodgers and there’s not really any debate about it. Still, here’s hoping that Joe gets even slightly unhinged Sunday night!”

September 24, 2012 (Week 3: beat New England 31-30):  I’d like to start off by saying that Baltimore should be playing a marquee team on Sunday nights every week; when I eventually oust Roger Goodell, that will be the first change I make to the schedule. The following statement is one made with no research and may not actually be true, but I’ll say it anyway: no other franchise over the past five years has played more consistently entertaining games than the Edgar Allan Poes. They’re the perfect foil for any great team: they’re always ready to play, always prepared, always give max effort, and they’re good enough on both sides of the ball to hang around against any style of team but not dominant to the point where they can actually pull away. The result the past couple of weeks has been a couple of highly entertaining games involving the Ravens: a one-point loss to the Eagles and last night’s one-point win over the Patriots…Consider this a heartfelt thank-you, Baltimore, for always delivering in big games.”

October 3, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Joe Flacco has had the best start of his career and the Ravens’ offense is actually looking pretty high-powered for the first time since Vinny Testaverde was slinging passes around to the other Michael Jackson in 1996.”

October 8, 2012 (Week 5: beat Kansas City 9-6)“What an inspiring football game this was! Well done, guys. I don’t think Chiefs fans really understood what they were getting into when they cheered Matt Cassel’s concussion. IT’S BRADY QUINN COMING OFF THE BENCH. That’s no victory at all. Baltimore should be ashamed of themselves for only winning by three.”

October 18, 2012 (preview of Week 7 game vs. Houston)“You may have heard Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were both lost for the season this week due to injuries they suffered in last week’s victory over the Cowboys. You could make a strong case that Lewis is the greatest middle/inside linebacker of all-time, but his physical skills have diminished this season to the point where he was nothing more than an above-average player. Webb, on the other hand, had turned into a legitimate #1 corner this year and his presence on the field will be much harder to replace.”

October 22, 2012 (Week 7: lost to Houston 43-13)“One of the search engine terms that led some poor sap to this blog yesterday was the following question: “are the ravens teh (sic) same team houston played last year.” And what I think yesterday’s game proved rather emphatically, dear anonymous internet reader, is that no, they are not. At least, not on the road. The Ravens are now 1-2 away from home this season and the one win was an ugly-as-sin 9-6 squeaker over Kansas City that inspired the Arrowhead Stadium faithful to cheer Matt Cassel’s concussion. Joe Flacco and Co. are scoring 32.25 points per game at home so far and 15 on the road. If you want to widen the sample size and include last year’s road performance, remember that the Ravens tossed in some road stinkbombs last year as well in Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, and San Diego. Given their defense’s grave injury troubles and mediocre play even before the injuries set in, I’d say there’s some cause for concern here.”

November 7, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Baltimore mirrored their 3-1 record from the first quarter of the season, but looked considerably less impressive doing so; close wins over Kansas City, Dallas, and Cleveland were glossed over in the wake of an ugly blowout loss at Houston…As usual, however, the [AFC North] will ultimately be decided by the two Ravens-Steelers games coming up Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.”

November 16, 2012 (Preview of Week 11 game vs. Pittsburgh)“Like the Saints last year, the Ravens have been playing like Super Bowl contenders at home and a below-.500 team on the road. This is almost 100% the offense’s doing. At home, they’re averaging 36.8 points per game and an outstanding 6.77 yards per play (league average is 5.5). On the other hand, when they go on the road those averages dip to 17.5 points per game and 4.49 yards per play. That’s basically the equivalent of being the 2000 Rams at home and the 2011 Jaguars on the road.”

November 19, 2012 (Week 11: defeated Pittsburgh 13-10)“Meanwhile, Baltimore proved that scoring offensive touchdowns is highly overrated, as they rode Jacoby Jones’ punt return touchdown and two Justin Tucker field goals to victory. It was Jones’ third kick return touchdown of the season, an achievement that will make his eventual two muffed punts in the playoffs all the more painful. Is it possible that Baltimore may eventually have to find a way to score points offensively on the road in order to win in the playoffs? Perhaps. Is it more possible that they’ll poison Houston’s pre-game meal in the divisional round so that the Texans will be too, ahem, ‘occupied’ to focus on their actual opponent and the Ravens will never have to leave M&T Bank Stadium? I SAY YES.”

November 26, 2012 (Week 12: defeated San Diego 16-13 [OT])“RAY RICE!!! First of all, what on earth was Flacco thinking throwing a three-yard dumpoff on 4th-and-29? More importantly, what was going through Ray’s head at that point? ‘Oh, don’t you throw that ball to me, you know what crap I’m gonna have to pull to get that first down? Aw crap, Joe, you ARE going to stick me with this, aren’t you? Well, you’re not going to make me the scapegoat, you big Frankenstein. I’m gonna get this first down and then the pressure’ll be back on you, Flaccid Face.’ You heard it here first: Ray Rice converted that 4th-and-29 out of pure spite.”

December 5, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Baltimore kicked off the third quarter of the season with a 35-point blowout win over the Raiders, then played three-point games the rest of the way and relied on Ray Rice converting 4th-and-29s a bit too much for this reporter’s liking…the Ravens have the second-hardest remaining schedule in the league and will have no chance at a bye if they lose to Denver on Dec. 16.”

December 6, 2012 (Preview of Week 14 game vs. Redskins)“Joe Flacco is actually pretty mobile for a man his size but for all the world, whenever he runs, it never seems that way. Sometimes he’s able to make Drew Bledsoe retroactively look like Darren Sproles.”

December 10, 2012 (Week 14: lost to Washington 31-28 [OT])“Baltimore, on the other hand, is the master of playing almost EXACTLY to their opponents’ capabilities. This isn’t a particularly useful skill when you should be blowing out Kansas City and are instead needing a dubious roughing-the-passer penalty to get out of Arrowhead with a three-point win. But it IS useful when your next three games are against the Broncos, Giants, and Bengals. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh’s losses yesterday basically assure the AFC North title will go to Baltimore, which in turn likely assures us all that the Ravens will win one playoff game and then lose a heartbreaker in the second round.”

December 24, 2012 (Week 16: beat NY Giants 33-14)“The Ravens illustrated a truth about the Giants defense that has been apparent all season but rarely seen in practice: if you don’t turn the ball over against the Giants, you’ll be able to move the ball at will.”

January 2, 2013 (Postseason Preview)“The Ravens are the masters of winning a playoff game and then bowing out gracefully. Short of a climactic final scene getting added to the eventual #Chuckstrong movie Sunday, that once again seems to be the path Baltimore will venture on. Like Houston, they’re decent in everything, great in nothing (except special teams, so if there was any time for you to start returning two kickoffs for touchdowns a game, Jacoby Jones, THIS WOULD BE IT). Their chances are slightly better than the Texans simply because they’re more likely to win their Wild-Card game. After that? No bueno.”

January 7, 2013 (Wild-Card Round: beat Indianapolis 24-9): “Even though the Ravens were moving the ball at will against them yesterday, it always seemed like the Colts were going to pull one out again. Ray Rice was fumbling, Andrew Luck was hitting receivers five yards short of the marker but the receivers would run around like chickens with their heads cut off until they got the first down – it had all the hallmarks of a classic Colts win, really. I’m still shocked Baltimore won, I really am.”

January 10, 2013 (Preview of Divisional Round game against Denver)“You can never outright dismiss the Ravens – they’re one of the most well-coached and competitive teams in the league. But this year’s team isn’t one of their strongest – they have great special teams and ‘only’ above-average everywhere else. Against a Broncos team that looks like they’ve got things pretty well figured out, merely above-average probably isn’t going to cut it.”

January 14, 2013 (Divisional Round: beat Denver 38-35 [2OT])“Outside of a period in the second quarter where he went cold, Joe Flacco was outstanding. The below-zero wind chills clearly affected his arm far less than Peyton [Manning’s], who was off on virtually every throw outside the numbers all night. For Joe, on the other hand, it could probably be seventy below zero and he’d still probably be able to chuck it seventy yards. And if he was ever asked about the cold, he would probably just shrug his shoulders and reply with no hint of emotion on his face, ‘Huh. Yeah, I suppose it is.’ He’s a live wire, that Joe Flacco! Played really well on Saturday, though.”

January 18, 2013 (Preview of AFC Championship Game vs. New England)“The Ravens absolutely can win this game and, frankly, I’ll be rooting for them to do so – all this continued excellence and greatness out of New England gets really boring after a while. However, after being on the field for 87 plays from scrimmage against both the Colts and Broncos, I have to wonder how much gas the Baltimore defense will have left in the second half Sunday night… While on the one hand you get the sense that the Ravens can’t wind up being stuck as the AFC bridesmaid EVERY year…on the other, you can’t find enough good reasons to think that they won’t.”

January 21, 2013 (AFC Championship: beat New England 28-13): “How unlikely did the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances look three weeks ago? They’re not exactly the 2007 Giants, but there wasn’t too much statistical evidence supporting a theory that a 10-6 team that had lost four out of their last five games heading into the playoffs and were hovering right around league average on both sides of the ball would turn into the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. The eye test, unreliable as it can be on occasion, didn’t do the Ravens any favors, either. Outside of their opening week victory against the Bengals, Baltimore never played a game in which they truly looked like one of the best teams in the league and their disastrous performance in Houston in October seemed to indicate that the only way they’d ever make the Super Bowl would be if they somehow got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the beginning of the postseason, I gave Baltimore a 10% chance of making the Super Bowl and said they had the same shot at winning it all as a normal person does of developing hemorrhoids. I like to think that was what inspired them to upset Denver and New England and not anything Ray Lewis said or did.”

Conference Championship Power Rankings: There Are Other Harbaughs Too, You Know!

Welcome to the Conference Championship edition of Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron’s weekly NFL power rankings. To help us make sense of what happened during this last batch of NFL action, we’ve asked  former astronaut and current CEO of the Sigma Chi Foundation, Gregory Harbaugh, to share his thoughts with us below. Please enjoy.

Well, isn’t this POSITIVELY DELIGHTFUL? What an uplifting story to warm the COCKLES OF THE NATION’S COLLECTIVE HEART. Have you heard the great news, everybody? Have you heard it? The coaches of the two teams in the Super Bowl this year are BROTHERS. As in, they came from the same womb. Grew up together. In the same house and everything. Ate together, went to school together, and learned the intricacies of football together. WHO WOULD EVER BELIEVE BROTHERS WOULD HAVE THE SAME INTERESTS? And have I told you the best part of this news? These brothers both have the last name of HARBAUGH. Jim HARBAUGH and John HARBAUGH. They learned how to coach from their football coach dad, Jack HARBAUGH. And now these HARBAUGHS will be coaching against each other in the largest, most-watched entertainment event of the year. TREMENDOUS. Absolutely tremendous. I can’t hardly think of better bearers of the Harbaugh name to get hundreds of hours of free, around-the-clock publicity than two hyper-competitive control freaks who get paid millions of dollars to watch their team play a game. THIS IS EVERYTHING THAT IS RIGHT ABOUT AMERICA.

By now, I hope you realize that my tone to this point has been completely sarcastic and I do not actually mean anything I wrote in the previous paragraph. I am disgusted to my very core by the antics of these two UTTER DISGRACES to the Harbaugh name. A Ravens-49ers Super Bowl may be a boon to everyone who’s related to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh (What the heck? Who marries someone with that similar a first name? IDIOTS), but it’s just one big, old stinkfinger raised to everyone else who’s accomplished something in life under this last name. Like myself, for example. Does anyone give half a turd about what I’ve done in my life? Of course not! Because graduating from Purdue with a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, earning a commercial pilot’s license (with over 1600 hours of total flying time!), working at the Johnson Space Center for a decade, training to be an astronaut and flying into FREAKING OUTER SPACE to work on the Space Shuttle IN ADDITION to balancing all that with a wife and three kids and constructive hobbies like running and snow skiing are all CLEARLY things we should not be encouraging our children to emulate. That’s right. I’m the screw-up here.

Look, I get it. I understand football’s a fun escape for a lot of people. It’s easier to understand why a quarterback threw a pass or a receiver caught a ball than it is to understand how two new spectrometers were installed in the Hubble Space Telescope over a ten-day mission. That’s fine. But please. Don’t be foisting up your little physical activity time as the pinnacle of Western civilization just because you spend twenty hours a day trying to learn how to defend a screen pass. Just look at this quote John Harbaugh gave the other day:

I can’t even get my arms around it. My dad said something to me — my mom’s and dad’s parents are immigrants, salt-of-the-earth people. They treasure America; it’s meant everything to them, being here. I hope people can see what an incredible moment this is for our country. This is America, how hard work can get you to a moment like this. This is the greatness of America.

ABSOLUTELY, John. This right here? This little brother-against-brother matchup you’ve got going in your glorified YMCA event in a couple weeks? Yes, THIS is the greatest example we have ever seen of America’s true excellence at work. Everything the Founding Fathers did back in the 1700s? WORTHLESS. The work Abraham Lincoln put in to end slavery and piece a fractured country back together? I HEARD HE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY RUN A ZONE BLITZ. And, of course, all of my personal accomplishments don’t mean squat because, again, I ONLY WENT INTO FREAKING SPACE AS A FREAKING NASA ASTRONAUT AND SAW THE EARTH FROM A VANTAGE POINT ONLY .0000001% OF ALL HUMANS HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED. Nope, you and your little brother – who foams at the mouth whenever an official momentarily messes up a down-by-contact ruling – you two are the country’s best role models going forward. Unbelievable.

I’m telling you guys, there is no justice in the world. I mean, just type in my name into Google and see what comes up. That’s right – I don’t even get my own name all to myself! I have to share it with an estate planning and administration lawyer from Pittsburgh who, I’m sure, is a great guy and a fine lawyer but HOLY CRAP I’M GONNA PUNCH SOMEBODY IF HIS SITES DON’T GET OFF THE FIRST PAGE OF GOOGLE HITS. And look at this! I can’t even get the first freaking result when you type in my name on LinkedIn. Does Greg Harbaugh, president of FSK Consulting Group in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, seem even REMOTELY CAPABLE of leading the first docking mission with the Russian Space Station Mir? You look at that face and tell me there’s a snowball’s chance in hell! And gah! That lawyer from Pittsburgh’s ahead of me there, too! Un-freaking-believable. This day just keeps getting better and better.

So, obviously, the choice is clear, American parents: raising your son or daughter to be a hard-working, intelligent, space-walking lover of knowledge who grows up to be the president of a well-known non-profit foundation is NOT an acceptable outcome to the parenting process. No, what you want your kids to be are two homicidally competitive freaks who spend every waking moment of their lives focused on playing a kid’s game and making incoherent comments about gobbling turkeys. John and Jim Harbaugh are obviously the well-rounded, Renaissance men our society needs in order to stave off eventual invasion from the Chinese. BOW DOWN BEFORE THE HARBAUGHS AND THEIR IN-DEPTH KNOWLEDGE OF THE WEST COAST OFFENSE! They’re your rulers now. And they’re not going to stop until every man, woman and child in this country properly knows how to call an audible and read their pre-snap keys! THIS IS YOUR FUTURE, AMERICA. You’re all screwed. You hear me? SCREWED!!!!!

(Also, if someone out there wants to teach me about search engine optimization techniques, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m tired of seeing the Greg Harbaugh from Pittsburgh ahead of me on LinkedIn. Thank you.)

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Rather than post the numbers for all playoff teams and make the strikethrough function absolutely crazy with power, I’ll just post the figures for the four teams that played last weekend for kicks and giggles. Baltimore has obviously experienced the largest jump to their ratings during the postseason; their Adjusted Yards per Play Differential has jumped from 0.82 at the end of the regular season to 1.16 just three playoff games later. They’ve experienced a similar rise in Predictive Yards per Play efficiency as well, jumping from approximately 1.20 to 1.43. And the improvement has occurred on both sides of the ball, as well: their offensive rating was approximately 2.96 at the end of the regular season, it’s now 3.10 three games later. And once you factor in the lower variance inherent in the defensive PY/P rating, the Ravens’ defensive improvement has been almost as impressive (1.75 after Week 17 to 1.67 currently). As you can see from the rankings below, they will still be considered underdogs to the 49ers twelve days from now, but it’s clear that they’ll be going into that game trending firmly upward.

Adjusted Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a descriptive metric that is designed to give an accurate representation of how each team has played thus far.

  1. San Francisco2.05 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. New England1.35 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  3. Baltimore1.16 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  4. Atlanta0.61 (Final regular season ranking: 10)

Offensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 5.00)

  1. San Francisco6.29 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  2. New England6.08 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  3. Atlanta5.91 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  4. Baltimore5.65 (Final regular season ranking: 12)

Defensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 5.00)

  1. San Francisco4.24 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  2. Baltimore4.49 (Final regular season ranking: 11)
  3. New England4.73 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  4. Atlanta5.31 (Final regular season ranking: 18)

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.995419): a metric which doesn’t give as large a penalty or bonus to turnovers or touchdowns, will also take into account strength of schedule and will (theoretically) better able to predict future performance. This metric uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play. For example, because offensive performance is much more consistent from week-to-week than defensive performance, offensive play is more highly prioritized in these rankings.

  1. San Francisco1.980884 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. New England1.440214 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  3. Baltimore1.433378 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  4. Atlanta1.221527 (Final regular season ranking: 17)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 2.851036)

  1. San Francisco: 3.475387 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  2. New England: 3.347754 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  3. Atlanta: 3.255194 (Final regular season ranking: 13)
  4. Baltimore: 3.099683 (Final regular season ranking: 14)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 1.855616)

  1. San Francisco1.494502 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  2. Baltimore1.666305 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  3. New England1.907539 (Final regular season ranking: 20)
  4. Atlanta2.033668 (Final regular season ranking: 24)

Conference Championship Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2012-13 NFL Conference Championships…

San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.90 – San Francisco, 6.70 – Atlanta
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 28.78, Atlanta 31.59
Quick Thoughts:
1. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for Matt Ryan yesterday. The result ended up being a San Francisco victory after Atlanta scored the first 17 points of the game, thereby becoming the greatest comeback in NFC Championship history and likely further tainting the Falcons’ already-poisoned postseason image for the considerable future. And as someone who has hated the Falcons’ guts in the past and will likely hate their guts in the future, I will admit to being more than amenable to yesterday’s outcome. The problem is, as the face of the franchise, Ryan will likely bear much of the blame for the loss, particularly from the Atlanta fans who have never quite forgiven him for not being as exciting as Michael Vick. This would be an acceptable scapegoat election if Ryan hadn’t played the best game of his life or something close to it yesterday, but he did. His one major mistake was dropping the perfect shotgun snap from his center and subsequently getting out-wrestled for the ball by Aldon Smith when Atlanta was driving in San Francisco territory in the third quarter. Rex Grossman was snickering at that.
2. Outside of that play, however, Ryan carved up one of the two or three best defenses in the league to the tune of 396 yards, 9.21 Net Yards per Attempt, three touchdowns and one interception that occurred when Roddy White fell down. Julio Jones’ second touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone required some amazing leaping and body control, but he would never have had a chance to make that great catch if Ryan hadn’t thrown him open. The Falcons ultimately came up short on their last real drive of the game, but they would never have gotten close if Ryan hadn’t made several tight, contested throws for first downs. San Francisco just played phenomenal pass defense.
3. The bigger issue was that, because Ryan had fumbled that snap away in the third quarter, the Falcons needed more than a field goal to win. And as we covered in the NFC Championship preview Thursday, if you had to bet your life on one home team coming through with a game-winning field goal on the last drive of the game, it would be the Falcons. I’m positive that 70% of their practice time during the week is devoted just to those situations. So if Ryan holds onto that snap like a normal person, Atlanta probably gets at least a field goal out of the drive and thus would only need a field goal at the end of the game. That’s shooting fish in a barrel for them. But a four-point deficit? HOLD UP NOW WE GOT SOME REAL ISSUES HERE.
4. And, of course, the biggest reason the Falcons lost was because they couldn’t remotely slow down the 49ers after their first two possessions. The jerseys and helmets may have looked different, but the outcome was largely the same for Atlanta’s defense as it was last week against the Seahawks. Seven days after Marshawn Lynch ran through gaping holes in the Falcons interior and Russell Wilson tore up their secondary on corner routes to his tight end (Zach Miller), so too did Frank Gore run through gaping holes in the Falcons interior and Colin Kaepernick tear up their secondary on corner routes to his tight end (Vernon Davis). Moral victory for the Falcons: they held Kaepernick to 159 fewer rushing yards than what he gained against the Packers. And moral victories always count for so much once you reach the NFC Championship.

5. It took me a long while to get on the 49ers’ bandwagon this year – you may remember a certain 6.9 win projection coming out from these parts around August that started looking ridiculous around late September – but it became clear around the midway point of the season that this was clearly the best team in the league if you disregarded the quarterback position. And given how well Alex Smith was playing before he got Wally Pipped by Colin Kaepernick in November, maybe they would have still made the Super Bowl without making the switch around Thanksgiving. But Kaepernick definitely lifts this team up a level with not only his speed (which is well-celebrated at this point) but also his ability to make strong throws into tight coverage. He made several such throws yesterday over the middle for critical first downs, throws that Smith was not often eager to make. To win the Super Bowl, you have to consistently complete passes over the middle. Ryan’s last incompletion to Roddy White in the fourth quarter illustrated that truth in a heartbreaking way for Atlanta.

Baltimore 28, New England 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.14 – Baltimore, 3.76 – New England
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 31.14, New England 22.02
Quick Thoughts:
1. The AFC Championship preview on Friday made a big deal about how Baltimore seems to be the only team in the AFC that can beat New England without receiving a lot of help from the Patriots along the way. Well, there’s no question that Baltimore earned its way to the Super Bowl yesterday – Anquan Boldin made everybody remember why he’s one of the greatest receivers who has never, EVER created separation on a route in the history of the league and the Ravens’ defense was prepared from the start for the Pats’ lightning-fast no-huddle offense. There’s also no question that they received a lot of help from the Patriots as well. The Ravens’ shocking blowout win over the Pats in January of 2010 was obviously a worse performance overall, but I can’t remember another time where New England just flat out bungled so many game management situations. Why did they punt TWICE from inside the Ravens’ 35-yard line? Yes, 4th-and-7 and 4th-and-8 are tough first downs to pick up, but they’re the freaking Patriots. If any team in the league should feel that they can pick up eight yards on command, it should be them. Sending out Zoltan Mesko from the 35-yard line is a Mike Tomlin move, Bill! YOU OF ALL PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN THAT!!
2. Game Management Bungling, Part Two: what exactly was Tom Brady thinking at the end of the first half when he had approximately sixteen seconds and one timeout left? Wouldn’t an experienced field general such as himself find it useful to take that last timeout and throw a couple heaves into the end zone just for the heck of it, rather than half-heartedly bringing his team up to the line and standing around idly for three seconds? Just because the Seahawks got burned last week by taking their last timeout doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you! Even Phil Simms was calling Brady out for that. That’s like Ed McMahon testifying against Johnny Carson at a murder trial (sorry, couldn’t come up with a less dated reference).
3. Okay, enough of the Patriots. They made things considerably harder on themselves by dropping passes and missing wide-open receivers, but the Ravens ended up putting together one of the best defensive performances New England had faced all year. Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd wound up with 153 receiving yards combined, but it took 28 pass attempts for the two of them to get there. Before the Curse of Bernard Karmell Pollard struck in the fourth quarter, Stevan Ridley and the rest of his running mates were running at a decent clip and wound up with over 100 yards at approximately four yards per carry, but no Patriot running back had a longer run than nine yards. Outside of the Wes Welker 36-yard catch in the fourth quarter, the longest play the Pats had from scrimmage was 17 yards. The Ravens were outstanding at keeping everything in front of them and not getting burned by big plays, thus proving that conservative yet fundamentally sound defenses can be effective even against the best ball-control offenses in the NFL.
4. How unlikely did the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances look three weeks ago? They’re not exactly the 2007 Giants, but there wasn’t too much statistical evidence supporting a theory that a 10-6 team that had lost four out of their last five games heading into the playoffs and were hovering right around league average on both sides of the ball would turn into the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. The eye test, unreliable as it can be on occasion, didn’t do the Ravens any favors, either. Outside of their opening week victory against the Bengals, Baltimore never played a game in which they truly looked like one of the best teams in the league and their disastrous performance in Houston in October seemed to indicate that the only way they’d ever make the Super Bowl would be if they somehow got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the beginning of the postseason, I gave Baltimore a 10% chance of making the Super Bowl and said they had the same shot at winning it all as a normal person does of developing hemorrhoids. I like to think that was what inspired them to upset Denver and New England and not anything Ray Lewis said or did.
5. And, finally…get ready for approximately 356,000,000,000,000,000 HarBowl references over the next two weeks.

2013 AFC Championship Preview: Ravens at Patriots

314  #4 Baltimore Ravens (AFC North Champion)

  • 2012 Record: 12-6 (defeated Indianapolis 24-9 in Wild-Card Round and Denver 38-35 in 2OT in Divisional Round)
  • Regular Season Point Differential: +54 (11th)
  • Strength of Schedule-0.5 PPG (17th)
  • Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.07 (12th)
  • Defensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 1.71 (8th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 6.3 (15th)
  • Yards per Carry: 4.3 (12th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.1 (16th)
  • Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.0 (8th)
  • Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 1 (Haloti Ngata)
  • Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium

#2 New England Patriots (AFC East Champion)

nfl-patriots-logo

  • 2012 Record: 13-4 (defeated Houston 41-28 in Divisional Round)
  • Regular Season Point Differential: +226 (1st)
  • Strength of Schedule-1.4 PPG (26th)
  • Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.37 (4th)
  • Defensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 1.89 (19th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 7.0 (6th)
  • Yards per Carry: 4.2 (17th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.9 (27th)
  • Yards per Carry Allowed: 3.9 (6th)
  • Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 3 (Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins)
  • Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium

5:30 P.M. Sunday, January 20th, CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Steve Tasker, Solomon Wilcots)

Now that Peyton Manning’s no longer in Indianapolis and the Jets have self-destructed offensively the past two years, doesn’t it feel like the Ravens are the only AFC team right now who can really beat the Patriots? Obviously, this is currently true in a literal sense: they’re the only other team in the conference that hasn’t been eliminated from the playoffs yet. And if Rahim Moore hadn’t completely lost all sense of time and space last weekend, I would probably be talking myself into Denver as a slight, very slight favorite over New England for the AFC Championship. But that would have been based almost solely on my analysis of the numbers, not on how I’ve seen each team play with my own eyes. Even though it’s been eight years since the Pats won a Super Bowl, it still seems like there’s an aura of invincibility surrounding them at all times. Whenever they lose, it always feels the cause was more related to wounds they inflicted upon themselves – Tom Brady strangely throwing four interceptions in Buffalo, Zoltan Mesko horrifically crapping the bed against the Cardinals, the whole team forgetting that Cleveland does in fact still have a franchise – than damage sprung on them by the opposition. Currently, fourteen out of the other fifteen teams in the AFC are no real bother to the Patriots: if they perform up to their capabilities or even just close to them, they will win the game. Period.

For whatever reason, the Ravens are the exception. It’s not even to say that they have the Patriots’ number: they’re still only 2-4 against them over the past six years. But going back to that memorable 2007 Monday Night game in Baltimore, all of those losses have been incredibly close games that the Ravens were able to turn into virtual tossups, which is a feat in and of itself against Darth Hoodie and Mr. Bundchen and Co. In that 2007 game, the Ravens were only 4-7 going in yet still led most of the game until some highly dubious defensive penalties helped the Patriots keep their undefeated regular season alive. In their 2009 regular season meeting in Foxborough, the Ravens lost by six when Mark Clayton dropped a sure first down throw from Joe Flacco inside the Patriots’ ten-yard line with 32 seconds left. They led by ten in the fourth quarter in their 2010 contest, only to see the Patriots come back to tie the game in regulation and kick a game-winning field goal with two minutes left in overtime. And of course, you may remember them being a competent Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff away from respectively winning/tying the AFC Championship last year.

They finally broke the string of rotten luck against the Pats earlier this year in one of the most entertaining regular season games in recent memory. And it’s worth noting that the only blowout in the series since John Harbaugh became Baltimore’s head coach in 2008 was the Ravens’ 33-14 shellacking of the Pats in Foxborough in the 2009 playoffs in a game whose first quarter may have been the most shocking I have ever seen. Ray Rice ran untouched for an 83-yard touchdown on the game’s first play, Tom Brady committed three turnovers deep in New England’s end of the field, and by the time fifteen minutes had past Gillette Stadium was doing its best to make a library seem raucous by comparison. The Ravens led 24-0 at the end of the first quarter and were never seriously threatened the rest of the way despite only 34 passing yards from Flacco. It remains Brady’s worst playoff performance by a wide margin: he went 23-of-42 for only 154 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a lost fumble.

What is it about the Ravens that gives the Patriots such trouble? They’ve obviously had an excellent defense over the past five years, but it’s never quite resembled the fearsome monster it was in 2000, 2004, and 2006. Joe Flacco is reliably above-average and Ray Rice is possibly the best all-around running back in the league (note that I’m not saying “best OVERALL back,” Adrian!), but…well, I mean, THOSE are the two guys you’re going to rely on to outscore Tom Brady? On paper, there’s not a whole lot of reason to think that Baltimore should be consistently able to play the Patriots to virtual tie games. So the only logical conclusion I’m left with, then, is that John Harbaugh must be one heck of a coach. I know he’s highly regarded as it is, but consider that the Ravens have won at least one playoff game in each of his five seasons as head coach and that he’s repeatedly gone up against Bill Belichick with inferior talent and consistently turned the contest into a draw. That tells me he has to be considered one of the best game-planning head coaches in the league, right? God bless his brother for what he’s done in San Francisco, but John deserves every bit the amount of credit that Jim does.

And that’s why, even though they’ll once again go into Foxborough as the less talented club, the Ravens will likely make this a close game. And they have a real shot to win because Joe Flacco has been outstanding in the playoffs thus far and, in a development only less slightly less miraculous than the Lakers’ joyous decline this season, Bryant McKinnie has been dusted off after an entire season on the shelf and performed impeccably in his first action all year at left tackle. I can’t emphasize enough how crazy this is. The go-to punchline for fat and out-of-shape offensive linemen is now holding Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil sackless in regulation football games? The Harbaughs are miracle workers. Anyway, McKinnie’s work protecting Flacco’s blind side has shifted Michael Oher back to the position he’s more suited for (no matter what Michael Lewis says), right tackle. Combine that with getting Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda back from injury and suddenly the Ravens have gashing huge holes in the defenses of the Colts (not terribly impressive, but still commendable) and the Broncos (MUCH, MUCH MORE IMPRESSIVE). Will the offensive line be able to do the same thing against Vince Wilfork and the stout Patriots’ run defense? The crucial time of possession battle will largely hinge on the answer to that question.

For the most part this season, Flacco has been terrible on the road, which is what made his performance against the excellent Broncos defense last week even more impressive. Not only was he hitting Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on deep bomb plays (that’s always been his forte), but he was also make accurate throws into tight windows in the middle of the field. That’ll be the most important aspect of the Ravens’ offense again on Sunday against the Patriots. They’ll likely hit a few big plays over the top over the course of the game, but Flacco needs to sustain that accuracy on intermediate routes in order to sustain drives and score touchdowns, not field goals. Three points isn’t a great deal of help when the opponent is a serious threat to get seven every time they touch the ball.

The Ravens absolutely can win this game and, frankly, I’ll be rooting for them to do so – all this continued excellence and greatness out of New England gets really boring after a while. However, after being on the field for 87 plays from scrimmage against both the Colts and Broncos, I have to wonder how much gas the Baltimore defense will have left in the second half Sunday night. Even with an extra day off to recover, the combined effect of such a heavy back-to-back workload – with one of those games coming at mile-high altitude – has to have some sort of effect. And the Patriots only possess the single worst possible matchup for a tired defense. When he senses blood in the water, Tom Brady orchestrates the Patriots’ offense so quickly and efficiently that Stevan Ridley or Aaron Hernandez or Shane Vereen or whoever is usually running into the end zone standing up before the defense can figure out what’s happening.

Given the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots scoring less than 30 points on Sunday – okay, it’s tough imagining them scoring fewer than 30 points in any given game, but even more so with this one. As we saw last week, Joe Flacco IS capable of leading his team to 30+ points on the road. Is it particularly likely to occur in back-to-back weeks, however? The unfortunate answer for Ravens fans is probably not. If the past meetings between these two teams are any indication, we’re likely in for a classic game Sunday night. And while on the one hand you get the sense that the Ravens can’t wind up being stuck as the AFC bridesmaid EVERY year…on the other, you can’t find enough good reasons to think that they won’t.

Projected Final Score: New England Patriots 31, Baltimore Ravens 24

Team to Bet On If Gambling Were Legal: Ravens (+8)

2013 NFC Championship Preview: 49ers at Falcons

San-Francisco-49ers-Logo

#2 San Francisco 49ers (NFC West Champion)

  • 2012 Record: 12-4-1 (defeated Green Bay 45-31 in Divisional Round)
  • Regular Season Point Differential:+124 (4th)
  • Strength of Schedule+2.5 PPG (4th)
  • Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.44 (2nd)
  • Defensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 1.45 (2nd)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 6.9 (8th)
  • Yards per Carry: 5.1 (3rd)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 5.3 (3rd)
  • Yards per Carry Allowed: 3.7 (3rd)
  • Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 4 (Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Navorro Bowman)
  • Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium

#1 Atlanta Falcons (NFC South Champion)

299

  • 2012 Record: 14-3 (defeated Seattle 30-28 in Divisional Round)
  • Regular Season Point Differential: +120 (5th)
  • Strength of Schedule-1.1 PPG (t-21st)
  • Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.15 (9th)
  • Defensive PY/P Rating2.01 (24th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 7.0 (4th)
  • Yards per Carry: 3.7 (29th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.7 (22nd)
  • Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.8 (29th)
  • Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 0
  • Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium

2:00 P.M. Sunday, January 20th, FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Erin Andrews)

The last time the 49ers and Falcons played was Week 4 of the 2010 season in a game that served as a portent of each team’s general fortune the remainder of the year. The 49ers leapt out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter behind an Alex Smith touchdown throw to Vernon Davis and Taylor Mays recovering a blocked punt in the end zone on one of the coolest special teams plays you’ll ever see (seriously, if you don’t remember it, go watch it again. It’s easily the greatest moment of Taylor Mays’ NFL career. The second-greatest moment is the day he got drafted and the third-greatest is that one day he showed up to practice on time. There is no fourth-greatest moment.).

But they struggled mightily to move the ball after that and allowed Atlanta to crawl back within one and give themselves a chance to win late in the fourth quarter. On Atlanta’s final drive, Nate Clements picked off Matt Ryan in what should have been a game-sealing interception and what would have been a game-sealing interception if Nate had just gone to the ground. Nate didn’t go to the ground. Instead, he tried to take it back to the house, which wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if he had endeavored to make ball security his number one priority. Unfortunately, he did not endeavor to make ball security his number one priority. Roddy White caught him from behind and swatted the ball out of his hand and Harvey Dahl recovered the ball for the Falcons at their own seven, giving them new life. And at this point I think we’re all familiar enough with the Falcons’ magical ability to get into game-winning field goal position at the end of games to know how this one turned out. Matt Bryant kicked a 43-yard field goal and the Falcons won 16-14 to send them to 3-1 and eventually 13-3. The 49ers dropped to 0-4 on their way to a bitterly disappointing 6-10 record and Mike Singletary’s eventual ouster. Things have worked out okay for them since then.

Whether it be that 2010 game driven by White’s semi-miraculous forced fumble or last week’s snatching of victory from the jaws of Seahawk defeat after nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Atlanta has become borderline legendary for their ability to pull out close games since Mike Smith and Matt Ryan came to town in 2008. In a development that likely surprises no one, they own more home victories with a winning margin between one and six points than any other team in the past five years. But does that make them the true kings of greased-teeing it (Please refer back to the Wild-Card Quick Thoughts post for further definition of the term “greased-teeing”)? Remember, the Falcons have been a very good team overall over the past five years, so it would be natural for them to be near the top of the leaderboard in just about any wins statistic. So put it this way: over the past five years, the average NFL team has had about 34% of its home wins come by margins of one to six points. The Falcons have won 47% of their home games during that time span by a margin somewhere in that span – a high figure, but slightly lower than the Bears’ and Cardinals’ 48% figures and WAY below the Jaguars’ 71% figure. Apparently, you aren’t allowed to win a home game at EverBank Field by a comfortable margin.

So while the Falcons obviously have a strong history in close games at home, that home-field advantage doesn’t appear to be as overwhelming when you consider overall team quality over the past five years. Yes, Atlanta has won a lot of nailbiters at home; they’ve also won a lot of games on the road during the Obama administration’s tenure, too. They’re just a good team in general that gets a bit of a boost from playing in the Georgia Dome but nothing that a superior opponent couldn’t overcome.

And that looks like a problem for Atlanta’s chances Sunday, because by just about any measure San Francisco is a superior opponent. The Falcons were unexpectedly great running the ball with Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers last week against Seattle and the 49ers were uncharacteristically sloppy in run defense against DuJuan Harris, allowing 6.5 yards per carry in their eventual victory against Green Bay. Compared to their play the rest of the season, however, both of those performances were massive aberrations, however. The Falcons were one of the five worst teams in the league when they tried to run the ball and the 49ers were one of the five best at stopping the run. San Francisco DID have the most trouble this season facing big backs similar to Michael Turner’s build (i.e. Marshawn Lynch, Steven Jackson, and Adrian Peterson, although who didn’t have trouble against Adrian Peterson?). In all likelihood, however, running the ball will probably be a bit of a dead end for the Falcons and it will be almost entirely up to Matt Ryan and Co. to put up offense.

And they’ll likely be successful, at least to some extent. Roddy White and Julio Jones provide Ryan with what is probably the best combo of #1 and #2 receivers in the league – even Seattle’s big, physical corner tandem of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner had major problems matching up with the elite route running of White and the sheer size and speed of Jones. San Francisco’s starters, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, both had excellent seasons once again this year, but they’ll run into similar disadvantages Sherman and Browner faced on Sunday. The matchup the entire game may key on, however, is Tony Gonzalez against Patrick Willis and/or Navorro Bowman. It’s one of the most fascinating one-on-one matchups of the entire season and one that Atlanta absolutely has to win if they’re going to move on to the Super Bowl. Gonzalez is so crucial to Ryan’s success on third downs and in the red zone and remains such a master of body control and establishing position that he’s still relatively uncoverable despite his diminished speed. On the other hand, Willis and Bowman might be the two best inside linebackers in the league – is it not just a LITTLE BIT unfair that they play on the same defense? We’ll see who gets the assignment to cover Gonzalez Sunday – normally Willis draws man coverage duties, with Bowman playing a middle zone around him – but whoever draws the short straw will be tasked with blowing up the absolute key for Atlanta’s offensive success.

And if Gonzalez doesn’t have a big game for the Falcons offensively, they may be in big trouble. My assumption is Mike Nolan will not repeat the Dom Capers method of defending Colin Kaepernick’s running ability – that is, completely ignoring it. But even if Atlanta effectively slows down Kaepernick as a runner (and given that they gave up 202 combined rushing yards to Cam Newton in their two matchups with the Panthers, that’s a big “if”), there’s little reason to think they can shut down Frank Gore and the rest of the San Francisco power running game that annihilated Green Bay in the fourth quarter and has been punching huge holes in opposing defenses all season long.

The tale when Kaepernick throws the ball isn’t likely to be much better. Jim Harbaugh had to be drooling with glee watching Russell Wilson tear up the Falcons’ secondary in the second half last week with repeated corner route combinations fifteen-to-twenty yards down the field – those same route combinations are some of Harbaugh’s favorites and have been used extensively by the Niners throughout this entire season. Kaepernick may not be as polished a passer as Wilson yet, but he’s certainly shown in games against the Bears and Patriots that he can make those same throws with ease. Nolan has come up with some truly zany defensive schemes this season, including sending defensive end Kroy Biermann back deep as a free safety, and if he’s able to abjectly bewilder Kaepernick a handful of times, we saw last week on Sam Shields’ pick-six that Kaepernick isn’t above throwing some EXTREMELY QUESTIONABLE passes. If the Falcons can’t force multiple turnovers, however, it’s going to be a long afternoon.

You can’t count the Falcons out at home. If you do, you run the risk of them going thirty yards in eleven seconds and kicking a game-winning field goal or Roddy White running you down from behind and forcing a fumble that sets up a game-winning field goal or Arthur Blank running onto the field wearing only his boxers and picking off a pass that sets up a game-winning field goal or any other zany scenario that sets up a game-winning field goal. They’re really good at those. Like last week, however, they face an opponent that is clearly better than them – and, unlike last week, this opponent doesn’t have an Achilles’ heel in run defense. The 49ers have come a long, LONG way since that game in the Georgia Dome two years ago: they now have a defense that is fully living up to its potential and an offense that, quite unexpectedly, has become one of the most versatile and explosive in the league. Simply put, San Francisco has far more avenues to victory than Atlanta and, as has been the case since October, remains SSLYAR’s pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I reserve the right to change that pick, however, if the score is tied with thirty seconds left in the game.

Projected Final Score: San Francisco 49ers 27, Atlanta Falcons 21

Team to Bet On If Gambling Were Legal: 49ers (+4)

Divisional Round Power Rankings: I Just Hope We Can Win a Game!

Welcome to the Divisional Round edition of Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron’s weekly NFL power rankings. To help us make sense of what happened during this last batch of NFL action, we’ve asked former NFL coach and current NFL Network analyst Jim Mora to share his thoughts with us below. Please enjoy.

Well, I’ll start off my remarks by saying this: I’m sure there are a lot of wiseacres and a bunch of Chuckling Chesters out there who are doubting my credentials as a PLAYOFFS? analyst and saying to themselves, “Hey, what’s old man Mora doing lecturing us on PLAYOFF? keys to success? He never even won a PLAYOFF? game! He’s probably still wandering around the Superdome turf looking for Bobby Hebert’s jockstrap!” Well, Brian Baldinger, I’ll have you know that I gave up my search for Bobby’s lost treasure of youth a full decade and a half ago and have completely made my peace with that decision! Furthermore, I’d like to remind all you naysayers that there’s only one person talking right now who won 125 games in the National Football League and immortalized himself through a series of ornery yet ultimately lovable quotes as an irascible curmudgeon. As I told the waitress at Steak ‘N Shake the other day after my Double ‘N Cheese Steakburger came back chillier than Marion Campbell’s disposition: you don’t know when it’s good or bad. You really don’t know, because you don’t know what I’m trying to do, you’re not trying to eat this sandwich. You don’t know what happened. You really don’t know. You think you know, but you don’t know. And you never will. That’s why I got kicked out of Steak ‘N Shake and that’s why I’m talking to you about PLAYOFFS? today.

Believe me, though, regrets? OF COURSE I HAVE REGRETS. Don’t talk to me about regrets! I had one of the greatest collections of linebacking talent any single team has ever had on the Saints. Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson – you ask anyone, all great players, all great guys, all great shuffleboard players. Of course, I’m naturally stuck in the NFC West at the same time as Joe Montana and Steve Young’s peaks when I’m trying to compete with Steve Walsh and John Fourcade as my quarterbacks. You kiddin’ me? Then my fortunes flip around and I get young Peyton Manning as my quarterback in Indianapolis, young Edgerrin James as my running back, and young Marvin Harrison as my #1 receiver. I’m thanking my lucky stars for a reprieve from the horsestuff and malarkey I was saddled with in New Orleans. Then our defense diddly-poos the bed one year and I refuse to fire Vic Fangio as my defensive coordinator – a guy who’s having just A LITTLE BIT OF SUCCESS in San Francisco right now – and that’s that. All she wrote for old Jimmy. I tried to live vicariously through my son’s coaching career for a few years, but it became apparent pretty quickly that not a whole lot of the coaching talent passed on in that parent/child exchange. The boy sure does know how to grill a portobello mushroom, though, I give him that.

You know me, though. I’m not gonna say, “I coulda done this. Let me do this over and I woulda done that. Maybe I shoulda avoided kneeling on every play in the second halves of playoff games that my team led.” Nope. The good coaches don’t come in and say, “Coulda.” They get it done! All right? It’s that simple! Now allow me to rank the remaining PLAYOFF? teams for you all as rated by my patented Diddly-Poo Meter. This trusty invention of mine works equally well when you’re trying to sniff out leftover doggy goodies in your local park (a key component of my rise to the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award back in 2003) and when you’re looking around for a secret stench in an NFL organization. And by “secret stench,” I of course am referring to stenches of the metaphorical type. If you’re looking for a literal stench, the team bathrooms are obviously a good starting place – especially if it’s enchilada day at the cafeteria. Let’s just dive right into this outhouse, shall we?

New England Patriots. Tom Brady reminds me a lot of that smiling, pretty-boy pain-in-the-keester from my coaching days, Joe Montana. Joe was a pure rat fink. Ninety percent of the time, he’d get the ball out within three or five steps and not let you get any real chance at wringing that little chicken neck of his. But then that last ten percent, it was like he was messing with you. He’d scramble around and obviously he wouldn’t go very far because he was slower than Morten Anderson but he’d always twist away at the last second and flick a thirty-yard pass off to Jerry Rice. It was like he would just toy with you out there. God, I hated that guy. Diddly-Poo Meter: 1.5 out of 10 (Clean as a Whistle)

San Francisco 49ers. See, Jim Irsay? This is why I told you I wasn’t going to fire Vic Fangio after 2001. Give him a little bit of talent to work with and he’s going to mold a defense into a top-five unit. Buddy Ryan himself couldn’t have done anything with Chad Cota and Idrees Bashir stuck as his safeties. By the end of that season, I was just hoping we could force an incomplete pass. Diddly-Poo Meter: 2 out of 10 (No Colon Troubles Here, Colonel)

Baltimore Ravens. I’m proud of that kid, the Flacco. People give him a lot of horsestuff and malarkey for not being as good as Johnny Unitas or Peyton Manning. Of course he’s not as good as Johnny or Peyton! Those are two of the most boring guys I ever met – both football machines. Couldn’t have any sort of discussion about politics or music with either of them. You don’t want to be a robot, do you, Joe? I didn’t think so! Anyway, I like this team but the fact of the matter is they wouldn’t be here if that Denver free safety doesn’t have his head up his butt on that long throw at the end of the game. That angle he took to the ball had me vomiting in my living room. Of course, that could also be due to the flu bug I caught last week – it’s really spreading far and wide, ain’t it? Diddly-Poo Meter: 4.5 out of 10 (A Faint Sniff of Desperation)

Atlanta Falcons. Look, I’ve got no respect for the way they handled themselves after scooping their bacon out of the fire at the last second Sunday. After they won that game, they jumped up and down and giggled and cried like they were little schoolgirls just asked out to the spring formal by Joey Travabotsky. All for winning a game! And this is the team that’s supposed to be the #1 seed in the conference and march down to the Super Bowl with no problems? What a disgrace. You didn’t see me celebrating like that after any of my PLAYOFF? games! Diddly-Poo Meter: 7 out of 10 (Holy Crap, That Thing’s About to Blow)

So if the Diddly-Poo Meter is to be trusted – and there’s no reason not to, other than the lack of scientific testing and strange warts it applies to your skin if you hold it too firmly – I’d say we’re looking at Patriots-49ers in the Super Bowl a few weeks from now. These are two teams with strong identities and few noticeable weaknesses. There’s no Wade Wilson at quarterback or an aging Chad Bratzke masquerading as your best defender – nope, just two balanced teams that could win with just about ANY coach at the helm. *sighs* I’m gonna go back to work on that time machine Rick Venturi was telling me about and see if there’s still some way to transplant Peyton Manning back into 1987. There just has to be…THERE JUST HAS TO BE…

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Once again, here’s the updated power rankings of the remaining playoff teams (with all eliminated teams denoted with the exceptionally-fun-to-use strikethrough function). Baltimore has been the most impressive team in both metrics in each of the first two weeks of the postseason; their win over Denver made their rating almost equal to the Broncos, an impressive feat considering how far ahead Denver was coming into the playoffs. San Francisco is the other big winner in both metrics this week.

Adjusted Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a descriptive metric that is designed to give an accurate representation of how each team has played thus far.

  1. San Francisco2.12 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. Seattle1.70 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  3. New England1.59 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  4. Denver1.24 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  5. Baltimore1.08 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  6. Washington: 0.97 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  7. Houston0.90 (Final regular season ranking: 7)
  8. Atlanta0.68 (Final regular season ranking: 10)
  9. Green Bay0.60 (Final regular season ranking: 8)
  10. Cincinnati0.54 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  11. Minnesota-0.09 (Final regular season ranking: 15)
  12. Indianapolis-1.59 (Final regular season ranking: 30)

Offensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 4.99)

  1. Washington: 6.24 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. New England6.23 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  3. San Francisco6.21 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  4. Atlanta5.86 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  5. Seattle5.84 (Final regular season ranking: 7)
  6. Green Bay5.73 (Final regular season ranking: 8)
  7. Baltimore5.62 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  8. Denver5.50 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  9. Houston5.49 (Final regular season ranking: 11)
  10. Minnesota4.87 (Final regular season ranking: 15)
  11. Cincinnati4.73 (Final regular season ranking: 17)
  12. Indianapolis4.64 (Final regular season ranking: 19)

Defensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 4.99)

  1. San Francisco4.09 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  2. Seattle4.14 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  3. Cincinnati4.19 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  4. Denver4.26 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  5. Baltimore4.54 (Final regular season ranking: 11)
  6. Houston4.60 (Final regular season ranking: 8)
  7. New England4.64 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  8. Minnesota4.95 (Final regular season ranking: 16)
  9. Green Bay5.13 (Final regular season ranking: 15)
  10. Atlanta5.18 (Final regular season ranking: 18)
  11. Washington5.28 (Final regular season ranking: 22)
  12. Indianapolis6.22 (Final regular season ranking: 31)

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.994197): a metric which doesn’t give as large a penalty or bonus to turnovers or touchdowns, will also take into account strength of schedule and will (theoretically) better able to predict future performance. This metric uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play. For example, because offensive performance is much more consistent from week-to-week than defensive performance, offensive play is more highly prioritized in these rankings.

  1. San Francisco1.986312 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. Seattle1.87382 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  3. New England1.476964 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  4. Green Bay1.422286 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  5. Denver1.388711 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  6. Baltimore1.361961 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  7. Washington1.309908 (Final regular season ranking: 7)
  8. Minnesota1.24276 (Final regular season ranking: 11)
  9. Houston1.141174 (Final regular season ranking: 16)
  10. Atlanta1.140645 (Final regular season ranking: 17)
  11. Cincinnati0.923978 (Final regular season ranking: 19)
  12. Indianapolis0.263978 (Final regular season ranking: 31)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 2.847355)

  1. San Francisco: 3.440079 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  2. Seattle: 3.43701 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  3. New England: 3.370899 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  4. Washington: 3.336472 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  5. Green Bay: 3.221276 (Final regular season ranking: 7)
  6. Atlanta: 3.147389 (Final regular season ranking: 13)
  7. Baltimore: 3.072787 (Final regular season ranking: 14)
  8. Denver: 3.000000 (Final regular season ranking: 11)
  9. Minnesota: 2.949878 (Final regular season ranking: 15)
  10. Houston: 2.876786 (Final regular season ranking: 18)
  11. Cincinnati: 2.696806 (Final regular season ranking: 20)
  12. Indianapolis: 2.549182 (Final regular season ranking: 24)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 1.853158)

  1. San Francisco1.453767 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  2. Seattle1.563191 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  3. Denver1.611289 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  4. Minnesota1.707118 (Final regular season ranking: 8)
  5. Baltimore1.710826 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  6. Houston1.735612 (Final regular season ranking: 10)
  7. Cincinnati: 1.772828 (Final regular season ranking: 13)
  8. Green Bay1.798991 (Final regular season ranking 11)
  9. New England1.893935 (Final regular season ranking: 20)
  10. Atlanta2.006744 (Final regular season ranking: 24)
  11. Washington2.026564 (Final regular season ranking: 25)
  12. Indianapolis2.285204 (Final regular season ranking: 32)

Divisional Round Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2012-13 NFL Divisional Playoffs…

Baltimore 38, Denver 35 (2OT)
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.88 – Baltimore, 3.66 – Denver
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 36.37, Denver 22.74
Quick Thoughts:
1. Photographed above is the exact moment Ravens-Broncos jumped a level from “Great Playoff Game That Will Probably End Up Being Forgotten in a Few Years” to “All-Time Classic NFL Game” – and it’s all because the spirit of Madieu Williams invaded Rahim Moore’s body at a most inopportune time for Denver. The Broncos defense brain-farted their way through most of the game – Champ Bailey forgot on numerous occasions that Torrey Smith is fast, Elvis Dumervil jumped offsides approximately thirty-seven times, etc. – but no defensive cranial flatulence was more damaging (and ultimately more entertaining) than Moore’s strange insistence on guarding an area of the field twenty-five yards off the line of scrimmage even after Jacoby Jones was flying past him. Even Adam Archuleta was yelling at the screen, “YOU’VE GOT TO GET BACK IN COVERAGE, RAHIM!!” before allowing his mailman to steal his television. So on the one hand: you blew it, Rahim. You really, really blew it. On the other hand, you can’t really have an all-time classic game without one or two crazy plays that should never, EVER happen. So in a way, we should all be thanking Rahim right now for his dedication to providing enthralling endings for NFL audiences. Even you, Broncos fans. Okay, maybe not just yet…
2. It was thrown about thirty miles an hour slower and on two healthy legs instead of one, but other than that, Peyton Manning’s back-breaking interception across his body late in the first overtime was pretty freaking similar to Brett Favre’s back-breaking interception across his body in the 2009-10 NFC Championship Game against the Saints. I consider myself a pretty big Peyton Manning fan, but if this unfortunate turn of events is going to lead to him retiring every March and then groveling to un-retire every August and give emotionally fragile quotes to Peter King over beers at his new summer home in Mississippi…I’m sorry, Peyton, this is where I get off.

3. Outside of a period in the second quarter where he went cold, Joe Flacco was outstanding. The below-zero wind chills clearly affected his arm far less than Peyton’s, who was off on virtually every throw outside the numbers all night. For Joe, on the other hand, it could probably be seventy below zero and he’d still probably be able to chuck it seventy yards. And if he was ever asked about the cold, he would probably just shrug his shoulders and reply with no hint of emotion on his face, “Huh. Yeah, I suppose it is.” He’s a live wire, that Joe Flacco! Played really well on Saturday, though.

Atlanta 30, Seattle 28
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.34 – Atlanta, 7.21 – Seattle
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Atlanta 27.62, Seattle 33.99
Quick Thoughts:
1. The ending to this game struck a deep nerve within my soul and hit on what I think is the real reason I hate the Atlanta Falcons: I’m still bitter over what they did to the Bears in 2008. That game, you may remember, was the time Kyle Orton hit Rashied Davis with a touchdown pass with eleven seconds remaining to give the Bears the lead. No team can possibly blow a game with eleven seconds left, right? Well, a short kickoff, a twenty-six yard pass to Michael Jenkins, and a 48-yard field goal by Jason Elam later, the Bears proved that, yes, it is indeed possible. I like to think that started the proud and not-annoying-at-all tradition of the Falcons pulling games out of their keesters that they had no business winning – as a Bears fan, I take 100% of the blame for that occurring, fellow NFL fans. What the Falcons were able to do with 31 seconds left yesterday was mere child’s play by comparison.
2. I know it’s a big deal for Tony Gonzalez for finally get a playoff win after all these years in the league. But the rest of the Falcons have no excuse for their Super Bowl-level giddiness after Matt Bryant saved them from what would have been one of the worst collapses of all time – a collapse so bad, they would never have been able to be taken seriously again. Why the hell were Matt Ryan and Arthur Blank fondling each other with looks of pure joy on their faces on the sideline? Do they not know they still have to win two more games or did the fact that they’d lost every playoff game prior to this lead them to believe that there’s only ONE postseason game per team, period? If I escaped with a last-second victory after blowing a twenty-point fourth quarter lead, I would look like I’d just made it out alive after marching fifty miles through the heart of ‘Nam with poop in my pants. The expression we’re going for here, gentlemen, is relief.

3. Russell Wilson is really good. I don’t particularly blame him for the sack at the end of the first half that ruined both the Seahawks’ chance at points and ultimately their shot at victory – Jonathan Babineaux was on him almost instantaneously and if he tries to get rid of the ball after he’s in Babineaux’s grasp, then it’s intentional grounding and a ten-second runoff and the half’s over, anyway. I take more issue with the Seahawks’ fourth-down play call on the prior series – running the fullback up the middle with no sort of deception or misdirection against a defense that has its ears COMPLETELY PINNED BACK against the run up the gut? I ain’t got a good feeling about that, Muddy.

San Francisco 45, Green Bay 31
Adjusted Yards per Play: 8.72 – San Francisco, 6.55 – Green Bay
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 46.71, Green Bay 26.20
Quick Thoughts:
1. Before we go any further, we must acknowledge that, yes, HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK. However, we must also acknowledge that HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK doesn’t happen if Dom Capers remotely trains his players against the possibility of the quarterback running. Now Dom’s a very good defensive coordinator, he has been for decades, he’s led the Packers to an above-average defense 3 out of the 4 years he’s been there – firing him over one game probably is an overreaction. But the fact that it’s even a question? Oh, man. It’s like the Packers just re-watched the game film from their Week 1 game against the Niners, got their blitzes all dialed in for Alex Smith, and tossed out the play at the end of the first half where Kaepernick gained 17 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. “Who? Kaeperdinck? Don’t think they’re gonna run that surprise play again, let’s just delete that play off the hard drive.”
2. Sorry, this needs two whole paragraphs. Even in the fourth quarter, even after Kaepernick had already run for over 150 yards and set the NFL record for most single-game rushing yards by a QB – even after all that, Erik Walden and Clay Matthews were STILL completely baffled whenever Kaepernick pulled the ball back from Frank Gore or LaMichael James or whoever and just ran around the end. CLAY MATTHEWS, one of the three or four best outside linebackers on the planet, got turned around THREE TIMES on one Kaepernick read option. And it’s not like they were even slowing down the 49er running backs – take away Kaepernick’s carries and the 49ers still ran for over five yards per carry. All in all, this has to be one of the most poorly gameplanned defensive showings in playoff history. …*thinking*…Actually, on second thought, maybe Dom does deserve to be fired.

3. We heard a lot last week about this being Aaron Rodgers’ first trip to Candlestick Park and how he was going to throw out an “EFF YOU” performance to the hometown team that snubbed him first overall all those years ago. Taking nothing away from Rodgers – he’s likely going to end up as one of the top twenty quarterbacks of all time, minimum – I just don’t think it’s that simple in football for one player, even the most important player, to completely take over a game. Simmons in particular gets this idea stuck in his head based on what he’s seen out of Jordan and Bird in basketball and tries to transplant that idea to other sports when, the reality is, there have only been a handful of guys in basketball that have been able to completely enforce their will over a game. And that’s in the easiest sport possible for one player to control play. In football, even the most important player (the quarterback, for those of you unclear on who I’m talking about) is only going to meaningfully touch the ball about 35-40 times a game – and even then, there are 21 other players on the field who realistically can alter the whims of that alpha dog dramatically (somewhere, Peyton Manning is shaking his head sadly). I swear I’m not trying to slight you, Aaron, I’m really not. Although I must say, I always thought you’d be taller in real life…

New England 41, Houston 28
Adjusted Yards per Play: 8.57 – New England, 5.87 – Houston
AY/P Projected Point Totals: New England 39.79, Houston 31.45
Quick Thoughts: 
1. This was by far the most boring and uneventful game of the weekend, so my thoughts on this won’t run as long as the others. I must say, however, that for some reason I just don’t find myself that impressed with the Patriots offense anymore. And I know that’s crazy talk because look at how many points they’ve scored this year (598 in 17 games) and how efficient they were yesterday (8.57 Adjusted Yards per Play = PRETTY GOOD), but still. It feels like Brady’s missing more throws and Welker’s dropping more passes these days, even if that isn’t actually the case. Have I simply become immune to the continued excellence of the Patriots organization and take their historically good offensive prowess for granted? Perhaps. All in all, though, the 2007 and 2010 Patriots offenses scared the poo out of me and this year’s edition seems eminently beatable. We’ll see if the Harbaugh brothers agree.
2. If there ees anyone out there who ees not excited for two more geemes of Pheel Seemms announceeng, I weell find heem, I weell talk to heem and I weell explain hees merits to heem. Because when you can get points on the board by challenging a play, you should probably do eet.

3. GRONK FOUR ARM SMASH! OH NO! GRONK FORGET FOUR ARM STILL WRAPPED IN ARM CONDOM. STILL BRING MUCH PAIN WHEN NOT ON FOOTBALL FIELD AND TRYING TO TALK TO PRETTY LADIES. NOW GRONK CANNOT CATCH PASS FROM GISELE HUSBAND OR WRESTLE WITH J.J.! GRONK FOUR ARM HURT.