NFL playoffs: No upset picks in the conference championships

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 19, 2013 

This is week 20 of the NFL season. And is still playing.

I picked against the Falcons last week and was disappointed Seattle didn’t win. I want to win. If I picked an evil and corrupt country to beat a courteous and upstanding country in, say, soccer, and the evil country lost, I’d be disappointed. That’s why I don’t pick soccer.

Yet when I saw Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez fall to the ground and cry after the victory, I felt good for the Falcons. Gonzalez, who turns 37 next month, had never won a playoff game. He was 0-5. He caught the 19-yard pass that set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal, and Gonzalez finally got to experience a playoff victory.

Fans, in turn, experienced a great weekend of football.

Last week: I went 2-2.

Playoffs: I’m 5-3.

Lock: I said Denver, a 9 1/2-point favorite, would fail to cover. The Broncos did not. They didn’t win, either. The game was a gem.

Playoffs: I’m 2-0 in Locks, the lone game I guarantee against the spread. If you go back to the regular season, I’ve picked four straight.

I know what you’re going to say – human beings don’t defy the odds four consecutive weeks. I don’t know what to tell you, except that I don’t want to make a big deal out of my sustained excellence.

Upsets: I missed Seattle-Atlanta, and am 0-2 in playoff upsets. With only two games this week, I don’t feel compelled to find one.

Sunday’s game, with the home team in bold:

San Francisco 33, Atlanta 26

There is much to like about the Falcons. But they lack something. If not for their final drive, their fourth-quarter performance against Seattle would have been one of the greatest chokes in the history of chokes. They led 27-7 going into the final quarter, and then gave up 21 straight points.

How entertaining and effective is San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick? Five quarterbacks were selected in front of Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. They are Cam Newton, who went to Carolina with the first pick; Jake Locker, 8; Blaine Gabbert 10; Christian Ponder, 12; Andy Dalton, 35.

Kaepernick went 36th. How high would you take him now? Would he be the third quarterback on the board, behind Newton and Dalton? Would he be second? Or would you take him first?

I’d take Newton in front of Kaepernick. I might take Kaepernick in front of Dalton.

The Falcons struggled against Newton twice this season and, once Seattle’s Russell Wilson stopped being a rookie last week, they struggled against him.

Their aversion to mobile quarterbacks will continue. The 49ers are favored by four. They win by seven and are my Lock of the Week.

New England 34, Baltimore 30

New England and Baltimore played for the AFC championship last season. The Patriots led by three with 11 seconds to go. Baltimore attempted a 32-yard field goal. Superior coaching by Bill Belichick forced the Ravens to miss it.

Many of us consider Belichick the best coach in football. But I don’t think his brilliance, or his hoodie, influenced the kick by Billy Cundiff.

If Cundiff plays for New England, however, the kick probably is good. Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have sustained excellence longer than any coach and quarterback in recent history, and that won’t change Sunday.

Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis will attract enormous attention for being Ray Lewis, Brady will take some vicious hits, the game will be closer – the Patriots are favored by nine – than most think.

And New England will win.

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