NFL Playoffs: Championship Weekend Roundtable
By Josh Hill
It’s Championship Weekend in the NFL, and just because the Bucs are on the outside looking in for another year doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the postseason as pure football fans. We here at The Pewter Plank took a moment to sit down and talk about what we think will happen this weekend and who will still be standing when the smoke has cleared on Championship Weekend and we finally have out last two teams standing in the 2012 NFL season.
1. We’re down the the NFL’s Final Four. What has been the most memorable moment of the playoffs up to this point? What’s been the worst?
Josh Hill: For me, the most memorable moment is a tie between the Ravens win over the Broncos and the Seahawks failed comeback against the Falcons. I’m not picking on Atlanta because I’m a Bucs fan, but rather next to the Ravens comeback against the Broncos, the Seahawks nearly pulled off a miracle. They were down and out and somehow came storming back to almost pull it off. However, the Ravens did pull their comeback off and Manning’s across the body throw brought back memories of Brett Favre doing something similar against the Saints.
The worst moment for me as a Bucs fan was watching matt Ryan comeback in under 30 second to get the win for the Falcons, but as a football fan it was seeing RGIII get injured. As a Bulls fan, ACL injuries are still really raw to me and I know how much they devastate a franchise. RGIII is something special to the whole league and seeing that happen was just infuriating and deflating.
Leo Howell: The most memorable moment has to be the Jacoby Jones stroll into the end zone to tie the game for the Ravens. I feel like this is the easy, obvious, and yet still absolutely correct answer. The sight of Rahim Moore flailing for the ball and Jones waiting for it is certainly the most memorable image for me. The worst moment was a tie between the awful coaching at the end of the Seahawks/Falcons game and RGIII’s injury and the chaos that ensued afterwards. In both cases, the games generated plenty of discussion, and my Twitter timeline was exploding with armchair quarterbacking (I was guilty, as well).
2. The first game features the Falcons and 49ers. Atlanta has already (barely) beaten a mobile quarterback in Russell Wilson. Did this properly prepare them for Colin Kaepernick or will Kap end up getting the best of the Falcons?
JH: I’d have to say the Falcons get eaten alive by Kaepernick. Russell Wilson figured them out late in the game last Sunday and in my opinion, Kaepernick is a few steps above Wilson in terms of talent. Plus, the 49ers defense is just nasty to deal with and they’re going to want to erase all those points they’ve been giving up lately. The Falcons defense almost imploded last week and while they’ll want to prove something this week, they’re doing it against the wrong quarterback.
LH: I am one of the biggest supporters of the Kaeptain, and I don’t think the Falcons are going to be able to contain him. His ability to read the defensive end on the read option and his speed once he gets into open field make him far more of a threat than Wilson was. I don’t think the Falcons can truly prepare for the 49ers, because NFL teams have proven that they don’t have the discipline to properly defend the read option when it’s executed correctly. Oh, and Kaepernick isn’t a bad passer of the ball, either.
3. As Bucs fans, do you guys really want to see the Falcons in the Super Bowl, or is about NFC South pride at this point?
JH: I hate the Falcons. The only NFC South pride I have is Bucs pride.
LH: I have no interest in the Falcons winning the Super Bowl. I don’t like them, plan and simple. I rooted for the Saints a few years back because of the Katrina situation, but since then, I have resumed my disdain for the 3 division opponents.
4. If there’s one way each of these two teams can win the NFC Championship, what is it?
JH: Atlanta needs to rattle Kaepernick consistently. The Packer got to him early but then got out of his way and we all saw how quickly this young man can regain his confidence. The Falcons need to play coverage first and run second, as if they’ll need to slowly make Kaepernick one-dimensional. Take away his arm and force him to run, which affords you change to rough him up a bit and rattle him physically.
The 49ers just need to bring the heat on Matt Ryan and make him think way too long about his decisions. The Bucs were able to pressure Ryan during the last game of the season, and the result was great for Tampa. Granted, the Falcons weren’t playing all-out, but it showed that if you can slip through the cracks and get to Ryan, he’ll get thrown off his game and in the NFC title game, you only need to throw a guy off for a few crucial drives and all of a sudden you’re in control. And c’mon, if the Bucs can do, surely the 49ers can figure it out.
LH: For the Falcons, they have to force turnovers. They’re not going to be able to consistently stop the 49ers, and will need extra possessions to make sure they score enough points against the stingy Niners defense. For the 49ers, the key is to limit the big plays. Michael Turner will not be able to run against them in the same way he did against the Seahawks, so the Falcons will turn to the passing game. San Fran needs to keep Juilo and Roddy in front of them at all times to ensure victory.
5. New England and Baltimore met last season and it was a kicker’s leg that made up the difference. If the game comes down to the Ravens kicker (this time Justin Tucker) do you think the pressure from last year will affect him?
JH: Tucker is one of these new guys that are just insane at kicking the ball and he’s not going to cower in a big spot like that. If the game comes down to it, Tucker will be able to hit it from 25 yards with general ease. However, what he afford the Ravens that Cundiff didn’t, is range. The Ravens literally had to get as close as they could fir Cundiff to shank the kick. With Tucker, the Ravens can get to the 40 yard line and trot him out with confidence that he’ll his from 50-plus.
LH: Justin Tucker has ice water flowing through every vein. He had a very confident swagger about him when taking the game winner in overtime last week, and that’s the exact opposite of the impression you get from Billy Cundiff. I think Tucker is going to be one of the best kickers in the game for a long time, and if he gets the chance to put his name on the map with a big kick to go to the Super Bowl, it’s going right down the middle.
6. Is Tom Brady unstoppable in the AFC Playoffs?
JH: I’ll quote Kevin Greene for my answer: do baby’s fart?
LH: Yes. Yes he is.
7. Joe Flacco seems to be the new Eli Manning in that he’s a guy everyone is claiming isn’t clutch or elite. If he fails again this season to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl, what will that mean for his status as an elite QB?
JH: I’m still not sure what to think of Flacco, but a comparison to the old Eli isn’t a bad one to make. I want to say “well if he can get some good targets downfield” but I can’t, we all saw what he did last week. When Flacco decided he’s going to come out and ball, he balls hard. Those deep passes against the Broncos were things of beauty, but at the same time he’s capable of over thinking as well. That’s when you see him get sacked or try to throw a ball that just isn’t going to be caught. He’s a gunslinger, he’s not afraid to get the ball out of his hands, which is a major problem people have with him. If he can find a good balance between his throws and giving the ball to Ray Rice, in a few years we’ll be talking about another guy saying “Is he what Joe Flacco used to be?” the same way we’re talking about Eli.
LH: I think Flacco has proven that he’s fully capable of being very, very good some of the time. I mentioned on Twitter last weekend that he’s the realization of everything Rex Grossman could have been. Flacco has a huge arm and can make some big time throws with it, but he’s still a very streaky player. Much like Grossman, some days Flacco just doesn’t have it, and while Flacco certainly has a lot more good and a lot less bad than Sexy Rexy did, I think Flacco has the potential to be great or the potential to be awful at any given time.
8. If there’s a key for both these teams to winning the AFC title, what is it?
JH: Baltimore can’t allow the Patriots to run the ball. Earlier this year when the beat the Patriots 31-30, they held New England to 77 yards on the ground. It’s January football and even when Tom Brady is your quarterback, running the ball is the easiest way to control a cold weather game. Stopping the run game doesn’t guarantee a win, because after all you’re forcing the ball into Tom Brady’s more than capable hands, but you sort of even the playing field in a way.
For New England, they need to make Joe Flacco really uncomfortable and jam his receivers at the line. They can’t allow Jacoby Jones or Torrey Smith to get lose down the field, because Flacco showed he can get the ball to them in that situation. If the Patriots force this game to be won by Ray Rice, New England is going to yet another Super Bowl. If guys like Aqib Talib let them down (which he’s probably going to do) and allow Smith and others to get lose deep down the field, we might not need to see Jsutin Tucker come out to win the game, it’ll already be won.
LH: For the Ravens, they need to score. It’s a super simple thing to say, but it’s true. Drives that would stall out and turn into a punt need to be stretched into field goals. Drives that would have ended in field goals need to stretch into touchdowns. They’re going to have to score points to win, even if the Pats offense is slowed down a bit by Ray Lewis and company.
For the Pats, they need to absolutely bombard Joe Flacco. If Flacco is taken out of his comfort zone, he’s going to struggle, and there is no way that Ray Rice alone can carry the Ravens’ offense. Especially considering the fact that Bernard Peirce winds up on the field far more often than he should be. If the Patriots can get into Flacco’s grill, they’ll probably run away with the game
9. Alright, what’s your Super Bowl prediction: are we getting a Harbaugh Bowl, will the Falcons finally make it to the promised land? Who’s going to play in Super Bowl XLVII?
JH: I think somehow the 49ers pull it out in Atlanta and the Ravens exorcise those demons from last year and the sports media finally gets it’s pre-packaged Harbaugh Bowl.
LH: I’m actually calling for 2 blowouts. I have the 49ers winning by 17+ and the Patriots winning by 21+.
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