Monday, January 16, 2012

And then there were three?

Why yes, there are just three meaningful football games left on the schedule in the NFL. Think back to the "Offseason of Discontent," and given that there was so much angst about a season possibly being missed, the 2011 season produced plenty of highs and lows to go around. Personally, I am sad there are just 3 games worth watching left. Let's look at them, shall we?

NFC - NY Giants at San Francisco

This should be a dynamite game. The Giants are rolling, and loaded with confidence after going into Lambeau and taking the Packers out. Green Bay was not sharp, perhaps the byproduct of the first round bye, but that is supposed to help teams, not hurt them. The Giants were unaffected by the surroundings, the elements, and most of all, the Packers defense.

Waiting for the G-Men in California, a 49ers team that has gone through a ridiculous turnaround. A year ago, they couldn't get out of their own way. In fact, they were one of Carolina's two victims in 2010. Enter Jim Harbaugh and a new attitude, and the 49ers were a scary team. Lots of detractors felt the 49ers were a paper division champion given the NFC West's lack of strength, but they certainly answered the bell against New Orleans, knocking the Saints out of the playoffs with their 36-32 win. That game, incidentally, has to qualify as one of the most incredible games in NFL playoff history.

Given the improved play of Alex Smith, and a defense that has been better than average all year long, what you have is a confident team that feels they can beat anyone. I am not sure, however, the Giants will comply.

This NFC title game will be a battle, but give me the Giants by a field goal late. if you like offense, this might not be the game for you. This should be a great game, with New York winning it 17-14.

AFC - Baltimore at New England

Give Baltimore credit for a wonderful effort against a Houston Texans team that would not quit. Houston never blinked, and only Baltimore's defense kept the Texans from advancing to this round. TJ Yates did not have his best game, but he is to be applauded for a darn good year. Entering the season as the #3 QB on their depth chart, he responded when injuries cost the Texans Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. A couple bad throws coupled with an opportunistic Ravens defense just proved to be a little much.

Meanwhile, New England was dialed in, and treated Denver about as rudely as you possibly can in a playoff game. Tom Brady threw for 6 TD's, and the Patriot defense never allowed Tim Tebow to breath, let alone get comfortable in the pocket. Not much more needs to be said about the Patriots win. It was complete. It was convincing.

Baltimore has to go on the road and face the Patriots for the AFC crown, and I have to lean with the home team in this one. Baltimore says nothing is wrong with safety Ed Reed's ankle, or foot (injured at the end of their win over Houston), and they better be right. The Ravens need all hands on deck to knock off the Pats, but I'm not sure they have enough hands. Give me the Pats 30-17.

One last thing. While I disagreed with UNC Head Coach Roy Williams pulling his team from the bench area with 14 seconds to play against Florida State, I understand why he did. Granted, had Carolina won that game, security would not be an issue. A couple things are in play here. First, why does the visiting coach have to fear for the safety of his team? Second, why are arenas set up to have the teams crossing one another? These are simple questions, but questions that should be addressed. It doesn't happen often, but often enough that a ranked team gets beaten on the road, causing students to rush the court. Security measures should be in place to protect the visitors. In no way would I suggest students shouldn't rush the floor--it's part of the college experience (provided they do so to celebrate, and not pick fights with the players which is uber-stupid).

In the end, Williams did the right thing in regard to safety, and that is most important. Handshakes can take place afterwards near the dressing room areas. Keeping players from getting injured by fans that get carried away is the most important thing.

Mike Solarte

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