No Saints, No Packers… Who Are Our Favourites?


After eight games in the playoffs we’ve already seen the two biggest backed teams eliminated, Tebow pull a shock and then capitulate and another reworking of “the catch”. It’s been an exciting journey so far, with the Broncos-Steelers clash and the Niners-Saints games likely to be talked about in the bracket of all time classic playoff clashes. But with the Packers and Saints slumped on sofas in Green Bay and New Orleans which team deserves to inherit the favourites label. Mark Payne analyses the four remaining teams in the playoffs and rates their chances of lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy.

AFC Championship Game

The Patriots cruised past the Broncos and had all but booked their place in this matchup by the time the first quarter had concluded. The Ravens too had few overcoming rookie quarterback TJ Yates on their way to this clash.

The Ravens defence features all-pro, bona fide NFL superstars in Ngata, Reed, Lewis and Suggs and has long been one of the leagues most consistent units. I’m have my doubts over whether they can cover Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker this week though. With Rice’s ability to pop up in the receiving game as well as on the ground he is the key to the offence. The problem for the Ravens is that far too much of their quality play is reliant on him. Cam Cameron drew criticism during the Ravens regular season defeat against the Jacksonville Jaguars for not getting the ball to him enough as they collapsed to one of the most shocking defeats of the 2011 NFL season. If the Patriots shut down Rice then it’s tough to imagine the Ravens pulling out the win.

Another concern for the Ravens will be the locker room divide that Ed Reed exposed following their victory last week. Apparently the divide between Ravens offensive and defensive units is growing strong and pressure is building on Joe Flacco to pull out a big performance. The Ravens do have a passing game with Boldin and Torrey Smith but I feel that Flacco is due another bad game. The Patriots will come out on top in this one.

NFC Championship Game

While the AFC has gone with the form book the two teams unfancied outfits have made their way to the NFC championship game. Both teams will now feel that it is their year and both have strong claims to the crown. Eli Manning has entered January mode and his receiving corps of Nicks, Cruz and Manningham is finally being complimented by a strong running game. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have looked very impressive in the last three weeks but they face the leagues elite runstoppers in the Niners defence. If Willis and Bowman come out on top in this clash they will force the Giants to throw the ball more frequently into a backfield that is now garnering as much praise as their front seven. The Giants own defensive unit is very impressive and if the likes of Pierre Paul, Umenyiora and Tuck can pressurise Alex Smith they can make his passing game collapse. However, I think the Niners offensive line and their special teams unit will help them win out in what is expected to be a muddy Candlestick park. With Andy Lee’s punts landing inside the red zone from all over the field the Giants may struggle to move the ball. Also if the O-line can stop the pass rush and get Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter into the secondary and Aldon and Justin Smith perform like they did last week they will win with ease. However, if the pitch is not too boggy the Giants elite receivers and quarterback hold a small advantage.

Favourites?

For me the NFC offers the teams most likely to win the superbowl. The 49ers and the Giants both have the ability to beat the Ravens and the Patriots in the big one. They have defences that can limit top passers enough to enable their own offences to challenge. If the Ravens weren’t infighting heading into the AFC championship they would be a real contenders but that coupled with their reliance on Ray Rice puts them in the bottom place on my list. That being said, for anyone of these teams, two more victories will see them lift the Vince Lombardi. All of them still have the ability to do that and as they say in the NFL, “the game is not played on paper anyone can win on any given Sunday.”

Mark’s Picks

1 San Francisco 49ers
2 New York Giants
3 New England Patriots
4 Baltimore Ravens

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