1. San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons (+3.5)
The 49ers roll into Atlanta after a record breaking performance by Colin Kaepernick. The Falcons struggle against running quarterbacks which means Kaepernick could have another big day.
It seems like Jim Harbaugh is always ahead of his opponents and I don’t expect that to change this weekend. Look for the Falcons to spy Kaepernick and focus on stopping the run. The 49ers should counter with spread looks and some play action passes to Vernon Davis.
Offensively, the Falcons need to score quickly. The 49ers will stick to the running game, but there will be a sense of urgency if the Falcons get up early. I expect the Falcons to put pressure on the 49ers’ secondary, particularly with Julio Jones and Roddy White.
The Packers were not prepared for Kaepernick. They relied on man coverage and allowed him to get to the edge. The Falcons will play disciplined zone defense and force Kaepernick to make throws into tight windows.
I think this game is pretty much a coin flip. It’s easy for a young QB to run when there are wide open lanes. It’s much harder to make clutch, accurate throws. This game will go down to the wire.
Straight Up: 49ers
Spread: Falcons (+3.5)
2. Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots (-9)
I’m sick of people claiming Joe Flacco isn’t a “clutch” quarterback. Last year, he hit Lee Evans in stride to seal the AFC Championship, but Evans dropped it. In reality, Flacco is a mediocre regular season QB, but a playoff stud.
Ray Rice and the Ravens need to run the ball to keep some semblance of balance. Anquan Boldin has been on fire, and he should exploit a young New England secondary.
Offensively, expect the Patriots to expose mismatches in the Ravens linebacking core (including Ray Lewis). Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead should be isolated, and will look to use speed to their advantage.
Don’t chalk this up as an easy Patriots win. This should be a classic.
Of course, there is a slim chance Ray Lewis goes out on a blow-out loss.
Straight up: Patriots
Spread: Ravens (+9)