So here it is. The cream has been cropped and we're just down to 4. These aren't the 4 many people expecting even though 3 of them were in this position this time last year.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, 8PM
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ ATLANTA FALCONS
Well, the Niners proved themselves last week, making the not to be joked at Packers look laughably bad at times. In the end, strong Defence was only part of the battle; THIS was the Colin Kaepernick show. Let's all slow down though before we get swept up, after all, CK's done this to us before. Remember that dominant performance on national tv against the Bears? Well he followed that up with some less impressive road trips to New Orleans and St. Louis (losing the latter one). This is another road trip to a dome for a still untested QB. Kaepernick obviously has a lot of talent, he's proved he is going to be a star for the future, but he still has a lot of hurdles to overcome, and tonight will be his biggest test yet. Atlanta meanwhile must be pinching themselves. After letting themselves lose the game in the final quarter against the young, plucky (and sorely missed - R.I.P for another year) Seahawks, somehow, someway, the 'Hawks found a way to do one better (or worse) and let themselves lose in the dying seconds. It was as if no one wanted to win the game because they feared the Niners too much. Well suffice to say, on last week's performances, you'd think the Niners have a trip to New Orleans wrapped already. But last week was last week. Atlanta will ride a lot of confidence in their first Matt Ryan playoff win and through 3 quarters of very solid play. If anyone has the capability of shutting down the Falcons' options, it is the Niners, but that shouldn't count out the Falcons; The Niners, like basically everyone else, have been inconsistent this year. The team with the best record is the Falcons, and yet they did it with an easy schedule and with impressing exactly no-one. What I'm saying is, though because of D and the emerging triple-run threat of Gore, Kaepernick and James gives them a fantastic advantage, it's pretty much impossible to really know what's going to happen. The Niners know this from losing at home to the Giants last year. This was proved last weekend, and that has gone on record as being one of the most exciting Divisional Round weekends in NFL history. (SF by 4-5)
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, 11:30PM
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Though I'm looking forward to watching the above game with my Niners supporting pal (and very much rooting for them as my 2nd choice of Superbowl winner) I will also be slowly stressing out over this. Everyone (including me) thought Baltimore would be D.O.A last week. I didn't even watch the first half of the game so sure was I that we'd be blown out, only to return home to find out that not only we were very much alive, but the momentum was swinging our way. This is where being a Ravens fan becomes an awful thing. In my 5 years of following the Baltimore Ravens full time, the ugly duckling Joe Flacco has won a postseason game every year, and emerged as a swan during the playoffs. In his first season everyone was willing to forgive the kinks because he was a rookie succeeding. In his sophomore year however his critics came out loud and proud, and even yours truly couldn't help be a little disappointed. Since then I've had a weird relationship with Flacco, he can be an immensely frustrating Quarterback to watch and then incredibly impressive, often in the space of one game. But consistently he's been great in January, no playoff games he has lost in my memory has really been his fault. Now, as for that picture I've posted up there and am staring at to focus, I keep remembering how god-damn good, GREAT even, Flacco was in the AFC Champ game last year in this exact fixture. He was on target pretty much every possession and caused havoc on the New England D. Similarly, we for whatever reason, seem to get in Tom Brady's head too. Brady is a magnificent quarterback no doubt, but he always seems to struggle against us, home or away. We beat them earlier this season, and beat them in the play-offs three years ago, both in Foxborough. I never expected us to be here, but now that we are, I'm starting to believe, which sets me up for the biggest fall of all (I was devastated last year as you'll all know). I can't even look at this game objectively because it means too much, as I can't even explain why we have a good record against New England. All I know is, Flacco has some incredible stats in these playoffs, so who knows. (BAL by 3)
Some real Heart over Head picks there but I really want the Harbaurgh Bowl. Someone come in and talk some sense?