Conference Championship Picks

20 Jan, 2013 by Shaun Lowrie


To describe last week as a washout isn't really doing justice to some abysmal picking by myself. The only consolation was that it was fully in line with what most experts predicted, as only 4 pickers managed over .500. I might not have done very well, but at least I'm not getting paid for it...

This week some expected news comes in the shape of Mike Lombardi joining the Browns as GM. Let's hope that he picks players better than he picks games, as he managed just 4th bottom out of 59 experts last year, truly a sorry total. On the other hand, what does this mean for the rest of us? If Lombardi can be a GM, what can Seth Wickersham (winner of the 2012 regular season) be? President? OF THE WORLD?

I guess I will chime in on the Manti Te'o story because it's the topic de jour (of the day, in case you have never been to a restaurant). I'm just throwing it out there: Why would a guy playing for arguably the most scrutinised and newsworthy college team in America knowingly try to deceive the press in the year he is entering the NFL draft? Anyone with half a brain (and I'm aware that some NFL players do not meet this requirement) could have told him that the process between Christmas and May of this year would be a test of endurance that would see every aspect of his mental and physical ability tested to the limit. I highly doubt that Te'o would have engaged in a deliberate attempt to mislead people during arguably the most important 5 months of his professional life.

No, this smacks of an attempt to take advantage of him, and on top of that, I see no way that Notre Dame would be as unequivocal as they have been about their own findings if they suspected Te'o may have been behind this. My suggestion is that he's been naive, but we were all 21 once (OH MY GOD I'M 30 THIS YEAR. HELP! I'M MEELLLLLTING!) and he won't be the first or last person taken advantage of by a reasonably attractive blonde who doesn't exist. Some of the breathless coverage makes it sound like the climax of 'To Catch a Predator'...

ON WITH THE PICKS!

NFC Title Game: 49ers @ Falcons

Top 5 Experts: 49ers
Bottom 5 Experts: 49ers

What can I say? I was wrong about the 49ers last week, we all were (well most of us anyway) and as much as Atlanta were excellent in the first half and in the last 50 seconds of the game against Seattle, they made a bunch of mistakes that I feel the 49ers would have capitalised on. Stuff like screwing up a squib kick when any other outcome almost certainly ends the game, allowing your opponent back from 21pts down... it's the type of thing that makes you wonder how they'll cope against a better defence and a quarterback who has torn a new one for a bunch of teams this year. Even though the Falcons are great in their dome, it's also a great equaliser and the 49ers won't be afraid to go there.

All I know is this: The Patriots and Ravens are hoping for a Falcons victory, which is good enough for me.

AFC Title Game: Ravens @ Patriots

Top 5 Experts: Patriots
Bottom 5 Experts: Patriots

Similarly, the 49ers and Falcons would probably prefer to face the Ravens in New Orleans, but it's going to be trickier in New England to beat their psychological demons than it would be for most teams. Both the Pats and the Ravens play outdoors so the cold weather shouldn't be an issue, but the Ravens have never won in New England (worth noting the reverse is also true) since their inception in 1996 apart from the crazy victory in the snow 3 years ago that was over after the first 5 minutes.

Speaking of Joe Flacco, I've said this before but it's worth repeating: Regardless of where he ranks in the bigger QB picture, the Ravens won't find an upgrade on him from the draft or a trade in the near future. Like so many players, he's the focus of a lot of criticism, but he isn't the reason why the Ravens won't win a Super Bowl is he? It's funny, but in the last ten years the common consensus has been that to win a Super Bowl you need an 'elite QB', but it's time to revisit that. The Steelers won in 05/06 with Ben Roethlisberger in his second season, the Giants won last year and in 07/08 with Eli Manning, who while very clutch, is closer statistically to a Matt Schaub or Flacco than a Brady, Rodgers or Manning.

It's very possible to win the Super Bowl with a 'good' rather than 'great' QB, but I can tell you this much: It's impossible to win one with the parade of miscreants and has-beens that the Ravens had for the previous 12 years of their existence before Flacco arrived in town. If they genuinely believe there's a better alternative in the draft or they have a shot at Brady, Rodgers, Manning, Brees or another Super Bowl winner, then that's a fair switch. Otherwise, you pay the guy and put him in the best possible position to win. Ditto the Texans, Lions, Bears and Chargers. It's time to accept that sometimes, good players won't win a Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't have if the pieces had fallen into place for them, just as they did for the likes of Roethlisberger*, Manning, Dilfer and Johnson back in the day.

That's it from me this week. Hopefully it's better for everyone than last time out, but if it's not, don't worry, because it's the NFL, anything can happen. Except the Lions winning the Super Bowl. That will never happen. Sorry.

* I know Roethlisberger and Manning are 'elite' and they didn't completely luck into their victories, but it's also naive to think they were considered this good before their wins.

Shaun Lowrie is the founder and editor of Pickwatch, a site designed to give you a new perspective on experts in the NFL media by tracking their performance when picking games or predicting draft picks, team performance, or player potential. You can contact him at [email protected] or on twitter at @pickwatch