Who do you like in the NFC and AFC championship games?
By Kate Fagan
I'm going with the home team for each of these games. I'm sure Baltimore Ravens fans are going to be outraged that, once again, their team is being counted out, but I just don't see the New England Patriots imploding at game's end like the Broncos did Saturday. Denver's blown coverage on the TD pass over the top, then Peyton Manning's rookie-like miscue? Not going to happen at New England. Baltimore got lucky in Denver. Now, it's season over.
The NFC title game, for me, is much more of a toss-up. The 49ers were impressive against Green Bay, but I got a sense at the end of the Atlanta game, as that kick was going through the uprights, the Falcons felt like they were given a second chance. And now that they have new life, I doubt they'll have that same kind of lapse against San Fran. Close, but I'm giving the game to the Falcons.
My pick: New England vs. Atlanta in the Super Bowl.
By Graham Hays
It is time to make history. In the long annals of American sports, there has never been an all-avian pairing in the championship round of one of the four major professional sports. Not the World Series, where the Cardinals and Orioles keep missing each other. Not the NBA Finals, where the Hawks faced the Celtics four times in years past but appear unlikely to square off anytime soon against the Raptors in what would surely stir an etymological controversy about avian ancestry. Not for the Stanley Cup, where the Penguins and Ducks keep missing each other. Not even in the Final Four, to stretch this to college, where Cardinals, Ducks and Jayhawks beat the likes of Tigers, Blue Devils and Buckeyes for championships. And certainly not in the Super Bowl, where the Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles and Seahawks played more earthbound foes. It ends now. We have come a long way as a country. We are ready for Ravens against Falcons in the biggest sporting event of the year. How are they going to get there against Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, respectively? I'll have to get back to you on that.
By Jane McManus
Earlier this season the Ravens beat the Patriots 31-30. Now, the Ray Lewis goodbye tour heads to New England for the AFC Championship. Despite the loss of pinata-wearing Rob Gronkowski, I'm going with the Patriots. The Ravens won the last matchup and, as the Vikings found out in the wild-card rematch against the Packers two weeks ago, it's tough to win that second game. The Patriots are always fun to watch, with coach Bill Belichick about as jovial as Tommy Lee Jones at the Golden Globes and Tom Brady's almost-annoying excellence. On the other side, the Ravens have that emotional energy, which Lewis channels in his interpretive dance. Should be a final worthy of the prize; a trip to the Super Bowl.
In both these games I'm going with the team that had an easier time the week before, and in the NFC that would mean San Francisco, which picked apart Green Bay even as the Falcons needed a last-second field goal in order to win. Can Atlanta take down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a week after barely fending off Russell Wilson? If they can, the Falcons deserve a week in New Orleans. But I think San Francisco gets the job done.
By Mechelle Voepel
It will be New England and Atlanta in the Super Bowl. The Patriots will end Baltimore's charmed run; they simply won't make the kind of mistakes/strange decisions Denver did. The Ravens prevailed in their regular-season meeting with New England, but the Patriots won't let the same thing happen again.
And the Falcons, who finally managed to get out of their own way in the postseason -- albeit in dramatic, improbable fashion -- will handle prosperity better against the 49ers than they did against the Seahawks. But it will take a better-than-average defensive performance from Atlanta against San Francisco.
By Sarah Spain
I'll make these picks short and sweet, like Ray Rice.
Colin Kaepernick will stun on the run again and the 49ers will squeeze past a very good Falcons team to take the NFC title.
In the AFC, the Patriots will beat the Ravens handily, putting an end to Ray Lewis' final playoff run.
By Michelle Smith
Here's predicting a Harbaugh-themed Super Bowl.
The 49ers, in the NFC title game for the second year in a row, have won on the road this season against Green Bay, New Orleans and New England. Winning at Atlanta, which will be hosting this game for the first time, hardly seems like a stretch.
Colin Kaepernick has proven to be the best coaching decision Jim Harbaugh has ever made. San Francisco's defense is healthy, stout and aggressive and the City by the Bay is getting used to this whole championship thing.
Meanwhile, Ray Lewis makes the Ravens the AFC's sentimental pick. How can we not want to see this extraordinary athlete get a chance to end a glorious career in the very last game of the season? It's a storybook ending. Yet John's Harbaugh's Baltimore team will be facing a huge roadblock in the Patriots, who have this playing-for-the-Super Bowl thing down pat.
The brothers find a way to win and turn their parents into very conflicted people.
By Melissa Isaacson
Who thought I'd ever be writing this sentence, but judging from the way Russell Wilson picked the Falcons apart, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick poses that much more of a danger to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game.
Even on the road, the 49ers have the advantage and will advance to the Super Bowl with Kaepernick doing his thing and San Francisco's running game finding holes in a susceptible Falcon's defensive front. The Falcons and Matt Ryan are a nice story but the 49ers have too much going for them on both sides of the ball.
In the AFC Championship, the Patriots will be comfortable favorites but if it comes down to a field goal, Justin Tucker -- as he did in Week 3 against the Patriots with a 27-yard field goal as time expired -- will deliver where Billy Cundiff did not in last year's conference title game. Still very hard to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.