Craig: Momentum takes a knee in NFL playoffs

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2013 - 11:00 PM

Denver, Seattle and Green Bay showed how easily the postseason picture changes.

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Peyton Manning.

Photo: Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

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Once again, we've all got it figured out.

Colin Kaepernick will run and run and run some more. He'll make like a tattooed Forrest Gump, stopping only long enough to hoist the Lombardi Trophy en route to Canton, Ohio, where he'll be enshrined, still in uniform, into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the man who revolutionized the quarterback position at its highest level.

Yep, momentum is planted firmly behind the "Kaeper-nicking" Kraze. It stands side by side, arm in arm, forever and ever with the San Francisco 49ers. And there's nothing that can stop momentum in the NFL, right?

Except last weekend, when ...

• The Denver Broncos rode an 11-game winning streak -- and an average victory margin of 16 points -- into the playoffs and lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens. The same Ravens who had lost four of their last five regular-season games and fired their offensive coordinator in the process.

• The Seattle Seahawks took a six-game winning streak, including a wild-card triumph at Washington, into Atlanta and lost to the Falcons. The same Falcons team that was 2-2 in its past four games and 0-3 in the playoffs with Mike Smith as its coach and Matt Ryan as its quarterback.

• The Green Bay Packers swaggered into San Francisco, fresh off a wild-card pounding of the Vikings, and lost to the 49ers. The same 49ers team who had Kaepernick making his playoff debut just 14 days after being smoked 42-13 in Seattle.

So let's dismiss momentum from this year's playoff picture. Let's just say it took a knee alongside Peyton Manning.

AFC: Baltimore at New England

Except for any and all Super Bowls against the New York Giants, no team does what we expect them to do more consistently than the Patriots of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. So here they are again, back in the AFC Championship Game for the seventh time. They are 5-1 so far, including last year's victory at home over the Ravens.

This also is a rematch of a Week 3 meeting in which Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco abused the Patriots secondary in a 31-30 victory at Baltimore. Flacco completed 72 percent of his passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns.

But wait. That was September, an early-season month that Belichick, the master molder of the bottom third of his roster, uses the way Alabama uses games against Western Carolina.

After the twists and tweaks to another roster of typical Belichickian depth and foresight, only one member of the secondary -- free safety Steve Gregory -- is still starting in the same spot he did back in Week 3. The much-improved unit now features former cornerback Devin McCourty at safety and two corners -- Aqib Talib and rookie Alfonzo Dennard -- who weren't even on the active roster in Week 3.

Offensively, the hot topic is Rob Gronkowski's season-ending arm injury last week. But wait. The Patriots are 4-1 without Gronk.

Belichick and Brady made this a balanced offense. They made a 1,200-yard rusher out of Stevan Ridley, a third-round pick in 2011.

And when Gronk went down last week, Belichick and Brady made running back Shane Vereen a Marshall Faulk look-alike with 124 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage.

On a conference call with Fox a week ago, a reporter asked two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson how long he thought Belichick would coach.

Johnson laughed and said, "How long do you think he's going to live?"

That's a comforting thought for Patriots fans.

Pick: Patriots 38-27.

NFC: San Francisco at Atlanta

There are several reasons the Falcons are four-point underdogs at home. The NFC's top seed had the league's easiest schedule, blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead against Seattle and has allowed a league-worst 8.9 yards per carry to quarterbacks. The latter isn't good when the next opponent has Kaepernick, who just set the NFL rushing record for a quarterback (181 yards) in a rout of the Packers.

The Falcons do, however, have a few things going for them. Such as:

• The confidence of finally winning a playoff game. Ryan drove them 41 yards in 23 seconds, setting up the game-winning field goal and Ryan's league-high eighth fourth-quarter comeback of the season.

• The resurgence of running back Michael Turner. He rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries against Seattle.

• The trio of one-on-one matchup nightmares Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones.

And, oh yeah, this:

• The 49ers are riding their sixth two-game winning streak of the season. They've yet to win a third straight game.

So much for momentum.

Pick: Falcons 30-27.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

  • NFL PLAYOFFS CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES

    NFC: San Francisco at Atlanta

    2 p.m. Sunday • TV: Ch. 9

    AFC: Baltimore at New England

    5:30 p.m. Sunday • TV: Ch. 4

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Toronto 104 FINAL
Indiana 91
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Detroit 95
Milwaukee 109 FINAL
Miami 102
Memphis 109 FINAL
Dallas 90
Chicago 113 FINAL
Golden State 111
Washington 98 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 4
Winnipeg 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Washington 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Carolina 4
Dallas 2 FINAL
Montreal 3
Detroit 5 FINAL
Florida 4
Colorado 3 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 4
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Edmonton 1
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Ball State 47 FINAL
Akron 59
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Bowling Green 56
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Ohio 40 FINAL
Eastern Mich 76
Xavier 66 FINAL
Georgetown 53
Vanderbilt 62 FINAL
Georgia 70
West Virginia 65 FINAL
Kansas State 59
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Kent State 63
Saint Josephs 48 FINAL
La Salle 53
Nebraska 44 FINAL
Michigan 58
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Toledo 70
Tulsa 62 FINAL
Tulane 55
George Washington 48 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 72
Pittsburgh 67 FINAL
Virginia Tech 70
Indiana State 78 FINAL
Evansville 89
Tabor College 53 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Florida 52 FINAL
Alabama 50
Tennessee 64 FINAL
Arkansas 69
Texas A&M 71 FINAL
Auburn 61
Baylor 53 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
DePaul 0 Postponed
Providence 0
Michigan State 0 Postponed
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Utah State 56
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Nevada 62
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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