EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2013

Patriots bound for Super Bowl

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — This has all the fixings of the mano y mano bar room brawl.

The Patriots and Ravens are not bosom buddies. One team, the Patriots, is perceived as the golden child, while the other, the stepchild. The Ravens have been very good for a half-dozen years, but at the end it is almost always not good enough.

The odds are that this will be a close game, like two teams in the same division. They’ve played five times in four years and four of those games came down to the last play.

That’s the mistake, I believe, a lot of people are making. The Patriots are better than the Ravens. At least they’ve been better over a 16-game season. We forget the Ravens, with a chance at gaining the top seed in the AFC or even a bye as the No. 2 seed, lost four of their last five games heading into the post-season.

But because of two wins, including an impossible dream-like win over the Denver Broncos, they are for real.

While I don’t question their grit, I do question their ability to slow the Patriots down. I just don’t see it. Last year’s AFC Championship has been shown on reruns a few times on the NFL Network. A few things stick out about that game: Tom Brady made more forced errors than normal (two) and Joe Flacco was pretty good, not great.

What has changed since then? Brady has been on a tear when it comes to making few errors and Flacco is winging the ball like a true gunslinger.

Tonight is the night the Patriots are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, as opposed to last year when they were the best of a mediocre lot.

They are the best team in the AFC. The Ravens might be the second best team in the AFC. If the Ravens win, which is possibility with its grit and “destiny at their doorstep,” I would not be surprised. The Ravens have a N.Y. Giants feel to them.

But one area where they don’t have the Giants “mojo” is on defense. Getting pressure on Brady is probably going to have to be manufactured, through blitzes, etc. And that’s a big risk.

I like Patriots taking control of the game early with the Ravens playing catch up. But this time, the Ravens won’t have the guns to do it.

Prediction: Patriots 41, Ravens 20.

Atlanta win, slow down Kaepernick It has looked to easy for the San Francisco 49ers. And that's not supposed to happen with a second-year quarterback. The Atlanta Falcons have been under the radar the entire season, getting little respect because of past issues come playoff time. Well, I say today will be different. The Falcons will not let Kaepernick beat them as the Packers did. The Falcons will make sure that if Kaepernick beats them, it will be with his arm and head. I say it's not going to happen. Kaepernick will throw two interceptions and lose at least one fumble. But I can't blame him. It's a lot to digest in just several weeks time. Prediction: Falcons 23, 49ers 13