Patriots

NFL Picks: Championship Weekend Will Change Joe Flacco’s Life, For Better Or Worse

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Joe Flacco (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Joe Flacco (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — Everybody wants to be the quarterback.

You get all the glory, the fame, the ladies and the money. You’re recognized everywhere you go, you see fans of all ages wearing your jersey, you get to do the postgame TV interviews, you get to be a spokesman for cool boot companies and you get to live the fantasy life of a superstar.

That’s the idea, at least. The story of Joe Flacco, though, could be very different.

Flacco has been called every word in the book over the past five years. Over the past two season, in particular, debating whether or not Flacco is “elite” has become a popular sport for those who love arguing about words that have lost all real meaning. All season long, folks in the media have spent a lot of time trying to figure out Flacco’s future. In the last year of his contract, Flacco had a chance to earn a major pay day

Just last week, Flacco was getting buried on Twitter by complete morons just one play before launching a game-tying bomb to Jacoby Jones to improbably force overtime. Even in that ensuing OT, Flacco looked all sorts of average, but thanks to Peyton Manning’s dead arm, the Ravens got the ball on the Denver 45. Flacco handed the ball to Ray Rice four times before Justin Tucker booted the 47-yard field goal to win the game.

And boom, just like that, Joe Flacco became a winner. Never mind the fact that Flacco wasn’t trusted to throw one pass in that game-winning drive. That doesn’t fit our football narrative — the quarterback either wins or loses! And this Joe Flacco is a winner!

Now, if his team can pull off a win in Foxboro this Sunday, Flacco will earn himself a trip to the Super Bowl and, almost assuredly, a big fat contract to stay in Baltimore. But if Flacco walks into Gillette Stadium, completes 50 percent of his passes for 179 yards and two interceptions, then he might have to head into free agency and end up quarterbacking the Cardinals or Chiefs, and nobody will ever be quite satisfied enough with his play to officially label him “elite.”

It’s all different degrees of fair, but regardless, it’s not outlandish to say the entire scope of Flacco’s football career hangs in the balance Sunday afternoon.

(Home team in caps; Thursday lines)

San Francisco (-4) over ATLANTA
I’m not the guy who hates on the Falcons and Matt Ryan. In fact, I think I quite like them.

Still, for the life of me, I can’t come up with any tangible reasons to doubt the 49ers this week. Any doubts I had about the Mario Manningham-less Niners offense were wiped away last week, and Atlanta’s horrific defensive showing in the second half against Seattle was no fluke.

Now, the defense that allowed 4.8 yards per rushing attempt this season (29th in NFL) has to try to defend Colin Kaepernick, who just set the record most rushing yards in one game by a quarterback with 181, and Frank Gore, who contributed to San Francisco’s win with a ho-hum 119 yards on 23 carries. It’s the same defense that let the Russell Wilson who averaged 195 passing yards per game in the regular season go off for 385 yards while also rushing for 60 yards, just about double his weekly average during the year.

While I expect the Falcons to at least look better than the Packers (was Green Bay aware Kaepernick would be playing? Did they practice that week? Were they aware the the 49ers run a read option?), Mike Nolan’s not going to be able slow that San Francisco train.

The Atlanta offense is fine, but it’s not powerful enough to keep up in a high-scoring affair, not against the Niners defense which allowed the second-fewest points in the league all season. It’s a year later than it should have come, but the Niners are earning themselves a trip to the Super Bowl.

Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “As they take on a banged-up Niners team with a first-year starting quarterback with no playoff experience, I have no pause taking Aaron Rodgers and the three points.”

Note: If you make a habit of mocking yourself for saying things that turned out to be patently absurd, you might as well go out with a bang. That was my bang.

RQFLWP: “There’s the ever-present possibility of seeing a vintage playoff Peyton game, complete with three interceptions and 11 Sad Manning Faces.”

Note: I was off on that first number, as he only threw two picks. But I totally nailed the Sad Manning Faces count.

NEW ENGLAND (-8.5) over Baltimore
When this line came out, I saw and heard a lot of people freak out, like it was absurdly high. I was just curious if those people have been watching the Patriots play football at all.

New England has won seven games since Nov. 18; five of them have been by double digits. Against the Broncos, who took the Ravens to double overtime last weekend, the Patriots won by 10 points, and it wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. So no, there’s nothing crazy about this line. When the Patriots win, they tend to win big.

But whether they will win this weekend is the million dollar question. And I think they will.

I watched the Patriots go out there and play their B-minus game against Houston, and I watched them win by 13 points in the divisional round of the playoffs. Now, a repeat of that B-minus game might end their season Sunday, but against that old, slow and banged-up Baltimore defense, which gets by on reputation alone these days, I don’t see it happening.

The Patriots run the fastest offense in the league — if you don’t believe me, just ask Brendon Ayanbadejo — and the Ravens can’t keep up. Ray Lewis, for all his dancing and bluster will be struggling just to get a hand on Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Stevan Ridley or anyone else running through the middle of the field.

A lot of people who are picking the Ravens are pointing to Baltimore’s Week 3 win. I’m not. That game took place 17 weeks ago, but more importantly it was officiated by the replacements. It was perhaps the most atrociously officiated competition of any kind that I’ve ever seen. I remember wondering aloud if the game would actually count in the standings, because what was taking place was just an embarrassment. Remember Julian Edelman getting mugged and getting penalized for offensive pass interference, or John Harbaugh getting a 15-yard penalty for …. something? It wasn’t slanted one way or the other, it was just ineptitude run rampant, rendering most analysis of that game utterly useless.

One takeaway from that game that is valid was Ray Rice’s performance. He was the only back to gain 100 yards on the ground against the Patriots all season long, proving the Ravens can run against New England if they want to.

However, I just don’t see a ground game keeping up with Tom Brady is about to do. The Patriots are going to take the same approach defensively as they did last week of preventing the big play, allowing the opposing offense to gain seven yards all they want. Last week, Matt Schaub couldn’t sustain long scoring drives, and this week, while Joe Flacco will be a little bit better, the results will be the same.

If that’s not enough to convince you, then by all means, stick with the offensive play-caller who’s the only man to have held a job in the NFL for more than a decade without ever actually speaking. I’m sure you won’t regret that.

Last week: 2-1-1
Playoffs: 4-3-1
Regular season: 124-125-7

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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