By Steve Silverman
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Is it possible to be hyped up about the AFC and NFC championship games this weekend?
Or must attention be focused on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and the fake death of his fake girlfriend?
The manipulation of the latter story is still playing out and to think that the nation’s most overhyped defensive player has been duped because he is completely naive is a bit much to swallow.
If Te’o is culpable in this sordid mess, he will pay a huge price on draft day. If NFL teams determine that he can’t be trusted to tell the truth in pressure situations, it may be difficult for any general manager to pull the trigger on Te’o and call his name.
That’s why the AFC and NFC championship games are the story we’d much rather focus on right now.
The Falcons are home underdogs after they blew a 20-point lead against the Seahawks and then survived as a result of a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant in the final seconds.
The 49ers are the glamour team in this matchup and they have plenty of firepower with Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Randy Moss.
However, the feeling here is that if the 49ers are going to win this game and earn a spot in the Super Bowl, it will be the running of Frank Gore that is instrumental.
Gore is probably the most honest player in the NFL. We’re not talking about the kind of honesty that Te’o apparently lacks. We’re talking about giving everything he has every time the ball is snapped.
Gore is a punishing runner who actually enjoys running the ball between the tackles and initiating contact with the nastiest linebackers in the NFL. It’s one thing to carry out an assignment, but it’s quite another to enjoy it.
So, no matter what happens in the game, the 49ers know that Gore is not going to come up short when it comes to effort and consistency.
Kaepernick is going to try and make the spectacular plays that did in the Green Bay Packers last week, but the Falcons’ defense is a lot faster than Green Bay’s. The Packers made poor reads when Kaepernick kept the ball on the option and that’s why he was so spectacular.
But while the Falcons have speed, they don’t have a lot of beef and that’s why Gore could have such a big day. The Falcons could wear down if they get a huge dose of Gore.
Trying to play come-from-behind football against the 49ers would be a difficult assignment for the Falcons, but it will not be the end of the world for the Baltimore Ravens.
They are nearly 10-point underdogs against the Patriots and that’s way too steep a price. Joe Flacco has shown he can go over the top with the deep ball and speedy Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith can get downfield and make big plays.
The Patriots are much improved against the pass in recent weeks. Much of that is due to the acquisition of Aqib Talib, who has helped out their coverage significantly.
Earlier in the year, the Patriots couldn’t play pass defense against a good high school team. They actually gave up 328 passing yards to Mark Sanchez in the their first game against the Jets in Week 7.
They are much better now, but a team that has multiple big-play weapons is not going to be slowed down by the Patriots’ secondary.
This game looks a lot like last year’s AFC Championship game, when the Pats held on to win by three points.
The Ravens should be able to compete for 60 minutes and they could come up with the huge upset.
If the Falcons have stopped shaking since the end of last week’s win, they too will extend this game to the latter stages of the fourth quarter.
But they won’t win it. Look for a Baltimore-San Francisco matchup in Super Bowl XLVII.
Are you done with the Te’o saga and ready to talk some “real” football? Be heard in the comments!