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In Case You Missed It: The Couchletes on the Super Bowl

By Kevin York

The Super Bowl is over and I never wrote much in the aftermath of the game. Nothing about my thoughts on the game or my reaction to play calling. I decided to leave that to the Niner fans on staff here. I’m not going to write a recap of the game now, but as I thought about it, I realized we had some good posts leading up to the game, and also a couple following it, so I decided to compile all of them in one place. Just in case you missed any. To give you something new, I’m including a few editor’s thoughts on each post.

The Ray Lewis Double Standard – The Ray-Ray
Ok, so this one wasn’t posted directly before the Super Bowl. To be honest, I didn’t think the Ravens had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting there (past both Denver and New England) so I posted it earlier to make sure it was up before Baltimore got eliminated. I was wrong on that. But, as the Ravens went deeper into the playoffs, more of the mainstream media followed my lead and started bringing up Lewis’ shadowy past. They saw my post, obviously.

Super Bowl XLVII Prop Bets
Matt’s first post on The Couchletes was a good one. As he shared in a later follow-up post, he ended up going one for four on his prop bets. I have a feeling a lot of people lost out on those this year though given how crazy the game played out.

The Best Offensive Line Story of the Year: The Up and Down Tale of Bryant McKinnie
McKinnie had a solid game, helping keep Joe Flacco pretty clean for the duration of the Super Bowl, except for that one play where McKinnie got caught looking inside helping on a double team and Ahmed Brooks ran right outside of him and sacked Flacco for a considerable loss. Other than that, he had a pretty good game.

The Passing of the Torch?
I ended this post saying Willis isn’t performing in Ray Lewis territory at this stage of his career; but in the Super Bowl, although his Niners lost, Willis outplayed Lewis.

The Couchletes’ Super Bowl Picks
Mark and I both correctly picked the Ravens to win the game, although neither of us got the final score, but I was close  in picking a three point win. Got the margin right at least. I was dead wrong on my MPV though picking Ray Rice. Big miss. I over thought it. Mark was correct in choosing Joe Flacco though. Kind of…

Super Bowl Media Day (Next year we’ll be there)
I stand by my statement. Next year we’ll be there.

Super Regrets
Monday was a tough day for San Francisco fans and Matt pretty accurately captured the thoughts that I heard from most Niner fans the day after a rough loss.

So God made an Ad Man.
A hilarious post from Mark telling the story of him watching the Super Bowl for the commercials and providing his thoughts on the best and worst.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Couchletes’ Super Bowl Picks

We’re just two days away from the big game, and while we’ve published some good posts earlier in the week to get ready, we think it’s time to get down to it now. Who do we think will win? We’re going to tell you, at least each of our “experts” individually will.

49ers, 31-24
“Dual threat Quarterback Colin Kapernick will have a big day through the air and on the ground but workhorse Frank Gore steals the show as the 49ers power over Ray Lewis and an Raven’s elderly defense.”
MVP: Frank “the inconvenient truth” Gore

49ers, 31-28
“Both defenses are going to limit the running game, with extra men on Kap. David Akers puts them ahead with a field goal to redeem his roller coaster of a season, but way early in the game cause I don’t think I can handle it if it’s down to the wire and we *ahem* and the Niners maintain their narrow lead to win; and buses will burn in the Mission District.”
MVP: Frank Gore. Michael Oher still known as “dude from that Sandra Bullock movie?” for one more year.

Ravens, 27-24
“Given how the Niners secondary has been exposed lately, conventional wisdom would say a Ravens win would mean Joe Flacco tore them apart a bit; however, while Flacco will get his opportunities through the air, the threat of his passing attack will open things up for the Baltimore run game, which leads to my MVP…”
MVP: Ray Rice

Ravens, 35-17
“The Ravens will have the edge due to their reliance on natural remedies. It will be close for the first half but when Ray Lewis passes out Deer Antler, Unicorn Blood, and Cat Paws during half-time it will give them the boost they need to keep the 49ers explosive offense in check.”
MVP: Blue Ivy Carter has her first nationally-televised performance. It brings down the house when she does a three way mashup of Beyonce’s “Survivior” Jay-Z’s “99 problems” and Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”

I also think Joe Flacco will play quite well.

49ers, 31-24
“Harbaugh the younger and his coordinators craft an offensive game plan that is too much for Flacco, the Ravens and Harbaugh the elder to overcome. 49ers defense gives up a late touchdown to make the final score closer than the game actually was.”
MVP: Kaepernick 275 yards passing, 50 yards rushing 3 total TDs. (And hopefully thanks God during the speech)

49ers, 28-24
“Look for the Smith brothers to knock Flacco out of this elite conversation.”
MVP: Colin Kaepernick

49ers, 27-17
“The Ravens will be banking on the read option being a main go-to, but Kaepernick is going to pick apart a secondary that’s cheating up with its safties. And when the Ravens are looking pass, Frank Gore is going to run well enough to open up the pass. The name of the game is keeping the Ravens honest and the Niners will do just that in a tight game at the half that they open up in the late third quarter.”
MVP: Colin Kaepernick

So the Niners fans pick the Niners to win and the two non-Niners fans pick the Ravens…

The Passing of the Torch?

By Kevin York

Photo Credit: (Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports)

Photo Credit: (Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports)

The past two weeks have been full of Super Bowl story angles on the Harbaughs, Ravens, 49ers and various members of each team. Lost amid all the hype surrounding Ray Lewis’ impending retirement and the crowning of wonderkind of the moment, Colin Kaepernick, as the league’s next great quarterback is a story that, frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t heard much about. It’s the story of the meeting of two inside linebackers, one already established as a Hall of Fame shoo in, potentially the best linebacker of all time, and the other, a promising, young player that reminds many of the former.

I’m talking about Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis.

As Lewis’ career winds to an end in the Super Bowl, Willis has put himself in a position to take over the mantle as the premier inside linebacker in the game. Over the first few years of Willis’ career, we heard this Lewis-Willis comparison many times. The way Willis approached the game, the way he played it, his body, it all reminded us of Ray Lewis. So why haven’t we heard about this passing of the torch the past two weeks?

Perhaps because the workman-like, no frills, stoic approach Willis takes isn’t something that makes a lot of waves among the other showier stories that emerge during Super Bowl week (Chris Culliver anyone?). Or maybe it’s because his 49ers have finally had some other stars emerge, stars that want the attention (looking at you Kaepernick). Or maybe it’s because Willis’ counterpart on the inside of the San Francisco linebacking corps, NaVorro Bowman, also emerged as a prime time player this year.

I don’t have the answer as to why, but in my eyes, the comparison still sticks. So I decided to take it a step further than the eyeball test. Over the first six years of each of their careers, Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis have played the exact same number of games. They each only missed four total games over that span (maybe they have the same deer antler spray guy). It sets things up perfectly to compare the two head to head. Is Willis really deserving of the comparison? How does he stack up to the future Hall of Famer? Can we say that this is a passing of the torch situation?

Total Tackles
Lewis (875) vs. Willis (812)

Solo Tackles
Lewis (698) vs. Willis (621)

Lewis (19.5) vs. Willis (17.5)

Lewis (12) vs. Willis (7)

While Willis’ numbers are good, they don’t quite stack up to those that Lewis put together over his first six seasons. Of course, we’re looking at these numbers in a vacuum, which for some reason, people tend to do a lot when they look at sports stats. One could easily argue that Lewis had much better defensive tackles lining up in front of him over his first six seasons, absorbing blockers, freeing Lewis to make more plays. In fact, this has long been an argument made against Lewis by the Ray-Ray haters. Nonetheless, the fact that Lewis’ numbers are better across the board, make quite a statement.

Given these numbers, I think we can reasonably say that although Willis is a good player, it’s unfair to compare him to Lewis. After six seasons, Lewis had already established himself as the type of player that could be called generational. Willis isn’t at that point, and at this point in his career, about halfway through, I think he’d have to increase his production a bit to reach that status by the end of his career. What could make that even harder is that over the previous two seasons, we’ve started to see his counterpart on the interior of San Francisco’s linebacking corps, NaVorro Bowman, emerge as just as good of a linebacker as Willis himself, possibly even better. In my opinion, Bowman had the better 2012 campaign.

Not quite a passing of the torch situation, but on Sunday we’re in for a treat watching two defenses anchored by stellar, Pro Bowl caliber (at least until the past two seasons in Lewis’ case) inside linebackers. These two solid defenses have been overshadowed a bit by their offenses leading up to the game, but come Sunday, I have a feeling we may be in for a defensive battle.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Best Offensive Line Story of the Year: The Up and Down Tale of Bryant McKinnie

By Kevin York

Photo Credit: (Jake Roth/ US Presswire)

Photo Credit: (Jake Roth/ US Presswire)

As people look forward to Sundays Super Bowl, there’s been plenty of talk about the skill position players. Joe Flacco. Colin Kaepernick. Ray Rice. Frank Gore. Michael Crabtree. And of course, Ray Lewis’ retirement. There’s a big storyline that many people are missing though, and it’s one that casual fans may not notice.

This Super Bowl matchup features two really, really good offensive lines.

The big guys in the trenches often get overlooked because they don’t score and they don’t tackle. There aren’t a lot of stats to measure them by, at least none that someone watching a game on tv instead of from the press box can keep track of easily.

San Francisco has one of the three best offensive lines in the game, maybe even the best. They’ve largely built it from the ground up through the draft, which is exactly the way I’d do it if I were running a team. I always advocate building a team from the inside out, starting with two strong lines. A good offensive line can make an average quarterback or running back good or a below average quarterback or running back average. Everything starts with the offensive line. You can’t run or pass with any effectiveness unless the big uglies up front are winning their battles.

Photo Credit: (Paul Sakuma)

Photo Credit: (Paul Sakuma)

The 49ers’ Mike Iupati is probably the best guard in the league. Joe Staley is a top five tackle and the other tackle, Anthony Davis, is a top ten tackle. They drafted all three along with Iupati’s counterpart opposite him on the right side of the line, Alex Boone. Only center, eleven year veteran Jonathan Goodwin, was not drafted by the 49ers.

Baltimore’s offensive line is not quite as good as San Francisco’s, and wasn’t as built through the draft, but is also a top ten unit. I don’t know the last time we’ve seen two lines this good in the Super Bowl. We didn’t get it last year. New England and New York deployed solid lines, but they weren’t in the same league as this year’s group. The Packers and Steelers started two injury plagued lines the year prior.

It really is a great story, but the matchup of these two great offensive lines isn’t the story I’m referring to in the title of this post. That story belongs to just one member of the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line.

When people think about the Ravens’ offensive line, the first name that usually pops in their head is Michael Oher, the big tackle that the book and movie, The Blind Side, were based on. Next is probably guard Marshal Yanda. I mentioned earlier that San Francisco’s Iupati is probably the best guard in the league; Yanda is the other guard in that conversation. Both made my All-Pro team. Once you get past Oher and Yanda, the next name to come up is center Matt Birk, the veteran who was close to retiring last year, but came back another year for a shot to win the big one.

The name that probably doesn’t come up as often is the Ravens’ other tackle, Bryant McKinnie, and for good reason. He reported late to camp, out of shape and overweight. The team cut his salary and he sulked his way through bad practices. He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the year; he wasn’t even a starter at the end of the year. McKinnie didn’t become a starter for this year’s Ravens team until the wild card round playoff game against the Colts.

What did he do in that game, his first start of the season? McKinnie held Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney to not only zero sacks, but no tackles at all. None.

Bryant McKinnie began his college football career at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he moved from his high school position of defensive end to offensive tackle. After two years at this junior college, he transferred to the University of Miami for his junior and senior year. As a Hurricane, he was an All-American his junior year and was unanimously selected for the honor again as a senior. He also received the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, was selected as Sports Illustrated’s Player of the Year and finished eighth in the Heisman voting as a senior. That 2001 Miami team also won the national championship.

Photo Credit: (Doug Pensinger/Allsport)

Photo Credit: (Doug Pensinger/Allsport)

McKinnie was drafted in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft as a 6’9″ 335 pound senior by the Minnesota Vikings with the seventh overall pick. For the next eight years, the giant tackle was a mainstay on the Vikings’ offensive line, even making the Pro Bowl in 2009. From 2003-2007, McKinnie started every game and had a streak of 80 straight games started. He was a solid NFL tackle and for the most part, lived up to the hype surrounding him coming out of Miami.

In the summer of 2011, his fortunes went south, and due to his own doing. He reported to training camp weighing over 400 pounds; this coming after he finished the previous season at 360 pounds and promised coaches he would get in shape over the summer and drop some weight.

After he was cut by the Vikings, McKinnie was signed by the Baltimore Ravens, largely due to former Miami teammate Ed Reed speaking on his behalf to Baltimore management and vouching for him. He started all 16 games for Baltimore that year, but then at the beginning of 2012, McKinnie’s fortunes again changed as I described earlier with reporting to camp overweight and having his salary cut.

So how did we get to this point? How did McKinnie regain his starting job, in the playoffs no less, and dominate a great pass rusher like Dwight Freeney?

Bryant McKinnie worked his butt off, for one thing. In addition, a string of other things happened along Baltimore’s offensive line that eventually put McKinnie back in a place to step back into a starting role. Ironically, turns out Michael Oher was not as astute at protecting Joe Flacco’s blind side as the movie based on him would seem to indicate. He’s much better playing at the right tackle spot where he can run block. However, during the regular season, the Ravens played Oher at left tackle and rookie Jah Reid at right tackle since McKinnie reported to camp out of shape. When Reid suffered a toe injury, and McKinnie had put together several really good weeks of practice, it led coach John Harbaugh to move Oher back to right tackle, where he played in previous seasons, and start McKinnie at left tackle.

The lineup change ended up paying off for Harbaugh, McKinnie and Baltimore. The big tackle has played well throughout the playoffs and done his part to give Joe Flacco plenty of time to throw the ball downfield, which is exactly what he’s done.

While this matchup of offensive lines is certainly impressive, what’s more impressive is the up and down story of Bryant McKinnie and how he’s worked himself back into a job and helped lead his team to a Super Bowl appearance.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

AFC Championship Game Preview

By Kevin York

Well, this isn’t the game any of us thought it would be two weeks ago, or even one week ago. The Ravens weren’t supposed to be here. This was supposed to be another Brady-Manning classic, but Baltimore crashed the party. So instead we have a rematch of last years AFC Championship, a game which was actually a class in and of itself; however, I have a feeling this game will play out much differently than last year when many felt Baltimore outplayed the Patriots, yet Brady and company stole the game.

Photo Credit: (Matt Slocum/AP)

Photo Credit: (Matt Slocum/AP)

Baltimore Ravens
The big story with Baltimore this post season has been Ray Lewis and the going away party his teammates are throwing him, but the storyline that hasn’t received as much attention, and I think it actually the bigger one, is the change at offensive coordinator that John Harbaugh made near the end of the season. Since taking over for the fired Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell has totally changed the dynamics of this offense. He has confidence in quarterback Joe Flacco and lets him throw the ball downfield. This isn’t the same conservative, sometimes even tentative, offense we saw most of the season. Earlier this week, Don Banks over at Sports Illustrated wrote a nice article looking statistically at just how much of a positive affect Caldwell has had on the offense. As Banks notes, “the Ravens under Caldwell have averaged 450.8 yards of offense and 28 points over their past four games, with superb balance (188.8 yards rushing and 262.0 passing).”

I expect Caldwell to open things up and show some new plays, maybe even new formations, in an attempt to confuse New England. Remember, Caldwell is very familiar with Bill Belichik and the Patriots from the many years he served as an assistant on Tony Dungy’s Colts staff. He is well aware of what he’s facing and how he’ll have to outsmart the Patriots’ mastermind.

We won’t see Baltimore try and run the ball a lot. New England has big, strong linebackers that are very good at stopping the run and crashing into gaps. I expect them to go to the air more and attack New England’s weaker secondary. That may open the run later, but I think we’ll see Flacco really air it out early.

Baltimore’s defense has played well enough to win this postseason, but make no mistake, this is not the Ravens defense we’ve seen in the past. They’re older and slower, and may be a little tired. They’ve been on the field a lot in their first two playoff games and will now be facing one of the best offenses in the NFL a week after a tiring overtime thriller in Denver.

The Ravens will likely struggle to defend the New England passing attack. The Patriots have added a few wrinkles this year that they didn’t have last year, like the faster Brandon Lloyd who really came on late in the season. The New England offensive line has also protected Brady better than last year. With Baltimore’s pass rush not being quite as good as last year, that’s a recipe for a real problem for the Ravens defensive front. With the ways New England has used their running backs lately, the Ravens front seven are certainly facing an athletic disadvantage. They don’t have a linebacker fast enough to line up opposite Shane Vereen if he slots out as a receiver.

Photo Credit: (Steven Savoia/AP)

Photo Credit: (Steven Savoia/AP)

New England Patriots
In contrast to Baltimore, New England is exactly where we all expected them to be at this moment in time. This year’s Patriots team seems like a team on a mission. That’s naturally the kind of mentality that Belichik instills in them, but it just feels even more workmanlike this year, and specifically over the second half of the season, than they have in years past. The Super Bowl loss to the Giants last year was a black eye for this team, something that deep down I think they’re a little embarrassed and ashamed of. Twice now, they’ve lost Super Bowl games to the Giants that they should’ve won. Different makeups of those two teams, yes (in fact, very few people from that 2008 team were still playing for the Pats last year ), but I’m sure last year’s team certainly felt somewhat linked to the earlier one.

New England’s offense is one of the strongest in the NFL and has been for some time. As the season went on it seemed like they continued to add new dimensions to it, even as starters went down to injuries. The latest example was last week against Houston when Shane Vereen, filling in for Danny Woodhead, emerged with a breakout performance, both in the running game and passing game. It’s really remarkable how well Belichik and his staff develop players. New England is showing that it’s the deepest team in the league.

Tom Brady will have a big game. All week people have been discussing how he got outplayed by Joe Flacco last year. Mike Greenberg said that last year he was simply average in the playoffs. That type of stuff motivates this guy and I think it’ll fuel his fire on Sunday.

The Baltimore defense opens up a lot of opportunities for the Patriots. For one, the Ravens really only have one strong, consistent pass rusher in Paul Kruger. That means lots of time for Brady to sit in the pocket and make his way through his progressions until he finds an open receiver. He will be able to pass the ball on this Ravens secondary. The other opportunity is using their running backs in unique ways – lining them up in the slot or even out wide.

Aside from Aqib Talib, the New England secondary could be exposed by Joe Flacco. The unit is solidly built to contain Ray Rice and the Raven run game, but they’re not quite as astute in pass coverage. I think Baltimore will try and attack the middle of the Patriots defense in the passing game because New England’s linebackers (Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower) aren’t particularly quick. New England will have to make up for that by playing a zone and not leaving those guys alone on an island.

The Final Word
At some point a team can’t survive on emotion anymore and talent comes into the equation. I think this week is when that happens for Baltimore. Up and down the rosters, New England is the stronger team at every position except running back. Talent wins out this week as New England punches its second straight ticket to the Super Bowl. This game won’t be as close as last year when it came down to the very end for the Patriots to win, but it also won’t be the blow out that some are expecting. I think we’ll see New England win by around ten points or so.

You can read The Couchletes’ preview of the NFC Championship game here.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Ray Lewis Double Standard – The Ray-Ray

By Kevin York

Photo Credit: (Nick Wass/AP)

Photo Credit: (Nick Wass/AP)

I like the Ray Lewis story that’s evolved during this NFL post season. Right before the playoffs started, he announced this is his last season. It’s served as quite the motivator for his team. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a player whose presence on the field has done more to motivate and inspire his team.

“I have to make this catch. For Ray.”

“I need to knock down this pass. For Ray.”

You see it all up and down the Ravens roster. These guys really, really want to win for Lewis. Either that or they’re scared of the wrath of Ray after a loss. Either way, they don’t want to let him down. His teammates want to give him one more run, one more Super Bowl appearance, maybe even one more ring.

Lewis is one of, if not the best, linebacker to ever play the game. He’s a definite first ballot of famer, but people tend to forget the issues he’s had with the law. Prepare yourself, this is kind of a touchy subject. Or at least I think it must be given the silence arounf it. No one ever talks about his obstruction of justice conviction and involvement in a murder charge (you like that old school SI article I just linked to?). But why don’t we talk about it? When we talk about Mike Vick, dogs come up. When we talk about Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or now Lance Armstrong, steroids come up. Pete Rose? Gambling. When we talk about Plaxico Burress…wait, do people actually talk about Plaxico Burress?…whatever…we talk about an idiot that shot himself.

What I’m saying is that in most cases, when a pro athlete has become involved in, or sometimes even just accused of, something criminal (or in the case of Rose, something millions and millions of people do legally every day in Vegas), they become tied to that incident. Not quite synonymous, but it’s definitely part of their story that’s frequently brought up. We don’t we do that with Lewis though. Seems kind of like a double standard, doesn’t it? Because of his positive affect on the Ravens franchise, the city of Baltimore and the game of football, I think the media and fans have given him a pass on bringing it up when discussing him. They give him a Ray-Ray. That’s right, I just coined a new term. Give it time, you’ll hear it in real life.

“But daaaad, Jake’s curfew was 11 when he was 16, why is mine 10? Why are you pulling a Ray-Ray?”

I’ll leave you with this Ray Lewis video. To be honest, the whole reason I wrote this post was just so I could link to this video. Enjoy. And you’re welcome. Instant classic.

Ray Lewis’ Ray of Light by TV Funhouse (sorry I didn’t embed the video…we encountered some technical difficulties with it)


By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

Thoughts on the NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

We’re now down to the last four teams in the NFL playoffs. Baltimore, San Francisco, Atlanta and New England. It was an entertaining weekend of games. The Ravens-Broncos overtime thriller was an instant classic and a game that Denver fans, and Peyton Manning, will likely want to forget quickly. The Broncos, huge favorites, really blew that game. Green Bay-San Francisco was close, at least until the fourth quarter, but nonetheless a much more competitive game than their first encounter in week one. This game didn’t turn out at all the way I wanted and I now have to live with it. I may never write another Packers preview as a result. Seattle-Atlanta looked like it would be a rout early, but the Seahawks, as they’ve done all season, refused to give up and made it quite an ending, though they ultimately blew their chance to steal a win. That game may have ended even more exciting than the Baltimore-Denver game. And finally, New England showed how strong, and deep, they really are by winning a game with Houston that never really appeared competitive after the Pats scored their first touchdown.

We’ll have previews of the AFC and NFC Championship games later this week, but here are my initial thoughts after watching the four playoff games this weekend:

— Peyton Manning could be the best regular season quarterback ever, but man, that guy has a tendency to come up short in the playoffs. It just feels like a really high number of times that he’s been the higher seed and lost. He’s such a good player and an all around good guy that I feel sorry for him.

— Speaking of him being a good guy, I appreciated hearing that Manning waited around for an hour and a half after the game to privately congratulate Ray Lewis. That’s a class act.

— The Ray Lewis story is having quite the final chapter. I can’t believe how much he’s inspired this Ravens team. It sounds ridiculous, but his presence on the field does wonders for improving Baltimore’s chances of winning a game.

— Enough criticism of Joe Flacco. He’s shown over the past two post seasons that he really is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. I’d take him in a playoff game. Last year he outplayed Tom Brady, this year he outplayed Peyton Manning. You can’t ask for much more than that.

— Baltimore still has a good defense. They don’t quite have the same pass rush they’ve had in the past, with Paul Kruger being the only really consistent pass rushing threat, but it’s still a solid unit. They may not have ranked that way this year, but remember, they had a ton of injuries and those injuries were to main contributors (Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed). Everyone’s healthy now.

— The San Francisco 49er offense may have become the team’s strong suit. With the difficult to defend new read option dimension that Colin Kaepernick has added, I really think this might the case. While the defense is still solid, I don’t feel like they shut down the Packers defense as much as they did in their week one meeting. In fact, the Pack did more to shoot themselves in the foot. Their turnovers were more a result of their own mistakes than any forcing the San Francisco defense did. And it was the Niner offense that capitalized on those Green Bay mistakes.

— Frank Gore quietly continues to be a huge contributor to the 49ers offense. He’s not the most vocal or showy player, so doesn’t command the same mainstream media attention as others on their offense, but he is the rock of that unit. Would you be surprised to know he gained 119 rushing yards against the Packers? I watched the entire game and was surprised by it. He quietly just gets his job done.

— Michael Crabtree has emerged as a top receiver in the game. Going into that game, Green Bay knew that he was one of Kaepernick’s go to guys, and they still couldn’t defend him, knowing it was coming.

— Green Bay didn’t appear to have much of a competitive game plan on either side of the ball. They apparently didn’t read my analysis post from last week because they didn’t appear prepared for many of things I called out. They ran very few screen passes (and I don’t remember any outside screens) on offense and on defense, they didn’t look prepared for Kaepernick’s outside running, which is especially odd since they put together a game plan exactly a week ago to shut down Adrian Peterson’s outside running (and were effective).

— I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new defensive coordinator in Green Bay next year. Dom Capers’ unit has not performed well for the second season in a row now. It’s the achilles heel of an otherwise pretty good team. Sure, personnel is some of it, but I think scheme is part of it too.

— Seattle had quite the year, but came up just short. That’s still a great team and one that I think over the next couple years will become the team to beat in the NFC West. They’re younger than San Francisco and won’t face some of the free agent questions that the Niners will in the offseason.

— Good for Matt Ryan. He’s a good guy and it’s nice to see him get this playoff monkey off his back. Same with Falcons head coach Mike Smith and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Those are three of the classiest guys in the league.

— Pete Carroll’s got to be wishing he had not taken the time out to try and ice Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant at the end of the game. Bryant ended up missing the attempt (which then didn’t count) and Carroll proceeded to complain to the officials about being awarded the time out. Not sure what you were complaining about Pete. FOX clearly had you on tape calling the timeout.

— The Georgia Dome is LOUD.

— Most people think the Packers (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley) or Patriots (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and now Shane Vereen) have the best group of receivers in the league. Top to bottom, they probably do, but does anyone have a better 1-2-3 combination than the Falcons have in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez? Throw in Harry Douglas and that’s a pretty good receiving corps. They’re vastly underrated.

— San Francisco should have a more difficult time preparing for Atlanta’s offense than they did preparing for Green Bay’s last week. In the passing game they’re similar, but Atlanta has the running game that Green Bay doesn’t with the combination of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers (as long as they don’t forget about it, which for some unknown reason they’re prone to do at times…).

— New England is the deepest team in the league. They’ve faced quite a few injuries to key contributors this year, yet their play doesn’t drop off. Danny Woodhead gets hurt on his first play of the game and New England turns to Shane Vereen to fill Woodhead’s role. He looked awesome and we’re now left wondering, where was this guy all year?

— New England’s running game has really developed this season. Ridley and Vereen looked good against a Houston defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the league.

— Speaking of Houston’s defense, what happened to them? They looked horrible. They couldn’t stop New England at all.

— Tom Brady now has the most playoff wins of any quarterback in NFL history as he surpassed Joe Montana on Sunday. In the Brady-Montana debate about who’s the best quarterback ever, I think Brady keeps doing his part to provide us with a definitive answer. The guy’s money and the case is closed in my book.