Hey, what’s up?

With only three games left, what are you planning to do in the NFL off-season? I am going to Indy for Super Bowl weekend. I have a few appearances to make and some friends to see. Then I’m going to Hawaii with my mom to visit my brother. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, so I’m looking forward to ho’oluana, which means “to relax” in Hawaiian. That should be pretty cool.

First off, to thank you all for reading and for getting me up to 50,000 Twitter followers, I’m giving away a pair of very cool game-worn cleats [pic below]. Interested?

All you have to do is send me a creative photo (via my Twitter or Facebook) rocking the #28 jersey, and the best pic wins! Winner will be announced in my next post—right before the Super Bowl–so get to work.

OK, now to the NFL Playoffs. I got my picks right in three of the four divisional games. So why did those four teams win?

The underdog 49ers beat the Saints 36-32. There were several lead changes in the last five minutes, but the Niners wanted it more. Any NFL game can be close, it often comes down to big plays, and the 49ers made a few more than the Saints. Drew Brees made some great passes, but Alex Smith and Vernon Davis came up clutch.

The favored Patriots overwhelmed Denver 45-10 because they were supposed to win, LOL! No need to analyze the game much. That option-style Bronco offense that launched Tebow-mania ran smack into three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and his experienced Patriots, and New England was simply the better team.

It was close, but the Ravens beat the Texans 20-13 with the help of four turnovers, including two in the first quarter that got them an early 17-3 lead. Mistakes are magnified in the playoffs—they change momentum and Baltimore took advantage.

The Giants upset the champion Packers 37-20 and like I said, I thought the Packers were beatable. The Giants did their homework, knew what they were up against, and mistakes played a big part as they forced four turnovers. That Hail Mary TD pass to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half was a statement play: “We’re here to win, and we’re all in!”

(Click “next page” for my previews.)

So we’ve got our final four with some real hard-hitting defenses among them. Some say the Year of the Quarterback is over with Aaron Rodgers and Brees going out, but we still have two Super Bowl-winning QBs in Brady and Eli Manning, whose Giants beat Brady’s Pats a few years back, you may recall, at Super Bowl XLII. These four teams deserve to be there. They’ve all been dominant, able to adapt and finish games.

Ravens at Patriots
The Patriots have won nine straight games going in, which looks great, but they also won 18 in a row going into the Super Bowl in ’08 and lost. I think this Patriots’ offense is a little too explosive for the Ravens to contain. And their defense is good enough to hold Baltimore and get that offense back on the field. This could be an endurance game more than anything else.

Game changers to watch out for on the Ravens include running back Ray Rice and linebacker Terrell Suggs, who leads by example. For New England, they have a lot of ways of getting everyone—including their two star tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez—involved. Their offense always puts you back on your heels. And I like safety Patrick Chung (Oregon Ducks shout out!), who has the ability to make game-changing plays. I’m picking the favored Patriots.
UPDATE: Patriots won 23-20.

Giants at 49ers
Playing at home, the 49ers are favored. Both teams KO’d early Super Bowl favorites in the Saints and Packers by taking advantage of momentum swings and turnovers. No team had more takeaways (38) than the 49ers, and they also boast an NFL-best plus-28 turnover differential. But the Giants forced the Packers into turnovers, too, so protecting the ball will be key for both teams.

This could be a bruising ground game, so watch for 49ers running back Frank Gore and his O-line. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ secondary must play big to stop Manning, Nicks and explosive wideout Victor Cruz—it may be his turn to shine. Manning’s experience over Alex Smith could play a big role, but in the NFL, you can’t overlook anything. It’s been a while since they’ve been in this position, but I have to go with the 49ers. I feel they have something special going on, plus a lot of built-up aggression.
UPDATE: Giants won 20-17 in overtime.

While others are seeing a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl or maybe even a Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh match-up, I foresee a titanic East Coast vs. West Coast battle.

Check back with me for the contest winner and my Super Bowl preview, where I’ll also give you the skinny on what snacks and other goodies to lay out for a Super Bowl party at home.

Thanks again to the Panthers for supporting my blog on Twitter and Facebook. JStew out!

As told to Ashley Jude Collie