By JEROME BETTIS
It's too early for me to make a Super Bowl pick, but here's how I see the conference championship games playing out:
In the AFC, I'm taking New England. It's just too tough to beat the Patriots at home. If anyone can do it, it's Baltimore, but I'm still picking the Patriots.
In the NFC, I think the 49ers come into Atlanta and walk away with a victory. I think it will be a good game and that San Francisco won't necessarily win big, but I just think that the Falcons aren't going to be able to defend the 49ers' running game.
Now then, here's how I saw the four playoff games from the weekend:
PATRIOTS JUST IN A DIFFERENT CLASS
In the Patriots-Texans game, I think we simply saw a situation where the much better team won. There weren't a lot of dramatics, and you knew going in that New England was going to be methodical and win the turnover battle. It really was the same old story. Houston didn't have enough firepower, they couldn't sustain drives and when the game was on the line they couldn't make the crucial plays.
This shows why New England is still the class of the NFL. They have a quarterback who almost always finds a way to get it done and the defense thrives on a bend-but-don't-break philosophy, keeping opponents out of the end zone when they have to.
BRONCOS REALLY LET ONE GET AWAY
You knew going in that it was going to be a chess match between the Baltimore defense and the Denver offense. But what I don't think anyone anticipated was the Baltimore offense putting up a lot of points against a Denver defense that came in highly ranked.
I know all the hype about Baltimore focused on Ray Lewis and the defense, but the Ravens offense found a way to get it done, throwing a bomb in the final seconds of regulation for a score.
What this game showed was that the Denver Broncos weren't really ready for prime time. Nine times out of 10, they win this game, but they let this one get away. You can blame the Denver defense for letting it go to overtime, but you also have to blame Peyton Manning for the bad throw in OT that cost them the game.
It was all inexcusable, and it cost Denver the chance to host the AFC championship game, an opportunity that doesn't come along often. This one will hurt the Broncos for a long time.
DOES ANYONE STILL DOUBT KAEPERNICK?
Colin Kaepernick. Wow. In one game he silenced any doubters that were left out there. At the start of the game a lot of questions still were being asked about his lack of playoff experience, and it looked like that was showing on the first series. But after that Kaepernick put on a show like no other quarterback has done so far in the playoffs.
Running the ball and throwing the ball, Kaepernick showed why the decision was made to have him replace Alex Smith. The 49ers are better with him, no question. Now their offense is more dangerous, and they can score from anywhere on the field. You couldn't say that before he became the starter. He creates problems that I don't see anyone solving in the short term.
A resurgent Green Bay team that was getting healthy at the right time couldn't contain Kaepernick, and it's going to be very interesting to see how Atlanta tries to defend him.
ATLANTA HAS A KNACK IN THE CLOSE ONES
Early on, you could see how everyone in Atlanta, on field and in the stands, was so up and excited for this game. The Falcons used that energy to build a big early lead, but at halftime it seemed like the bubble burst.
When Seattle got its second-half onslaught going you said "Whoa, where did this come from?" Seattle inched its way back into the game with incredible play from a rookie quarterback, and you have to take your hat off to Russell Wilson. He's not only good, but he's going to be good for a long time. The Seahawks can trust him with their future.
But Seattle ultimately fell short in a game they had every chance to win -- up with 31 seconds left, and needing only to keep Atlanta out of field goal range. That proved harder than it sounds, and you have to give credit to the Falcons. Matt Ryan put two passes exactly where they had to be, and Atlanta got a victory that was very similar to the way they beat Carolina in one game this season.
I think that game gave them the ability to say "It's not over, we've done this before." When you have experiences like that it created the mindset that "We can get it done, regardless of how much time is left."
A WORD ABOUT THE UPCOMING HALL OF FAME VOTE
I'm blessed to be on the list of 15 finalists for this year's voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's definitely a great honor to have my name mentioned among so many other great players.
But you have to take it for what it is. There are no guarantees, and I understand they may not call my name when the votes are counted. All of the names on that list deserve the honor, and if your name isn't called you can't be upset. It doesn't change my career and what I've been able to accomplish.