Current Slack Lines Standings:
The Improper’s Nick “Béthune” Altschuller: 27-25-1
Comcast’s Rich “Le Roi” Levine: 22-28-3
WEEI’s Rory “de Nesle” Duyon: 23-30

For this week’s ranking theme I went French poets from the Middle Ages. De Nesle was famous for his long blond hair and, as a fairly convention lyricist, was never really appreciated in his time. Feel the burn, Duyon. I shall scribe a ripping sonnet that will further insult you upon a later date.

Speaking of the Chant Royal, it’s time for the Conference Finals. Actually, those two things have nothing in common, which is appropriate. But how, you ask? Because when you think about playoff football, you should think about excitement and drama. When I think about these playoffs, I'm overcome with trepidation and something my doctor calls "colon wobbles." I'm still a little shaken from 2007, and if circumstances have the Giants and the Patriots meeting in this year's Super Bowl, I think all my hair is going to fall out before kickoff.

Let's see how the Slack Lines team has things working out.

On to the picks!

Baltimore @ New England (-7)

Rich
Let’s get the obvious point out of the way: The Pats still haven’t beaten a good team.

That’s not to say that they can’t, they just haven’t, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. So, what do we do? Well, let’s focus on three key match-ups for Sunday’s game:

1. Baltimore DL vs. New England OL
As you know, the Ravens need to get to Tom Brady. And as you know, the best way to do that is to blitz him. However, that presents a small problem.

Despite having the league’s third-ranked defense, the Ravens linebackers (most notably Ray Lewis) are too slow to hang with Gronk and Hernandez, and blitzing leaves that pair with soon-to-be exposed one-on-one coverage against the LBs.

So, while the Ravens want to get to Brady, they also don’t want to get picked apart, so they may not blitz as much as they’d like. That shifts the battle to the trenches. If the Ravens can pressure Brady without bringing any extra men, it might get hairy.

2. Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith vs. the Patriots secondary
Remember the Pats’ Week 12 game in Philadelphia, when the Eagles came out bombing? You know, when Vince Young went deep to Riley Cooper on the first drive, went over the top twice to DeSean Jackson on the second drive, and it looked like the Eagles might score 60 points and throw for 700 yards before halftime? Remember that?

If Flacco can find the time, don’t be surprised if the Ravens follow suit and take a couple shots downfield with their pair of tall athletic, deep-threat receivers—especially Smith, who, if the Ravens win, I see having at least two big plays.

If the Ravens have success through the air, the Pats will have to adjust, which means taking some attention away from Ray Rice…which means setting themselves up for disaster. So ultimately, while Rice may be the Ravens best offensive player, the Pats best chance to stop him may start with containing Smith and Boldin downfield.

3. Joe Flacoo vs. Tom Brady
I don’t think anyone will be shocked if this game’s decided in the fourth quarter, and in that case, regardless of the situation, there’s no question on where you want your money.

So while I think there’s a good chance the Ravens do get some pressure on Brady, and find enough success downfield to keep this game close, down the stretch I’m taking Brady over Flacco for win.

But Ravens over Pats on the spread. Rich’s Pick: Ravens; New England 28, Baltimore 24

Rory
I can tell you the exact season when I started following the Patriots. As a six year old in 1990, I watched all eight of the games that weren’t blacked out, and “The Patsies” finished 1-15 on the season. For the last 22 years I’ve stood by my beloved Pats through good times and bad.

So why is it that on the week of the AFC championship I found myself siding with Terrell Suggs in a debate with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take? I’ve never been so upset about an ESPN pundit picking my favorite team to win. I can’t think of a bigger jackass in sports media than Bayless. He gets some pretty solid competition from Tim McCarver, Craig Sager, Howard Bryant and Woody Page, but Bayless wears the crown as the most obnoxious in the business. I unexpectedly gained respect for one of the most hated Ravens when he wondered aloud why Bayless even has a job. But I digress.

There’s a really simple argument for why the Patriots will win this game: 

1. The Ravens are miserable on the road. See losses to Jacksonville, Seattle, Tennessee and San Diego.
2. Joe Flacco is awful. Not only do we all know it, but now his teammates do, too.
3. Flacco has the worst moustache in professional sports since Adam Morrison.

    The third one is irrelevant, but it needed to be said. It actually makes me nervous how unafraid I am of this Ravens team that went 12-4 and humiliated the Steelers twice. They have to be better than I’m giving them credit for, and they can certainly play the disrespect card. Still, I think I have to agree with…(gulp)…Skip Bayless. This is going to backfire, isn’t it? Rory’s Pick: Patriots; New England 35, Baltimore 24

    Nick
    Joe Flacco got busted for skateboarding this week. According to Flacco: “I'd never been on a skateboard in my life, so I was literally riding it about 10 feet down my driveway just to see if I could stand on it and stay upright. One of my neighbors must have called in looking for Ozzie Newsome and left a voicemail on his secretary's phone.”

    Yahoo's Chris Chase uses this moment to illustrate why Flacco isn't a winning quarterback. He writes, “Who tries skateboarding four days before the biggest game of his career?” which is exactly what a haughty dipshit desperate for page hits would write. (Note to self: Draft 800-word article about the time you saw Matt Light at 5 Napkin Burger. Really, Matt, extra cheese?)

    You wanna know what's really dangerous to someone's wellbeing? Football. I think we can trust professional athlete Joe Flacco to scoot down his driveway without cracking his head open, which, by the way, wouldn't hinder his ability to be woefully mediocre at quarterback.

    By the way, how easy is it to reach to Ozzie Newsome? I feel like if you tried to dial up Bill Belichick, Gillete Stadium security would take down your number then coach would call a week later to berate you and threaten to sleep with your wife. Nick's Pick: Patriots; New England 27, Baltimore 17

    NY Giants @ San Francisco (-2.5)

    Rich
    After last week, I don’t know what to do with the 49ers. I mean, had they just shut down the Saints offense and muscled their way to a 17-14 victory, than that would have made sense. The world would have been right. But what occurred last Saturday in San Francisco defies all we thought we knew about this team. It showed that they’re ready to go head-to-head with any offense. That they can get creative while still protecting the ball and maintaining the turnover edge that brought most of their success. That, as far as I’m concerned, is why they’re heading to the Super Bowl. Rich’s Pick: 49ers; San Francisco 27, NY Giants 21

    Rory
    Last week, a lot of people disrespected the 49ers by picking the favored Saints at Candlestick Park. Let’s see if I can talk myself out of picking against San Francisco for a second week in a row.

    The Giants may have gone 9-7 during the regular season with a questionable secondary and a lot of injuries, but over the last month, they’ve gotten healthy and destroyed everything in their path, beating the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons and Packers by a combined score of 121-50. In those games, they’ve tallied 17 sacks and they’re +7 in turnovers. This might be tougher than I thought…

    It’s gotten harder and harder for Eli Manning detractors to bash him after the year he’s had, but my good friend in the ESPN stats department, John Parolin, has found a way! I’m not sure how you calculate win probability before and after an interception, and I’m not sure when ESPN hired Mr. Mackey from South Park to come up with their blog headlines, but I’m just going to run with my buddy’s logic. Eli still stinks! That’s my story and I’m stinking to it.

    Lastly, for everybody that’s skeptical of an Alex Smith led offense, the 49ers have scored at least 20 points in all nine of their home games this season, including a 27-20 win over the Giants in Week 10. Yes!  I did it!…kind of. Rory’s Pick: Giants; San Francisco 24, NY Giants 23

    Nick
    The weather has been a big part of the lead up for this game. It's going to be rainy in San Francisco, so everyone is speculating about how a wet field is going to affect each team's performance. All the conjecture really makes me wish weather conditions played a bigger role in my job.

    “It's cold and overcast this morning, Dan. This could really hamper Nick's ability to get out of bed on time.”

    “Windy and chilly out there. I don't expect Nick to be able to enunciate clearly once he gets to the office. He will receive coffee infusions, so we'll see if that has an impact as the day progresses.”

    “Icy conditions mean an increased risk of Nick falling down in public. He’s been working with the training staff all week, but a slip could reinjure his self-confidence. Teammates couldn’t confirm whether Nick looked at himself in the mirror this morning. Back to you guys in the booth.”

    Oh, that would be spectacular, as long as Rachel Nichols wasn't providing the updates. I don't need anymore of that crimson harlot in my life. Nick's Pick: Giants; San Francisco 21; NY Giants 20

    Until next week.

    Email Nick at nick@improper.com
    Follow the Slack Lines team on Twitter: @altschuller, @rich_levine and @roryduyon