There’s no turning back now. Before this season started, I picked the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl. One year earlier, I?correctly predicted the Green Bay Packers would win it all — by beating the Ravens.

There’s no turning back now. Before this season started, I picked the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl. One year earlier, I?correctly predicted the Green Bay Packers would win it all — by beating the Ravens.

At least I got the champion correct. This year, I?picked the exact same Super Bowl match-up:?Baltimore vs. Green Bay. Again, only half of that could be true, but my champion pick is still alive.

However, it’s with little confidence I stick to my guns. It’s hard to think of a Ravens pick as anything but tenuous at this point. Sure, they won 12 games and advanced to the AFC Championship, but the Ravens rarely make it look pretty.

The Ravens are a maddening team that seems to play up to their competition, going 7-0 this season against teams with a winning record, including a season-opening blowout of the rival Steelers and a Thanksgiving throttling of the NFC finalist 49ers.

Mixed in that dominance of good teams are some bizarre clunkers — most notably the Ravens’ 12-7 loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 24.
Baltimore also lost to Seattle, Tennessee, and San Diego along the way, too often looking very ordinary — especially on offense — to be trusted to win a championship.

Although the Patriots are hardly a guarantee to flash the form they showed in destroying the Broncos last week. New England faced only two teams with a winning record this season and lost both games (Giants and Steelers).

The Patriots have an extraordinary offense, but the defense can certainly be exposed. Despite allowing the second-most yards in the league, the Patriots held teams to only 21.4 points per game, which is middle of the pack and respectable.

Inconsistent Joe Flacco will have opportunities to hurt the Patriots’ defense and Ray Rice should be able to make plays, but the Ravens want no part of a shootout against Tom Brady.

If the Ravens can keep the Patriots under 30 points, they have a legitimate shot of advancing to the Super Bowl. However, once the Patriots get to 31, 35, 38, or into the 40’s, then Flacco will have a tough time trying to go toe-to-toe with Brady.

Baltimore’s defense is still very good, but old. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still making plays, but they know their time is limited. Terrell Suggs can be a menace chasing down quarterbacks and if he is the best player on the field Sunday, then the Ravens are headed to Indianapolis.

Call it a hunch, call it loyalty to my pre-season pick, or call it stupidity for all I care, but the Ravens force a rare Brady mistake and head back to the Super Bowl ... RAVENS, 27-24.

**

The New York Giants are the trendy pick, while the San Francisco 49ers are the feel-good story of the season. It’s an improbable NFC?Championship that ruined the nation’s chance to see a true Wild West shootout-style rematch between the Saints and Packers.

New Orleans and Green Bay could have put on a memorable offensive show — much like they’re Week 1 clash — but this one has a chance to be an ugly slugfest. With rain in Sunday’s San Francisco forecast and a field notorious for less than ideal conditions, it is possible the track could be very slow.

That probably works in the 49ers’ favor, a team that has won its share of ugly games this season. The 49ers want to run it and rely on a hard-hitting defense to smother the Giants.

Meanwhile, Eli Manning will want to sling it to his trio of receivers — Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham?— and hope his pass rush can force Alex Smith into mistakes.

The Giants used to be a smash-mouth team that ran it down opponents’ throats, but the combination of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has only shown spurts of brilliance.

Smith showed a lot by rallying his team twice in the final minutes to beat the Saints, making plays with his arm and legs. Manning is a fourth-quarter whiz that sometimes looks more comfortable trailing in the fourth and bringing his team down the field for the win than he is trying to protect a lead.

The 49ers should hope for lots of rain and a muddy field, while the Giants need some back-breaking pass plays down the field that ultimately socked the Packers a week ago.

Manning leads a last-minute drive for the win and a trip to Indianapolis ... GIANTS, 20-17.