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NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships

Posted 1/20/2012 at 6:55:37 AM


Baltimore at New England. These were the two best teams in the AFC this year and deserve to be playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Clearly, the player with the most pressure in this one is Joe Flacco. The bottom line is that Flacco has not played well in many postseason games. The Ravens were extremely fortunate to win last week. Their offense was putrid and if not for the Texan's mistakes, I am not sure Baltimore advances. The Ravens can not rely on New England to make similar mistakes. We know Ray Rice is an elite back (and he ran all over them in the 2009 playoffs), but Flacco will have to test a suspect Patriot secondary deep. There are plays to be made in the passing game but it remains to be seen if Flacco can deliver in a big spot. While Baltimore's defense was stellar against the Texans and essentially won the game for them, Tom Brady is not TJ Yates. Brady will make the right reads and find the soft spots in the zone. I think Ed Reed will have to play a major role in helping to slow down the prolific TE's of the Patriots. But ultimately, the Ravens will have to pressure Brady up the middle so he can't step up into his throws. If you give a QB of his caliber time, you are in trouble.  Baltimore definitely has the talent to get to Brady, but they have to get to him at key spots in the game. At the end of the day, I think this game falls on Flacco. He will have to match Brady's production. While I think Flacco is better than he is given credit for, he will struggle to try and keep pace with Brady. New England 24 Baltimore 16.    


Giants at 49ers.  Two teams I did not like going into the post season are one win away from the Super Bowl. Anyway, the 49ers figure to ride their ground game and prolific hard hitting defense to victory. If the Giants can stop Frank Gore without having to bring a safety into the box, it will greatly limit Alex Smith's play action ability. One of the 49ers best offensive weapons is TE Vernon Davis and if the Giant safeties are up at the line scrimage trying to help in the running game, Davis will have a big day as the middle of the field will be wide open. Michael Crabtree did not have a good game last week and needs to make some plays to help bail Smith out. I think another spot that could play a huge factor is special teams. The 49ers have an elite FG kicker in Akers, an elite punter in Andy Lee, and an elite return game. I look for the 49ers to have the advantage in starting field position throughout. On the other side of the ball, look for the Giants to also try and establish the run. The two headed monster of Jacobs/Bradshaw will need to grind out yardage. The 49ers are extremely difficult to run on, but Eli can't sit back and throw it 60 times. The Giants have the advantage on the outside where Cruz and Nicks have been stellar. But obviously where the Giants have the huge edge is QB. While Alex Smith deserves all the credit for bringing his team back twice against the Saints, one game does not define a career. He has a long way to go to be in the discussion with the games elite. Eli is a Super Bowl winning QB who has raised his game to a whole different level this year. With two even teams, give me the QB who has a Championship ring. Giants 24 49ers 20.    

 

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