Championship Sunday is here as the Baltimore Ravens take on the New England Patriots in the early AFC Championship game and the New York Giants take on the San Francisco 49ers in the late NFL Championship game. Here are my previews of both games and predictions for each.
AFC Championship Game: Ravens at Patriots
Preview: The Ravens want to slow this game with running back Ray Rice in hopes of keeping the Patriots high flying offense of Tom Brady off the field much like the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to do earlier this season. Ball control and time of possession will not be enough for the Ravens to win this game as they must turn every trip into the Patriots redzone into touchdowns. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will have to convert quite a few 3rd downs against the Patriots porous pass defense and stay ahead of the chains. He simply can not turn the ball over. The Patriots will look to exploit the Ravens defense by spreading them out using their wide receiver-like tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in attempt to get mismatches on a safety or a linebacker. The Ravens must not let Brady feel comfortable in the pocket and they must get the pressure on him up the middle more-so than on the edges. The Patriots are explosive and will simply look to force the Ravens to have to run with them in a high-scoring game. For the Ravens to win this, they will need to force turnovers and keep the Patriots under 24 points.
Prediction: The Patriots will get their revenge for the 33-14 loss in the 2009-2010 playoffs. Rice will run for over 100 yards, but it will not be enough. Flacco will make a few mistakes through the air and the Patriots will make the Ravens pay for those.
Score: Patriots 31 Ravens 20 - Patriots -7
NFC Championship Game: Giants at 49ers
Preview: The 49ers like to win games by letting their defense do the talking. They are a hard hitting, opportunistic group that has thrived all season off of turnovers. On offense for the 49ers, they just ask quarterback Alex Smith not to make a mistake. They keep him in high percentage situations for the most part by mixing in running back Frank Gore and short, precise passes to the wide receivers and tight ends. Much like the Ravens, the 49ers would like to keep this game moving slow. The Giants on the other hand like to stretch the field with wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Quarterback Eli Manning has been on top of his game down the stretch, but can be forced into making bad decisions when under pressure. The Giants offensive line will have a big challenge in slowing down the 49ers pass rush of Aldon Smith and Justin Smith and that very well could be the deciding factor in this game. As long as the Giants do not turn over the ball, they will have the upper hand. Another key player in this game will be 49ers punter Andy Lee as he can flip the field every time he punts. The weather conditions also play in favor of the home team 49ers in this game.
Prediction: The Giants will be the opportunistic team on defense today and force Smith into some uncharacteristic turnovers. The Giants will also make sure to focus on stopping tight end Vernon Davis and stopping the run in attempt to force Smith to beat them with his arm. I just do not think Smith will be able to handle the pressure today.
Score: Giants 27 49ers 16 - Giants +2