Saturday, January 19, 2013

NFL Playoffs - Conference Championship Game Previews

Here we are near the end of January and the NFL season is winding down as the AFC and NFC Championship Games take place this weekend.
The San Francisco 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome in the NFC while the New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title tilt on Sunday.

Here is a preview of the games with the Heftyinfo picks as well . . .

                               San Francisco 49ERS at Atlanta FALCONS 

The 49ers have been hot again  as they topped the Green Bay Packers in easy fashion behind the record setting performance by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who totaled 444 yards in offense (including a record 181 rushing yards) in the 45-31 win.
The Falcons had to hang on and won with a late field goal in their nail biting 30-28 victory last week against Seattle as QB Matt Ryan overcame two interceptions with touchdown passes and the running game got a big boost as Michael Turner played well.
The 'Niners are a slight road favorite in this game and the Falcons know they can win (only one home loss this season) at home and finally got the playoff monkey off their back.
Kaepernick has running back Frank Gore and a good array of wide receivers with Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and tight end Vernon Davis. The Falcons give Ryan weapons to go with his cannon arm in Julio Jones and Roddy White and of course, veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, who will be seeking his first Super Bowl appearance in his illustrious career.
Both teams have good defenses, but the 49ers rate the edge as they are extremely good at stopping the run while at times Atlanta will give up yardage, especially against quarterbacks that can run, which they will face with Kaepernick.
This game could go down to the wire (possibly overtime) and it will likely be decided by which team makes the fewest mistakes.

PICK - San Francisco 24, Atlanta 17

                               Baltimore RAVENS at New England PATRIOTS

The Ravens nearly topped the Patriots last year in the AFC Championship Game and this is their chance to prove they are the real deal as they get another shot in the big game.
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco proved his detractors wrong last week with three TD passes in a huge come from behind win at Denver that was decided by a field goal in a 38-35 overtime decision.
The Ravens also feature running back Ray Rice, who has been a solid fixture in their offense all season long. The Ravens also have targets for Flacco to throw to in wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith as well as tight end Dennis Pitta, who has really emerged this year. Also, don't forget about Jacoby Jones, who made the big TD catch in the final minute of regulation to help beat the Broncos last week.
The defense slipped some (especially against the run) as the season went along, but the Ravens have had a number of players battling injuries, including future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who has played well in the first two playoff games. The team has been without Ledarius Webb (out for the season) at cornerback but does have Terrell Suggs (linebacker) and Haloti Ngata (Defensive Tackle) back healthy in these playoffs.
The Patriots begin and end on offense with QB Tom Brady, who is seeking his fourth Super Bowl title.
Brady had a big game last week with three TD passes as the Patriots knocked off the Houston Texans in pretty easy fashion.
The weapons for Brady are numerous with running backs Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead (who was injured in last week's game) and now Shane Vereen, who stepped in and scored three touchdowns last week when Woodhead went to the sidelines.
The wide receivers are many with Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Rob Gronkowski, the team's top receiving tight end,  is out for the season with a broken forearm.
Defensively, the Patriots have thrived on turnovers all season and have massive Vincent Wilfork up front on the line to stuff the run as well as get pressure on quarterbacks. The secondary has to be wary of the big play from Flacco and company this week.
One other game note is that these two teams met in Week Three with the Ravens winning 31-30 at home.
The key will be (as always) making minimal mistakes and controlling the football as these teams know each other very well.

PICK - New England 28, Baltimore 24

Last Week's Record:  3-1


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