(2) San Francisco at (1) Atlanta Falcons
The NFC Championship should be one of the best in years. You have a dangerous passing attack led by Matt Ryan against a physical, tough defense led by linebacker Patrick Willis. The key for the Falcons on offense is obvious: Give Matt Ryan plenty of time to throw the ball. The 49ers boast one of the most dangerous pass rushes in all of football, and if they can get to Ryan early and often, it will be a rough day for the Falcons.
The Falcons can’t turn the ball over, either. The 49ers defense is good enough to steal games, but with an offense as explosive as their’s, they can’t give the 49ers extra chances.
The key for the Falcons will be to get the 49ers off the field quickly, as they simply won’t win the game if Matty Ice is watching from the sidelines. Stopping the run game is imperative, that’s where the 49ers strength is. If the Falcons can force a couple turnovers that Ryan can convert into points, then that will be a huge win.
I expect this, like most playoff games this season, to come down to the last few minutes. I expect the legend of Colin Kaepernick to rise to the occasion in the game’s final minutes, and take out the Falcons in a nail-biting shootout.
Prediction: 49ers 34 Falcons 30
(4) Baltimore at (2) New England Patriots
Don’t expect another blowout by the Patriots, the Ravens are hungry and ready for this game.
The Ravens went into Denver as heavy underdogs and did the unthinkable: Beat the Peyton Manning-led Broncos.
Thanks to horrible coverage by Denver the secondary, Joe Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 71-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left. The Ravens defense did give up 35 points, but forced three Peyton Manning turnovers and applied lots of pressure on him.
Flacco and his receivers completely dismantled the No. 2 ranked defense. The Ravens offensive also gave up just one sack to the Broncos, who were tied for the league lead with 52. Fortunately for Flacco and his offense, they are playing the No. 25 ranked defense that was in the middle of the pack (tied for 15th) in sacks registered.
With a speedy, deep threat receiver in Torrey Smith, and a dangerous, all-over-the field receiver in Anquan Boldin, the Ravens should be able to light up the Patriots secondary. But they won’t be able to win without some help on defense.
Tom Brady leads the number one ranked offense, going up against the No. 17 defense. Should be easy for Brady right? Not so fast. The Ravens have an elite run-stuffer in Haloti Ngata, dangerous pass rusher in Paul Kruger, reigning defensive player of the year in Terrell Suggs, and ageless wonders in Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
If the Ravens can stop the No. 7 ranked rushing offense and apply pressure on Brady, something they couldn’t do in last year’s AFC championship, then the Ravens should be in good position to win.
Winning the turnover battle wouldn’t hurt, either. That’s something the Ravens did in last year’s match.
My prediction is the Ravens will have the lead for most of the game, and the motivation by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will inspire the Ravens to play their best football of the season. A rare, costly fumble by Stevan Ridley in the 4th quarter will help Joe Flacco put this game away quickly in the final minutes.
Prediction: Ravens 31 Patriots 23