AFC, NFC Championship Preview

NFC-AFC-Championships

Here we are again the final four in the NFL, and again we have two Harbaugh’s left. Last year we came within two plays of seeing a brother versus brother coaching match up in the Super Bowl. Will they finally break through today?

John Harbaugh and his Ravens play at New England, Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers play at Atlanta today. Jim goes first with kick-off at 3pm.  This years NFC Championship game experience will be different for the 49ers as they are the road team. Last year mental mistakes by Kyle Williams cost the 49ers their trip to Super Bowl XLVI. Will a year to think about what almost was be enough to overcome Atlanta’s home field advantage? Will going with Colin Kaepernick over Alex smith, who led them to the NFC Championship game last season make the difference? His ability to run as well as throw, or will his inexperience on a level this high, with all the weight on his shoulders to make Jim Harbaugh’s midseason decision still look like the right one?

Atlanta is coming off an emotional victory against the Seattle Seahawks last week, while the 49ers cruised versus the Green Bay Packers, as Colin Kaepernick put on a record-breaking performance. Atlanta’s defense has to figure out how to contain Kaepernick, and so far that has been almost impossible. Kaepernick is RGIII speed with Andrew Luck size, how he wasn’t a first rounder in the 2011 draft is mind-boggling.  Atlanta counters with Matt Ryan who had his first career playoff victory last week.  It wasn’t an awe-inspiring game like Kaepernick had, yet he got the win. Can the 49ers defense stop the Falcons large wide receivers? If the 49ers defensive backs can take away Roddy White and Julio Jones Atlanta will have a long afternoon. Patrick Willis and the rest of the 49ers defense will stop the run as expected. It will be how Atlanta attacks through the air that will make the difference. We will see a lot more of Jacquizz rodgers in this game. His speed and elusiveness, and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will be a huge asset in today’s game. NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith must play as they have all season. Smith must get to Matt Ryan, he doesn’t need to sack him, just let Ryan know he is their, disrupt the Falcons timing. Bowman has been all over the field racking up 149 tackles this season.  His production is vital to what the 49ers want to do on defense.  If the 49ers can stop Atlanta’s passing attack they should be headed toward New Orleans.

The AFC Championship game is a redo of last years game. Ravens at Patriots. A lot changes in a years time. The ravens are playing to  win a championship and keep Ray Lewis’s career alive. Lewis announced he is retiring after these playoffs, no matter what the outcome. I believe Lewis, no Brett Farve back and forth with him. He says he is done, he is done. What a career, and what a way to possibly end it. Jerome Bettis ended his career by winning a Super Bowl, he didn’t announce his retirement like Lewis did before the playoffs, but is was widely known it was most likely his last run as The Bus. The Steelers road that momentum to a Super Bowl Championship. Will the Ravens do the same?

We have the same quarterback match up in Tom Brady versus Joe Flacco. Pretty boy Brady is still never quit Brady. The 49ers had Tom and the Patriots dead to rights, down 31-3 and Brady lead them back to tie the game at 31, eventually losing but the guy still has it. Last week the Patriots easily dispensed of the Houston Texans, and the Ravens escaped Peyton Manning and the Broncos on a miracle play and one of the most questionable moves since Belichick’s 4th and 2 call at Indianapolis by John Fox.  Yes the Ravens got three very questionable calls to go their way. The pass interference on Carter that led to Torrey Smith’s first touchdown of the day, and the two Peyton Manning turnovers. The interception that Eric Decker was clearly interfered with, and the fumble that was clearly the Tom Brady tuck rule. Yet they are still playing today and you can’t take that away from them.

The Ravens and Patriots know each other very well. Little will surprise either team. It is all about who can execute, and throw in a play or two that catches the other team off guard. Ray Rice is a Patriot killer amassing more than 1100 rushing against them in his career. Remember that 83 yard touchdown run against the Patriots in the post season? He drives Belichick crazy as he can run and is a passing a threat. Covering Rice is nearly impossible, and he seems to play his best against the Patriots. Torrey Smith will be important part of the Ravens attack. How will New England defend him? The Patriots picked up Aqib Talib to solidify their secondary, he should be matched up on Torrey Smith most of the game.

The Patriots defensive strength is their rush defense, attacking them through the air is the Ravens best option. Doing this will open up lanes for Ray Rice to run through. Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense has their hands full with Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. Brady rarely throws the same spot twice. He isn’t afraid to spread the ball around, and the running game of the Patriots  averaged 4.2 yards per carry in the regular season. The Patriots are without Gronkowski but they are used to this by now. Aaron Hernandez is more than capable of causing the Ravens headaches. You add in Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd in the mix and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield catching passes it is a formidable task for the Ray and company to halt. The Ravens have ridden the emotion of Ray Lewis this far, and will ride it to New Orleans.

Harbaugh versus Harbaugh on the grandest stage of them all. The flashbulbs popping, the cameras rolling, and it is as simple as brother versus brother. Ray Lewis ending his storied career playing in his second Super Bowl. Like Jerome Bettis, and Reggie White before him, Ray will hoist that Lombardi trophy over his head and run it around the Superdome. After all it is Never More for Ray and Ravens.

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