AFC: Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
The matchup getting the most attention and deservedly so, is how the Patriots’ offense stacks up against the Ravens’ defense. This matchup involves future Hall of Famers in Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed. It also has household names (or soon to be) like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Terrell Suggs. I’ll give a slight edge to the New England offense. Besides the tight ends, the ground game is by committee and the line gives Brady time in the pocket. I also like the fact that Deion Branch is a consistent target as he showed last week, and they still have Chad Ochocinco although he has had a humbling season. If I’m the Ravens, I go outside the box and put Lewis on Gronkowski, Reed on Hernandez, and Webb on Welker.
The battle that may decide the game, Baltimore offense against the New England defense. Ray Rice should carry the load on the ground and through the air. They will need Joe Flacco to step his game up, and Boldin has to use his experience to his advantage against a young secondary. Belichick may stack the box defensively to take away Rice, while challenging Flacco to beat them. Defensively, the Patriots have come together to force pressure and turnovers, and I think they do enough on that side of ball because you know Brady and company will score points.
The no-huddle offense led by Brady may wear out the Ravens defense, especially Ray Lewis, who many believe is a 2-down linebacker at this point. I think New England can contain Rice just enough, while forcing a few 3 and outs. I expect the first half to be close, and I’ll go as far to predict a 14-13 score in favor of New England at home.
When it comes to the 2nd half, I like the Patriots to make the proper adjustments to extend the lead to double-digits, and sealing a Superbowl bid with a final score of 30-17.
NFC: New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
Welcome to the slugfest at Candlestick. The Giants come into this game with momentum at the right time. The back of the defense has taken advantage of a monstrous front-4 that is taking over games. Not to mention the running game between Bradshaw and Jacobs is catching on. New York believes if the game is close, Eli will close it out. With a very talented receiving core that can do different things, the Niners defense will have its hands full.
Speaking of the Niners defense, they will probably hold their own as they did all season long. These guys are all over the field, physically beating you up throughout the game. With Pro Bowlers all over that defense, the Giants will need Eli to play like he has in 4th quarters, because that turnover-prone Eli could put them in a whole to big to overcome. Offensively, the Niners will pound the ball and go right at that defensive line. They will lean on Frank Gore to move the chains and set up the playaction to Vernon Davis. Alex Smith will need another strong performance.
This could be a low-scoring defensive struggle. You have 2 confident teams with talent on both sides of the ball. The coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Tom Coughlin, have done remarkable jobs down the stretch to get to this point. The Giants have been here before, and may pull off a repeat of their Superbowl run as a wildcard team a few years back. San Francisco has risen to the occasion, so don’t expect them to fall off now. They have home field and a recipe for success that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think we will see a few explosive plays in the first half, although that doesn’t necessarily translate to points. I think the Giants will try to keep offensive balance, until they get short on time and the Niners make them one-dimensional.
I think San Francisco continues their miraculous season with a Superbowl appearance, winning 26-17.