Friday, January 20, 2012

NFL Championship Game Weekend

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-Digger's Daily-

The NFL will have two new conference champions Sunday night. Defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh and NFC Champion Green Bay are yesterday's news. Football's version of the final four kicks off at 3:00 pm Sunday from Foxboro when Baltimore battles New England. The nightcap certain to set viewing records when New York plays San Francisco on a muddy Candlestick Park turf.

AFC Championship Game
Baltimore Ravens (12-4) @ New England Patriots (13-3)
These two teams couldn't be more opposite if they tried.

Baltimore: As everyone knows, it's all about defense. If they expect to win this game Harbaugh's defense will need to play the game of their lives. Creating pressure and disguising coverages is their only chance. Or, is it? If the Ravens ground game gets rolling on long ball control drives (remember Giants vs Bills? Giants vs Patriots?), then they'll be able to keep Patriots offense on the sidelines. A must for Ravens is to finish drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. Ray Rice will get plenty of touches rushing as receiving out of their backfield. Keeping the chains moving is key. Don't be surprised if Baltimore gives New England an old fashioned whipping!

New England: Success relies squarely on Tom Brady's right arm. New England's defense gives up yards and points in bunches. It's a good thing their offense scored the most points in the AFC. Brady's targets are plentiful. Speedster Wes Welker reeled in 122 and 9 TD's. Tight End Rob Gronkowski caught 90 & 17 TD's. Next up, another TE, Aaron Hernandez with 79 & 7. There's reliable vet Deion Branch chipping in with 51 & 5. This is a gifted group nearly impossible to cover. Baltimore's defense represents New England's greatest challenge of the year and visa-verse. Offensive line must play huge. Coach Belichick is NFL's best game planner.

Prediction: Patriots roll, 33-24.

NFC Championship Game
New York Giants (9-7) @ San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Field conditions could become most dominating factor.

New York: Timing is everything and Giants timing is perfect lately. This team is in a grove on offense, defense, special teams and coaching. A dangerous 9-7 team. QB Eli Manning is on fire. Only sore spot is poor run blocking failing to open lanes for Ahmad Bradshaw & Brandon Jacobs. Pass protection is key and line better come up big in bad field conditions if the Giants expect to win this game. Manning needs to stay calm, cool & collected against an oft-blitzing 49ers aggressive defense. No turnovers another big key. Giants defense has been on the money lately and came up huge vs Green Bay's celebrated offense in last weekend's divisional match-up. 49ers ground game is strong. Defense will prevail if they're able to keep San Francisco in 3rd & long situations.

San Francisco Are these guys really as good as their 13-3 record? We'll find out Sunday night. San Francisco had a weak schedule aided by playing in NFL's weakest division (NFC West). They only played 4 teams with winning records and scored 20 or below 6 times. Divisional opponents ranked 12, 13 & 16 in points scored contributing a long way towards posting a NFL low 229 points against. Defense sets the tone. Field position is everything. This offense isn't geared for long yardage drives. They're an efficient run oriented attack even though QB Alex Smith came up huge vs New Orleans last weekend. Ball control and defense remains the key. Without one or the other it'll be a long day vs a hot Giants squad.

Prediction: Straight up I'd pick Giants to win huge, 34-10. However, weather may become a big contributing factor. Candlestick resides below sea level. It's raining now and expected to last through Sunday night. If this game turns into a slop bowl then this becomes an anything can happen game.

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