Previewing the conference championships in the NFL

AFC Championship Patriots Ravens Football

In the middle of trying to figure out this weekend’s conference title games it dawned on me, there are only three games of professional football left for this season. Yes, i’m discounting the Pro Bowl next weekend because none of the players try and it’s a terrible game that I only glance at occasionally. While it’s a little discouraging that there’s such little football left, at least it’s known that championship weekend can provide plenty of fireworks. Last weekend was an excellent weekend of football and I expect Sunday’s games to keep the momentum. Let’s take a look at how things will down:

Biggest factors and match ups: Last week the Patriots were able to cruise past Houston because of the Texans’ inability to make big plays and keep up with the offensive firepower of the Patriots. That won’t be a problem for the Ravens, who have plenty of big play making ability on offense and defense. It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Flacco performs because despite all the “elite” jokes that are thrown his way, he does have the ability to make big plays and take big risks. The Ravens defense and special teams will have to play a big part in helping take the blows from the Patriots offense. How much will the Gronkowski injury affect the Patriots on offense? No doubt he’s a major part but chances are that Brady (watch him go to Welker early and often) will find a way to make it work.

It’s incredible to think that the Falcons are a 4 point underdog at home, as the top seed in the conference. That’s what happens when teams do what the 49ers did last weekend, where they looked like clear favorites. The Falcons finally have the playoff monkey off their back but how will they respond as the stage gets bigger and the pressure mounts? Matt Ryan will have to make big plays to his big time receivers because I don’t see the Falcons running game being that effective against a Niners defense that doesn’t really allow big plays on the ground. Can the Falcons get enough pressure on Kaepernick? At least to keep him from getting outside and running wild. The 49ers offensive line is among the best in the league and versatile QBs have given Atlanta fits throughout the season.

Prediction: The Ravens aren’t a team that’s going to back down when the pressure is great. In fact, the Ravens welcome the pressure and have played the Patriots very well in recent years. It’s going to take some big plays and late game magic from the Ravens to beat the Patriots in Foxborough. Do I think the Ravens can slow down the Patriots offense enough? No, but I think the game will be closer than most people expect. The Patriots edge out the Ravens at home. In the NFC the Falcons are being disrespected a bit but it’s not surprising when they’re up against Kaepernick, who looked looked like the greatest football player of all time last week. I expect Kaepernick to regress a bit but I still expect him to give Atlanta’s defense plenty of problems all game. I just don’t see the Falcons thriving on offense against a 49ers defense that’s too fast, too big and too tough. Falcons keep it close but the Niners make a play on defense late in the game to seal the deal. Patriots-49ers will be Super Bowl bound after Sunday’s games are over.