Championship Round Preview

Only two weeks are remaining until the much-anticipated, universally-watched Super Bowl. The 49ers, Giants, Patriots, and Ravens are the only remaining teams, and each have one more step until Indianapolis.

The “Edge” means who has the advantage at that matchup.

Rankings: Landslide, Medium, Slight, Even

AFC Championship Game

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

Sunday, 3:00 PM ET, CBS

Ravens’ Offense vs. Patriots’ Defense: The Ravens have primarily featured RB Ray Rice this season, but with tandem sidekick: Ricky Williams. Rice finished second in the league with 1364 yards on the ground this regular season. Williams ran for 444 yards this season. Joe Flacco, despite facing loads of analytical criticism, threw for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns. This season, the Patriots defense ranked 31st overall in the category of Total D. Despite having a recent defensive improvement in the playoffs, New England has struggled versus the pass.

Edge: Ravens/Medium

Patriots’ Offense vs. Ravens’ Defense: Like every other season, Tom Brady has performed phenomenally. In the regular season, Brady threw for over 5000 yards and threw 39 touchdowns. TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, and WR Wes Welker have all starred in New England’s explosive offense. Additionally, the Patriots run game has picked up the pace as of late. The Ravens’ defense, which was fantastic in 2011, ranked third in the league. They are lights out and completely obliterate the other team’s running game. Baltimore also ranks in the Top 5 for pass defense.

Edge: Patriots/Slight

Other: The Patriots have home-field advantage and have more momentum rolling into this game.

Edge: Patriots/Slight

Key X-Factors: Ravens: OLB Terrell Suggs, NT Haloti Ngata, CB Jimmy Smith, FS Ed Reed (if healthy), RB Ray Rice. Patriots: CB Kyle Arrington, NT Vince Wilfork, TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, RB Stevan Ridley.

Edge: Even

Bottom Line: The Edge is split between the two teams, and the game will come down to whoever can manage the clock meanwhile have an effective attack.

Prediction: Ravens, 27, Patriots, 24

NFC Championship Game

New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers

Sunday, 3:00 PM ET, CBS

Giants’ Offense vs. 49ers’ Defense: The Giants offense has been red hot over the last few weeks. They rallied 37 points last weekend against the reigning Super Bowl champions, and they have clearly found the perfect harmony between the run and the pass. Eli Manning had the stomach bug earlier this week, but has been practicing and should be 100%. The 49ers defense, nearly identical to the Ravens’ defense, has been absolutely incredible this season. LB Patrick Willis has been prodigious this season, also. The Niners’ defense ranks in the top five.

Edge: 49ers/Slight

49ers’ Offense vs. Giants’ Defense: QB Alex Smith, who was dubbed a bust just before this season, has stepped up his game immensely. Smith, the 2005 First Pick Overall, threw for 3144 yards, 17 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. RB Frank Gore has been nothing short of a work horse this season. Gore is known for his inside the tackles, ground’n’pound running style that truly defines the 49er team. RB Kendall Hunter is their change of pace back who can transform a ball game on any given play. The Giants’ defense is infamous for its scary pass-rushing front seven. DE/OLB’s Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka all deliver nightmares to opposing Quarterbacks. They have an array of blitzes and methods, also.

Edge: Giants/Slight

Other: San Fran has the home crowd, and the Giants had to travel west across the entire country. Both teams have loads of momentum.

Edge: 49ers/Medium

Key X-Factors: 49ers: FS Dashon Goldson (if healthy) LB Patrick Willis, LB Navarro Bowman, NT Isaac Sopoaga, RB Frank Gore. Giants: S Antrel Rolle, DE/OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, WR Victor Cruz, WR Mario Manningham, QB Eli Manning, RB Brandon Jacobs.

Edge: Giants/Slight

Bottom Line: Like the AFC Championship game, this matchup is very even. The Niners benefit from not having to travel across the country, however.

Prediction: 49ers, 17, Giants, 14

Super Bowl Matchup: Ravens/49ers (The Harbaugh Bowl II)

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