It’s championship weekend and two great games are lined up for Sunday. San Francisco travels to Atlanta to take on the Falcons, and the Ravens head back to Foxborough looking for revenge against the Patriots. Here’s a preview of what to expect from each game.
Sunday January 20th, 3 pm: San Francisco (-3.5) at Atlanta
The 49ers are in their 2nd straight title game, while the Falcons are coming off their first playoff win in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era. The 49ers are looking to capitalize on last year’s missed opportunity, this time with quarterback Colin Kaepernick at quarterback instead of Alex Smith. The Falcons are looking to justify their #1 overall seed in the NFC and prove the doubters wrong. This 1 vs. 2 matchup should definitely be an exciting game to watch.
X Factor: Once again I think the receiving core of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez will have to be the difference maker if the Falcons want to win this game. They already proved themselves against Seattle’s defense, which was the #1 defense in terms of scoring. Now they have to go up against the 49ers defense, ranked #2 overall in scoring. If they can make big plays down the field early like they did against Seattle, the Falcons have a good shot at a Super Bowl berth.
What’s at Stake: It’s no secret that a Super Bowl berth is at stake for both teams in this game. However, each team has different motivations. The 49ers are looking to redeem themselves after giving away last year’s title game to the Giants. Kaepernick is looking to justify his position as the starter by leading them one game farther than Alex Smith did last year. A San Francisco win would mean its first Super Bowl appearance since the Steve Young era. On the other hand, Atlanta is trying to reach its first Super Bowl since they lost to John Elway’s Denver Broncos. They are also looking to become just the second number one seed in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl in the last 6 years (New Orleans, 2009).
The San Francisco 49ers have been tested all year and have overcome a lot of adversity. Their defense has been lights out and their offense has been given a new twist with Kaepernick at the helm. Atlanta made a huge step by beating Seattle, but in the end the 49ers experience will prove too much for the Falcons to handle. San Francisco wins 31-21.
Sunday, January 20th 6:30 pm: Baltimore at New England (-9.5)
The Baltimore Ravens will play the New England Patriots in the AFC title game for the second straight year. After a good start to the season, Baltimore hung on late to grab the #4 seed in the AFC. After beating the Colts in the Wild Card Round, the Ravens shocked everybody by taking down Peyton Manning’s Broncos in the divisonal round. Baltimore has now gained some momentum and are one of the few teams not intimidated by playing in Foxborough. Meanwhile, the Patriots cranked out yet another good season and their third straight year with a first round bye. They dispatched Houston in the divisonal round and look to make it two straight super bowl berths.
X Factor: Bill Belichick
These teams have played each other a lot over the last couple of years. For the most part, the teams have been evenly matched and the games fairly close. While there are several players on both teams that could be difference makers, I believe coaching will be the difference in this one. Which coach is going to switch it up and show some new looks to give his team the edge? That’s why I believe that Bill Belichick will outcoach John Harbaugh and give the Patriots a great chance to win the game.
What’s at stake:
There are several things at stake in this game. For the Ravens, a chance to reach their first Super Bowl since 2000. A chance for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco to reach their first Super Bowl. Most importantly, a chance to extend Ray Lewis’ career one more game. For the Patriots, it would be the chance to reach their 6th Super Bowl in the last 13 years and have the opportunity to redeem themselves after last year’s heartbreaking defeat.
I was fairly surprised to see that the Patriots are favored by 9.5 points in this game. I certainly think the game will be closer than that. However, I simply don’t see New England losing at home and giving away the chance to redeem themselves from last year. In the end, the Patriots prolific offense will be too much for the Ravens defense. Patriots win 24-21.
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