The Patriots posted a 13-3 record this year, along the way they played three playoff teams. In those three games, they won once and lost twice. The playoff team they beat in the regular season is the same team they beat last week; the 8-8 Denver Broncos. The Ravens meanwhile went 12-4; they played six playoff teams in the regular season. They won all six games, including a sweep of the Steelers who beat the Patriots.
Offense has been the theme of the 2011 NFL season, as teams darkened the skies with passing. The Patriots were one of these teams as Tom Brady passed for over 5,000 yards, passing Dan Marino’s old record but coming up short behind Drew Brees for the record. The Patriots defense meanwhile was a weakness. They were the 31st ranked defense in the NFL. Only the Packers who were 32nd despite their 15-1 record were worse. No team that has been worse than 25th in defense has ever won the Super Bowl. The Saints were also weak on defense at 25th. Last week they fell to a team with a better defense as did the Packers. The Ravens provide a strong defense that could expose the Patriots shortcomings.
The one thing the Patriots defense can do is create turnovers, and if the Ravens are to win in Foxboro for the second time in three years they must avoid the turnover. Last week Quarterback Joe Flacco struggled against the Houston Texans. However, the Texans pass defense was among the best in the NFL, and despite his struggles Flacco did not turn the ball over, which ended up being the big difference.
In the end defense still wins championships and defense will be the key Sunday as the Ravens come into Foxboro make life uncomfortable for Tom Brady and win the AFC Championship Game.
The Giants are the hot team in the NFL, coming off their big win over the Packers in Lambeau Field. They are healthier than they have been at any point this season and they are playing better than they have at any point this season. The 49ers meanwhile showed that they are back and are for real with their dramatic win over the New Orleans Saints.
Coming into this season Quarterback Alex Smith was considered a bust of epic proportions, especially since he was chosen first overall in the same draft that saw the Packers pick Aaron Rodgers. However, with the help of Coach Jim Harbaugh he had the best season of his career, and last week in his first playoff game had two Touchdown drives in the last in the last four minutes, while hitting Vernon Davis with the game winner in with nine seconds left. By doing this Smith out dueled Drew Brees, and proved he can win in the NFL now he comes against another top flight quarterback in Eli Manning and he has to do it all over again.
Eli Manning had perhaps the best season for any quarterback in the history of the New York Giants. He also set a record for Touchdowns in the fourth quarter proving he can lead the Giants from behind. However, against a good defense like the 49ers who beat the Giants earlier this season he will need more help from his running game. In that loss on November 13th, the Giants played without Ahmad Bradshaw. The bad news is the 49ers rushing defense is the best in the NFL, and with the weather forecast calling for heavy rain in San Francisco, offense could be at a premium.
Over the last few weeks big plays like a 99 yard pass to Victor Cruz against the Jets, and a 66 yard pass to Hakeem Nicks last week against the Packers have helped propel the Giants offense. If the field at Candlestick is slick and wet those plays may not be available and this will make things much harder for the Giants. Look for a sloppy muddy game and that will play into the 49ers hands as they win a close one to set up the Super Har-Baughwl.