The Falcons came two Matt Ryan passes away from one of the most disastrous collapses in NFL history. The 49ers meanwhile tore apart the Packers last week to earn a trip to the NFC Championship game for the second straight season. Last year they outplayed the Giants, but were done in by a pair of special teams blunders, despite hitting the road for this year’s title game, the 49ers are clearly the better team.
In the Falcons win last week, Matt Ryan truly was “Matty Ice” as he got the Falcons in Field Goal range with two plays, after the Seahawks scored 21 unanswered points to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left in the game. Ryan also played well as the Falcons built their initial 27-7 lead as he erased the bad feeling of three playoff losses. Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers had one of the best postseason debuts ever or a quarterback as he beat the Packers with his arm and his legs. If Kaepernick is even half as good as he was last week the 49ers will be in good shape. The only advantage the Falcons have on both sides of the ball is their receiving core, as Tony Gonzalez who may be in his final game looks to reach a Super Bowl. If the Falcons are to win they will need a big game from Gonzalez who can help slow down the 49ers pass rush and get that big first down on any play.
On defense, the 49ers shutdown the Packers last week and that is never easy as Aaron Rodgers when he is on, he is perhaps the best quarterback in the league. Ryan is a solid quarterback but with Justin Smith back on the field, the 49ers defense is back to the quarterback crunching they were doing earlier in the year which is also bad news for the Falcons, as the return of Justin Smith has opened lanes for sack master Aldon Smith.
The only advantage the Falcons have is they will be home, and the 3pm kickoff erases that time zone shift that hurts Western teams playing in the East. There is too many weapons the 49ers have to lose this game two years in a row, and I see them taking control early which will take the crowd of the game and allow the 49ers to cruise on to New Orleans.
For the second straight season the Patriots and Ravens are meeting in Foxboro with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Last year the Ravens came with a hair of winning as Lee Evans had a pass swatted through his hands, while Billy Cundiff’s game ending Field Goal sailed wide left.
Both teams come in with their offenses flying high, as Joe Flacco’s 70 yard pass at the end of regulation will go down as one of the most dramatic plays in NFL history, especially if the Ravens survive the Patriots and go to the Super Bowl. The Patriots offense of course never slows down, as an injury to Danny Woodhead led to breakout performance of Shane Vereen who had 124 All-Purpose yards with three touchdowns. The Patriots also lost Rob Gronkowski in the game, and that opened the way for a monster game from Aaron Hernandez. That is the Patriots system, nothing seems to slow it down, even when Tom Brady was hurt they made Matt Cassel look like a NFL quarterback. Tom Brady of course will play on Sunday and will have another big day as the Ravens pass defense has not been the same without Lardarius Webb.
Defense is where the heart is for the Ravens as Ray Lewis will try for one more Super Bowl before his career ends after the playoffs. The emotional Lewis has been a key part of the Ravens returning to Foxboro for a rematch with the Patriots. However, the loss of Webb will be hard to overcome against Tom Brady, as the Ravens defense did not exactly play well in Denver, and by playing six quarters they have more wear on the tires. The Patriots defense won’t scare anybody, but as long as Brady is on that won’t be a problem.
The Ravens did beat the Patriots in Week 3 on a questionable Field Goal by Justin Turner as Torrey Smith had a monster game after the death of his brother, which was confirmed as being real, unlike a certain college linebacker. However, beating the Patriots twice in one season is a much harder task, and doing it the second time is nearly impossible. The Patriots offense is too loaded and the Ravens defense has longed too many miles. It will be close, but the Ravens journey ends here as Ray Lewis plays never more.