Coming up on ESPN:
Atlanta Falcons vs San Francisco 49ers
Time & Date: Monday January 21, at The Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA.
Coverage: LIVE 7.00am AEDT
After what was quite frankly the best divisional round games for a long time can this match up live up to expectations? Let’s take a look.
The San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) come into this game on the back of a very impressive win against the Green Bay Packers, with Colin Kaepernick putting on a record-breaking performance while running the ball himself (181 yards, two touchdowns). The 49ers will look to him again to lead the offence with his dual-threat skills.
Look for the second year quarterback to get the ball to wide receiver Michael Crabtree on those key 3rd down situations. Crabtree had a terrific game against the Packers with 119 yards and two touchdowns and looks to have finally developed into WR1 the 49ers drafted him to be.
The 49ers veteran runningback, Frank Gore, also looks to be in form after a 119 yard rushing performance with one touchdown. The Falcons will surely have their hands full with the 49ers offensive weapons.
However, that’s not all the 49ers have on the table, the 3rd ranked overall San Francisco defence, despite playing an injured Justin Smith, is still a major strength for this team. Expect veteran LB Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to be seen all over the field.
The Atlanta Falcons (13-3), and perhaps in particular quarterback Matt Ryan got a huge monkey off their back after their last gasp win last week against the Seattle Seahawks. This should mean that the Falcons will be able to play with more confidence in this game, however their 24th defence has a big task at hand in trying to at least limit Colin Kaepernick.
This task seems even more ominous when you consider their best pass-rusher, John Abraham, should still be limited with an ankle injury. Abraham had 10 sacks and six forced fumbles this season, but only managed 15 snaps against the Seahawks before aggravating his left ankle.
Their offence however could cause a lot of problems for the 49ers vaunted defence. Look for the match up between the Falcons receivers and the 49ers secondary to be key, with major contributions from both Julio Jones and Roddy White. Lest we forget veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, who only last week earned his first playoff win in a career lasting 16 years.
The 49ers have lost the last four match ups between the two sides, three of those games were decided by four points or less.
The last time a road team won an NFC Championship game in a dome was in the 1998-99 season, when the Falcons won in Minnesota.
Final Word and Prediction: Not many will give the Falcons a chance in this game, including me. Sorry Falcons fans but I can’t see the Falcons defense doing enough to stop the 49ers offense. The 49ers to win 28-20.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6) @ New England Patriots (12-4)
Time & Date: Monday 21 January, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, New England
Coverage: LIVE 10:30am AEDT
So, the AFC Championship game is here again and it’s a rematch of last year’s thriller. You might remember, that game ended with the Pats winning 23-20 on a missed field goal with eleven seconds left. In Week 3 this year, the Ravens turned the tables by winning another great game 31-30. These teams are no stranger to each other and the stage is set for a tough battle.
Last week, the Baltimore Ravens created a major upset by beating Denver in a fantastic overtime game 38-35. The Ravens had big play after big play to topple Peyton and the Broncos, particularly Torrey Smith who Joe Flacco hooked up with on just three catches, a 59 yard TD, a seven yard catch and then a 32 yard TD.
Baltimore’s defence has been solid without being the spectacular beast that we’re used to in 2012, finishing the season ranked 17th overall with injuries and age being major factors.
Somehow, the New England Patriots have managed to be an offensive juggernaut again this season. Despite injuries to their key weapons the Patriots scored 557 points this year (that’s 34.8 points per game) – 76 points more than second ranked Denver. They also ranked first in total first downs (444 – that’s 62 more than anyone else), third down conversion percentage (48.7%) and total yards per game (427.9) amongst a stack of others. In other words, New England can score better than anyone.
Their defence though? Ranked 25th in the NFL, and that’s the key to the Patriots chances at making the Super Bowl. While they have been effective stopping the run how they deal with Joe Flacco’s big arm will be key.
Final word and prediction: As much as everyone will be talking about Tom Brady and the Patriots offence versus Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defence, this game is actually about the horrible New England pass defence. The Pats secondary is ranked 29th in the league and it’s going to have its hands full against an in form Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
No doubt that this will be a high scoring shootout and because of how bad the Patriots secondary is, I’m picking the big upset, give me Baltimore 38-34!
Game preview provided by US Sports Down Under
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ESPN AUS LIVE coverage – Host team shown first
Jan 21 07:00am NFC Championship Game: Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49ers
Jan 21 10:30am AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens
Jan 28 11:00am AFC/NFC Pro Bowl 2013
Feb 4 10:00am NFL Superbowl XLVII (re-air 7pm)
ESPN2 AUS Host team shown first
Jan 21 07:00pm NFC Championship Game: Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49ers
Jan 21 09:30pm AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens
Jan 28 07:30pm AFC/NFC Pro Bowl 2013
Feb 5 06:00pm NFL Superbowl XLVII
All games air on Short-turnaround