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» By TRENT SINGER
With the AFC Championship on the horizon, the conference’s two most dominant teams, the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens, are reaping the benefits of home field advantage.
Throughout this year’s playoffs, AFC home teams are 4-0 entering this week’s matchup. The early line has the Patriots favored by seven points and with good reason. Including the playoffs, New England is 8-1 at home this year, while the Ravens have struggled on the road all season.
There are still several key issues that New England must address in order to make their fifth Super Bowl appearance in ten years. Among those issues are improving the league’s 31st ranked defense and Tom Brady’s ability to score against the Ravens consistently stingy defense, led by future hall-of-famer Ray Lewis.
For the Ravens, they must simply defeat the odds. Their offense has found the most consistency with star running back Ray Rice. However, the Ravens’ best chance for victory may come down to the arm of quarterback Joe Flacco, who needs to show more consistency.
Both teams showed their respective strengths with home victories this past weekend.
The Ravens stifled the Texans on defense, forcing four turnovers and using ball control to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
On the other hand, the Patriots defeated the visiting Denver Broncos in dominant fashion with six touchdown passes from Tom Brady and a defense that showed tremendous improvement from the regular season. TAS
» By TRENT SINGER
At the beginning of the season, only a handful of people would have predicted the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, but in a season that was affected by a summer-long lockout, why not?
The 49ers enter this matchup as the favorite by 2.5 points, and on paper, these two teams compare equally.
Defensively, the 49ers ended the regular season ranked first in rush defense. The secondary has shown the least amount of consistency, but has benefited greatly by a stout pass-rush, led by veteran Justin Smith and rookie Aldon Smith.
On the other hand, the Giants are healthy and have proven to be dominant in recent weeks. The play of Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, along with the return of Osi Umenyiora, has given New York an enormous spark on defense.
New York’s road to the playoffs began in the final week of the regular season, with a defeat against the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title. The Giants won their Wild Card Game by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 at home. New York shocked many this past weekend by trampling the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers 37-20 at Lambeau Field.
The 49ers ended the regular season as one of the NFL’s biggest surprise teams, finishing with a 13-3 record and the NFC’s second seed in the playoffs. The team’s first playoff action came this past weekend when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints came into Candlestick Park. With only nine seconds left on the clock, Alex Smith threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, sealing the 36-32 victory over the Saints and sending the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. TAS