Monday, January 14, 2013

NFL Conference Championship Games

The Patriots (13-4) advanced to a Jan. 20 rematch with Baltimore for the American Football Conference championship. The Ravens (12-6) two days ago knocked off the top-seeded Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime. Last season, the Patriots were able to survive a challenge from the Ravens thanks to a late field-goal miss by Billy Cundiff.

Tom Brady is the main reason New England is so tough to beat in a playoff situation, the Patriots also run a very balanced offense.

''I think the two best teams are in the final,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. ''Baltimore certainly deserve to be here and so do we.''

The Patriots were made early 9 1/2-point favorites against the Ravens.

This season, Justin Tucker beat out Cundiff for the kicker's job. Tucker hit a 47-yarder against Denver on Saturday to lift the Ravens to a 38-35 win in double overtime, extending Ray Lewis' career for at least one more week and putting the 17-year veteran one win away from his second Super Bowl. Baltimore halfback Ray Rice rushed 30 times for 131 yards and a touchdown.

''We fought hard to get back to this point and we're definitely proud of being here,'' Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. ''We feel like it's going to take a lot for somebody to come and kick us off that field come the AFC championship game.''

The Falcons and 49ers haven’t met since Week 4 of the 2010 season at the Georgia Dome. At that time, Mike Singletary was San Francisco’s head coach and Kaepernick was playing at the University of Nevada. The Falcons won, 16-14, when Bryant hit a 43-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. The Falcons’ chances against Kaepernick will hinge on the status of the pass rusher John Abraham. After Abraham hurt his ankle against the Seahawks, Russell Wilson flourished because he did not face pressure.

The experience of playing a mobile quarterback like Wilson had better help the Falcons prepare for Kaepernick, who is even more dangerous running the read-option behind a bullying offensive line.

"Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are mobile quarterbacks who throw the ball at extremely accurate levels," Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. "We can use this game as a cheat sheet to prepare for next week." .

Ryan will have the chance to make some hay downfield with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. No team spreads the ball around as well as Ryan and the Falcons.

San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick set an NFL single-game rushing record for a quarterback with 181 yards and two touchdowns. He also passed for 263 more yards and another two scores. Vernon Davis was targeted five times overall by Kaepernick. He could get even more opportunities Sunday.

"We're one step closer to where we want to be," said Kaepernick.

Though the 49ers must travel cross country for the game, they opened as 3-point favorites.

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