NFL Playoffs 2012: AFC Championship Preview/Predictions

New England Patriots (13-3) vs Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

Preview: It’s only fitting that the Patriots and Ravens are the 2 teams left standing in the AFC. They finished with the best records during the regular season and will now duke it out to see who will represent the conference in this years Super Bowl.

The Patriots are coming off of a BEAT DOWN of the Denver Broncos last weekend. Tom Brady tied an NFL record by throwing 6 touchdowns in the first half as the Patriots ended Tebow-Mania for the year with a 45-10 victory. Rob Gronkowski was a beast (or a “Gronk” if you will) for New England catching 10 passes for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. The leagues second-worst defense stepped up their game and held Tim Tebow to a 34% completion rate and 0 touchdowns.

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t exactly dominate the Texans last Sunday, but they still played a sound defensive game and eliminated Houston 20-13. The Ravens defense picked off Texans QB T.J Yates 3 times and held the rookie to 48% completion and less than 200 yards through the air.

Ravens free safety Ed Reed recently came forward with comments concerning his quarterback Joe Flacco’s play during the Houston Texan game…

“I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit,” Reed said on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday. “The Texans had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense.”

Despite the win, Joe Flacco didn’t have himself the best of games. He completed just 49% of his passes for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both of his touchdown passes came in the first quarter. He was indecisive in the pocket and got sacked 5 times by Texan defenders.

Fun Fact: Tom Brady needs 4 more touchdowns to join Joe Montana and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to have 40 or more postseason scores

Big Question: Can the otherwise poor Patriots defense be effective for a second week in a row?

Final Pick: This is the hardest decision I have had to make so far during these 2012 playoffs.

The Patriots have been on fire offensively as of late. Tom Brady took the Broncos defense and made them look like a pee-wee football team. 6 touchdowns in one half in the postseason is an insane statistic. He enters this game against Baltimore playing his best football of the year.

If you look back at the Patriots schedule though, you would be amazed to find that New England has yet to defeat a team with a winning record all year. 2 of their 3 regular season losses came against teams that qualified for this years playoffs (Pittsburgh and New York) and finished with more than 8 victories. Pittsburgh and New York also finished with top-5 defenses, a feat that the Ravens also accomplished.

Joe Flacco needs to have a bounce-back performance from last weekend in order for the Ravens to win this game. He needs to be faster and smarter in the pocket and make better decisions with the football. The Patriots secondary is bad enough that Flacco can air it out and be successful, but I still expect to see a lot of Ray Rice early on in this game. The Baltimore Ravens are 10-0 when Rice gets 19 or more touches this year. He is a huge game changer that can be effective running the football or catching it out of the backfield.

The battle between great offenses and great defenses has clearly been won by defense in this years playoffs. Star offensive quarterbacks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are both sitting at home now after being taken out by stellar defensive teams in San Francisco and New York.

That trend will not end on Sunday. Tom Brady has a history of bad games when opposing defenders reach him in the pocket. With Ngata on the line, Suggs and Lewis in the middle and Webb and Reed holding down the secondary, Brady might be in for a rough Sunday afternoon. I predict the Ravens will walk into Foxboro stadium and pull out a close victory behind a strong defensive performance and a healthy dose of Ray Rice. The Baltimore Ravens will be your 2012 AFC Champions.

Final Score: Ravens 27, Patriots 23

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