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AFC and NFC predictions

 This week’s PJ 2 CJ blog previews the AFC and NFC Championship games.

Pat ‘PJ’ Strathman and CJ Matson analyze a key matchup and offer their predictions for each game.

Baltimore Ravens vs New England Patriots

Key matchup: Joe Flacco vs. Patriot pass defense

Joe Flacco knows how to run his mouth, but now it’s time to step up. Flacco is having a down year. 58 percent completion rating, 81 quarterback rating and 12 interceptions all are glaring numbers. The Ravens are a running team, but the Patriots can and will put up points. This is why Flacco is huge for the Ravens. Every great team has its weakness. The Patriots allow 294 passing yards per game. That’s good for 31st in the league. If the Ravens are trailing, look for Flacco to try to answer. If he can, look for the Ravens to turn some heads.

Prediction: Ravens 24, Patriots 38

Yes, I would LOVE to choose my Ravens in this situation, but let’s be real here. The Patriots have the best quarterback left in the postseason. Defenses may win championships, but Tom Brady knows how to win them as well. Yes, the Ravens have the gritty defense that might give the Pats fits. Baltimore is 3rd in points allowed, 3rd in yards per game allowed and 4th in passing yards allowed per game. Baltimore also has a plus four turnover margin, which may lead them to victory. Sadly, Tom Brady will find a way to get it done. Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Tom Brady are all too much for the Ravens. Pats move on.

New York Giants vs San Francisco 49ers

Key matchup: 49ers offensive line vs. Giants defensive line

The battle in the trenches can always make or break a team. Teams that dominate the line of scrimmage tend to win the game. No different here as San Francisco struggles to protect quarterback Alex Smith. Yes, the 49ers have the 8th best rushing attack in the league, but against a defensive line like the New York Giants, many questions arise. The 49ers allow the most sacks in the league with 44. The Giants have two of the best pass rushers in the league. Osi Umenyiora had nine sacks in the regular season and already has three in the postseason. Add the 4th best sacker in Jason Pierre-Paul and the Giants have a lethal combination. If San Francisco can hold those two pass rushers, the 49ers will march to the Super Bowl.

Prediction: Giants 31, 49ers 27

The G-men aren’t the prettiest team in the league, but Eli Manning and the boys know how to get it done in the postseason. While Peyton sits on the sideline, Eli takes center stage. Manning has a quarterback rating of 122, a 68 percent completion rating, six touchdowns and only one interception. The 49ers might slow down the rushing attack with the league’s best rushing defense, but the pass defense needs work. The 49ers are 16th in passing yards allowed per game. Alex Smith has been magical, but move over for Eli Manning and the Giants.

By CJ Matson

Baltimore Ravens vs New England Patriots

Key matchup: Ravens front seven vs Patriots offensive line

Tom Brady is unequivocally one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks for a myriad of reasons, but one reason for Brady’s continual success is due to his offensive line providing him with adequate protection. This season, the Patriots offensive line allowed 33 sacks, translating to only 173 yards lost, which is T-6th in the NFL. The Patriots offensive line is a tough group that had battled through injuries throughout the season. Logan Mankins, Matt Light and Brian Waters are the anchors of the formidable Patriots offensive line. For the Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl, they must harass Brady. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and the rest of the Ravens front seven need to penetrate the Patriots offense line and keep Brady under duress. If Brady is standing upright and not eluding pressure, then he and his receivers will feast on the Ravens secondary.

Prediction:  Ravens 30, Patriots 18

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are as hungry as they have ever been in their illustrious hall of fame careers. They recognize the opportunity that has been presented to them and are ready to seize it. The Ravens’ roster is littered with veterans salivating a trip to the Super Bowl.  Their offense struggled mightily against a stout Texans defense last week, but the offense can and will have success against Patriots defense that yielded 411.1 yards-per-game. The Patriots defense is among the NFL’s leaders in takeaways, but the Ravens were able to protect the football last week against the Texans. Expect the rugged, physical and relentless Ravens defense to fluster the Patriots offense just like they did in the 2010 NFL Playoffs.

New York Giants vs San Francisco 49ers

Key Matchup: Giants pass offense vs 49ers pass defense

At the start of the season, many NFL followers were surprised that the Giants released Steve Smith, a reliable and serviceable receiver who complemented Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. In retrospect, that was a great, bold move. Victor Cruz took his spot and immediately made his mark, catching 82 passes for 1,536 yards, and quickly became Eli Manning’s favorite target. Even though Drew Brees exposed the 49ers pass defense throwing 462 yards last week, they forced him to throw 63 passses and two interceptions. The 49ers were T-2nd in the NFL with 23 interceptions. As great as Eli Manning has played this season, he did commit 22 turnovers during the season. Pro Bowlers Dashon Goldston and Carlos Rodgers are the catalysts of the secondary that has revived the 49ers into one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses. Because the 49ers defense can shut down their opponent’s rush offense, they must hold the Giants pass offense in check so their offense can be balanced.

Prediction: Giants 20, 49ers 24

Both teams are very well coached. Giants are arguably the hottest team remaining in the postseason, and teams that play their best in the postseason tend to win the championship. However, 49ers showed poise and moxie last week against the Saints. Alex Smith proved he is a big-time quarterback who not only belongs in the league, but deserves to be mentioned as a top-10 quarterback. The 49ers offense isn’t anything spectacular, but they have playmakers that will step up in critical situations. The Giants offense has been on fire of late, but they won’t be able to run against the 49ers front seven led by Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, which will make them one-dimensional. Anticipate Vernon Davis and Frank Gore to gash the Giants defense open and lead the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 18 years.

by pat ‘pj’ strathman and cj matson