NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: Breaking Down AFC and NFC Championship Games

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIJanuary 16, 2012

NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: Breaking Down AFC and NFC Championship Games

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    With the divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs finishing up Sunday evening, the AFC and NFC Championship Games are next on the docket. 

    The Baltimore Ravens will travel to take on the New England Patriots, while the New York Giants will head to the West Coast to take on the San Francisco 49ers.

    Here is an in-depth breakdown of the AFC and NFC Championship Games and predictions as to who will meet in the Super Bowl.

Baltimore Ravens Run Offense vs. New England Patriots Run Defense

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    The only names that you need to know for this matchup are Ray Rice and Vince Wilfork.

    If Rice can have a big game, both as a running back and a receiver, the Baltimore Ravens are going to be a tough team to beat. The Ravens are a run-first team, but they sometimes forget that fact during the game and neglect Rice by not giving him enough touches.

    On the defensive side of the ball, Wilfork is going to need to plug up holes and make plays in the backfield to slow down Rice. If he can do that, the New England Patriots will have a great opportunity to win this game.

    As good as Wilfork is, Rice is one of the premier backs in the league, and his dual-threat nature ultimately gives the advantage to Baltimore.


    Advantage: Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens Pass Offense vs. New England Patriots Pass Defense

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    Even though the New England Patriots really don't have any "superstars" in their secondary, they are still a talented unit that really stepped their game up against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round.

    The big reason that New England gets the edge in this matchup is because of the up-and-down play of Joe Flacco for the Baltimore Ravens. Against the Houston Texans, Flacco barely completed 50 percent of his passes.

    While he didn't throw any interceptions, he didn't make enough big plays either to be able to keep up with New England if this turns into a shootout.


    Advantage: New England

New England Patriots Run Offense vs. Baltimore Ravens Run Defense

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    The run offense for the New England Patriots is sort of like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow: it doesn't exist.

    They don't attempt to power the ball down your throats, and against a defense like the Baltimore Ravens, they'll likely run the ball even less than the did against the Baltimore Ravens.

    However, if New England does decide to try and move the ball on the ground, the advantage has to go to Baltimore. Guys like Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Terrance Cody are all capable of making plays in the backfield and causing turnovers.


    Advantage: Baltimore

New England Patriots Pass Offense vs. Baltimore Ravens Pass Defense

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    This matchup could ultimately decide the outcome of the game.

    If Tom Brady can throw another six touchdowns and 363 yards against the Baltimore Ravens, there is simply no way Baltimore can win.

    However, I don't see Brady surgically taking apart Baltimore's secondary like he did against the Denver Broncos. With that said, the New England Patriots pass offense is simply too good to completely shut down, which is why the advantage goes to New England.


    Advantage: New England

AFC Championship Game Final Prediction

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    As good as the New England Patriots have been this year, and as hot-and-cold as the Baltimore Ravens have been this year, I still like the Ravens to go on the road and come away with the victory.

    The big reason why is because of how talented Baltimore's defense is. Not only do they have the superstars on their team, but they also have experience. They simply look hungry to get their chance at a Super Bowl title.

    Baltimore is going to successfully move the ball on the ground against a poor New England Patriots' defense, which will keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.

    A late touchdown run by Ray Rice will give Baltimore the lead, and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will make big plays on New England's final drive to send the Ravens to the Super Bowl.


    Final Score: Baltimore 24, New England 17

New York Giants Run Offense vs. San Francisco 49ers Run Defense

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    This one is really a no-brainer.

    The San Francisco 49ers have the best run defense in the NFL, and the New York Giants have struggled recently to get anything going on the ground.

    The Giants will struggle mightily to get their run game going, and after a few unsuccessful attempts, they will ultimately give up on their efforts of moving the ball on the ground.

    Big advantage for San Francisco in this matchup.


    Advantage: San Francisco

New York Giants Pass Offense vs. San Francisco 49ers Pass Defense

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    There is no doubt that the San Francisco 49ers secondary played extremely well against Drew Brees and the New England Patriots.

    However, they still don't lack the type of personnel to slow down Eli Manning and the New York Giants. 

    One huge matchup to watch is how New York's offensive line holds up against the great pass rush of San Francisco. If Manning has as much time to throw the ball against San Francisco as he did against the Green Bay Packers, he will be in for another huge game.

    The level that Manning and his receivers are playing at right now is just unbelievable, which is why they get the advantage in this matchup.


    Advantage: New York

San Francisco 49ers Run Offense vs. New York Giants Run Defense

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    Running the football has been the bread-and-butter for the San Francisco 49ers all year long. Frank Gore is having one of his best seasons, and San Francisco has excelled at moving the ball on the ground.

    The New York Giants don't really specialize in stopping the run, and they don't have the best personnel to be considered a great run-stopping team. However, they have an athletic front seven, and they are capable of making plays when necessary.

    This matchup still favors San Francisco, and if they can move the ball on the ground, they will have a great chance at winning this game.


    Advantage: San Francisco

San Francisco 49ers Pass Offense vs. New York Giants Pass Defense

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    The pass game has consistently been the weak point for the San Francisco 49ers this season. Even though they've shown improvement, especially against the New Orleans Saints, it still isn't the focal point of their offense.

    After what the New York Giants secondary did to the Green Bay Packers, you have to like their chances against a much less talented quarterback and group of receivers. New York's secondary might not contain a true elite cornerback, but their entire unit plays well together and they can make plays on the ball.

    This matchup will actually be quite a bit closer than anyone could have imagined, but a slight edge has to go to New York.


    Advantage: New York

NFC Championship Game Final Prediction

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    The 2011 version of the New York Giants just look too dang similar to the Super Bowl Champions of the 2007-2008 season. I'm sorry, but a road game won't scare this team and cause them to get flustered.

    The Giants will jump out to an early lead, which means the San Francisco 49ers will be playing from behind for the majority of the game. They simply won't have enough firepower to catch up to, or keep up with, New York.

    New York lost in Week 10 at San Francisco by a touchdown, but this time, they'll be the team to win by a touchdown.


    Final Score: New York 28, San Francisco 21