NFL Playoff Predictions: Who Will Be Headed to Super Bowl 2012?

Joe KleiberCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2012

Hakeem Nicks catches a hail mary pass before halftime against the Packers last week.
Hakeem Nicks catches a hail mary pass before halftime against the Packers last week.

It's down to the final four in the NFL playoffs with only two going to the greatest event in sports, the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots just dominated the Denver Broncos and will be tough to stop. The Baltimore Ravens squeaked by the Houston Texans. The San Francisco 49ers stopped the offensive juggernaut, the New Orleans Saints. The New York Giants conquered the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

The Ravens will try to bully the New England Patriots with their physical defense and the New York Giants travel to San Francisco to end the 49ers' dream season. Here is a preview of the games and a prediction for both games.


Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

The Patriots are tough to beat at Foxborough, but the Ravens have already defeated them in the playoffs at their house in 2010.

The key to beating the Pats will be feeding Ray Rice often. The Ravens are undefeated when they give Ray Rice 20 plus touches. Will offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wake up and realize Rice is the ultimate weapon? Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco must also step up in the biggest game of his career. If the Patriots stack the box to try to stop Rice, Flacco must take advantage of the Patriots' weak secondary.

The Ravens have some nice weapons with Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Lee Evans and Ed Dickson. Can they take advantage of the Patriots' last-ranked defense?

The Patriots offense has been a juggernaut all season. Their offense obviously starts with Tom Brady, but the key to stopping this offense is stopping tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 200 yards receiving and four touchdowns against Denver last week. Brady threw six touchdowns in that game.

If the Ravens can somehow stop them, they can win this game. In addition, they need to have an answer for Wes Welker, who is another explosive weapon for New England. They must also hit Brady and pressure him. They could not do that against T.J. Yates last week, but they have to do it this week if they want to move on to the Super Bowl.

They should look to force turnovers. Terrell Suggs is licking his chops for another shot to get after Brady. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are still playing at a high level.

Ray Rice and Ray Lewis
Ray Rice and Ray Lewis

Can the Ravens defense step up to the occasion and pull off the upset? They can and they will. The Patriots defense won't be able to stop Rice and Flacco will have the best game of his career. The Ravens defense can stop even the best offenses in the league and they will slow down Brady and the Patriots.  

Prediction: Ravens 24 Patriots 20

New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers

The Giants went into Lambeau and dominated the Green Bay Packers last week. They forced five turnovers and put tremendous pressure on Aaron Rodgers. The Giants are riding a four-game winning streak ever since they defeated the New York Jets in Week 16, They are the hottest team in the league.

The San Francisco 49ers are the next team on the Giants' list. The 49ers have the best defense in the NFL and will be another tough out. The Giants must stop Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree in the passing game and they must stop Frank Gore in the running game.

Alex Smith had a great game against the Saints last week with 299 passing yards and three touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. Smith will be tough to stop, because he can scramble and get away from the rush. The Giants must get pressure on Smith and force turnovers.

Gore is one of the best backs in the game and will be the key to a Niners victory. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora will be going hard after Smith to force mistakes.

The 49ers have to also force turnovers. They forced five against the Saints. The Giants offense is so explosive with Eli Manning having a career year and Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz adding to the attack. Nicks and Cruz might be the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. They need to run the ball with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

Can the Niners defense step up to the occasion after stopping the Saints? Justin Smith might be the best defensive player in the league. Patrick Willis will be all over the field. This is the Giants' toughest test yet.

The Giants are playing at such a high level right now that it's tough not to like them in this game. The Niners defense will do a much better job of handling the Giants offense than the Falcons or Packers, but Eli will make more plays than Alex Smith. The Giants defense will get after Smith and force some turnovers. The Niners defense will play well, but they won't be able to contain Nicks, Cruz and Mario Manningham.

The Giants take it in a close one.  

Giants 21 49ers 17