NFL Playoffs 2012: Best Positional Battles to Watch on Championship Weekend
With 12 quarters remaining in the football season, the NFL is saving its best for last.
The AFC will have the No. 1 (New England Patriots) and No. 2 (Baltimore Ravens) seeded teams play one another for a spot in Super Bowl XLVI.
The NFC will have two old combatants (New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers) renew their rivalry for a shot at placing another Lombardi Trophy on the mantel.
Here are the best positional battles to watch for during championship weekend.
The Ravens' OL vs. the Patriots' Front Seven
The recipe for success against the Patriots is keeping QB Tom Brady and company off the field, so the Ravens' offensive line must gain control of the line of scrimmage and hold the time of possession advantage in the game.
It isn’t Earth-shattering news that the Pats can score points. They have scored at least 14 points in 47 straight games.
Offensively, RB Ray Rice must have a huge day running the football and keep the chains moving if the Ravens are going to have any chance of winning the game.
They must limit their turnovers and not give Brady easy opportunities to put points on the scoreboard.
Ravens DE Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots OT Matt Light
In the 2009 playoff game against the Patriots, Ravens DE Terrell Suggs created havoc in their backfield all afternoon long.
On Sunday, he must again pressure Tom Brady in the pocket, as Brady can pick apart any defense if you give him enough time.
Brady rarely makes mistakes in throwing the football because he has too many options (WR Wes Welker, TE Rob Gronkowski and TE Aaron Hernandez) to defend against.
Fortunately, the Ravens won’t have to stop a rushing attack this week. But that doesn’t stop Brady from throwing deep on a defense if you let him stay on his feet.
San Francisco 49ers Special Teams
Special teams are often overlooked as being a key to a team’s success, but that’s not the case in the Bay Area.
Entering the postseason, the 49ers offense was ranked No. 26 in the NFL, and the Niners have to compensate for their offensive shortcomings by tilting the field to their advantage.
The 49ers started drives in the opponent’s zone an amazing 37 times this season, which led the entire league. This is all attributed to an opportunistic defense that creates turnovers and a great returner in Ted Ginn.
On the other side, their kicking game must pin the Giants deep in their own zone. Head coach Tom Coughlin wants his wide receivers to punish the 49ers defense for being too aggressive with blitzes by making plays in the open field.
The Giants have the perfect championship equation: a great pass rush + a big-play quarterback = trouble for any opponent.
The importance of field position is useless if the opposing team has a superior offense, but these two teams have equal talent, and good field position could be the difference in the game.
49ers WR Michael Crabtree vs. Giants CB Corey Webster
You can expect the Giants to double-team 49ers TE Vernon Davis, so QB Alex Smith must pick his spots correctly in getting him the ball. This will put added pressure on WR Michael Crabtree to catch the football and extend drives.
In their last meeting, the 49ers used the play-action pass perfectly on first down against the Giants' stacked eight-man front. Luckily, their passing game has become even more efficient and quick-striking than their last encounter.
But, the Niners will still have to effectively run the football to help neutralize the Giants' pass rush.
On Sunday, the 49ers cannot afford dropped passes that kill drives and turn the ball over to a high-powered offense. Crabtree must shake off the label of being an inconsistent wide receiver and put up huge receiving-yard numbers against the Giants secondary.