Keys to Victory for NFL's Final 4

Michael Nargi@NargOnSportsSenior Analyst IJanuary 20, 2012

Keys to Victory for NFL's Final 4

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    The Super Bowl matchup will be decided this Sunday. 

    There are many enticing headlines that can cover the sports pages on Monday morning. Will we be looking at a rematch of Super Bowl XLII between the New England Patriots and New York Giants?

    Or is another rematch on the horizon, with the Giants and the Ravens? In Super Bowl XXXV, Baltimore got the best of the Giants.

    Will the Harbaugh brothers meet again this season, this time with everything on the line?

    After Sunday, there will be two weeks to prepare for the matchup, but it all gets underway at 3 p.m. on Sunday, when the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens square off in Foxboro.

AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots look to avenge a 33-14 thumping by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009 playoffs.

    New England is hoping to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since their loss to the New York Giants.

    Time is running short for Baltimore's defensive veterans, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. This might be their last run to the Super Bowl.

How the Batlimore Ravens Advance to the Super Bowl

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    Baltimore will need to go into Foxboro and manage the game against the Patriots. They have won before in the playoffs in New England. This should ease their nerves as game time approaches. The Ravens will need to execute on offense if they want to stay in this game.

    Baltimore needs a huge game on offense from Ray Rice. Rice had an unproductive game last week and looked lost against the Houston Texans

    The Patriots defense is nowhere near the Texans defense however.

    Rice needs to get through the Patriots defense. The Patriots may come with a similar defensive look to the one they used last week against the Denver Broncos.

    Run first defense. If this is the case, Rice has to get into the open field and make receptions and gain yards with his elusiveness.

    Joe Flacco has to take the opportunities that he is given. He needs to rely on Anquan Boldin more than anyone. He is a veteran who has been in this position before, and does not let pressure get to him.

    Torrey Smith has oftentimes been Flacco's go-to-guy this year. Unfortunately, he is not that good.

    The rookie had nine yards last week in his first playoff game.

    His numbers are along the lines of Boldin's on the year, but he drops too many balls that would result in big plays. In the last six games, he has had more than 48 yards in only one game.

    His last 100+ yard game was on November 20th. Aside from his two big games this year (152 yards and 165 yards), he has not had another 100+ yard game, and every other game he had was mediocre at best.

    Flacco needs to utilize both Boldin and Lee Evans in this one, and get away from Smith. 

    The Ravens defense needs to prove that they are worthy of the hype.

    They need to step up in this game. 

    They will face their biggest test of the year when they try to stop Tom Brady and his arsenal of tight ends in New England.

    New England wins because no one can cover their tight ends. It is time for a statistically great defense to come out and stop them.

    If they stop Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski they can win this game.

How the New England Patriots Advance to the Super Bowl

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    The New England Patriots look to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since being upset by the New York Giants in 2007.

    New England's defense has been improving lately. Statistically, they are second to last in opponents' passing yards per game.

    Joe Flacco will still have trouble taking advantage of this. The Patriots will need to make sure they don't allow him to make big plays and keep the Ravens in the game offensively.

    The Patriots are riding an eight-game win streak as they enter this game. Rob Gonkowski has been a big part of that streak. He will need to continue his dominance this week, along with fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez.

    Gronkowski has 1,472 yards and 20 touchdowns, and Hernandez has 965 yards receiving and eight touchdowns coming in to this week.

    If they dominate the Ravens defense and get the ball to these two, the Patriots will win again.

    Tom Brady was simply exceptional last week against the Denver Broncos, throwing for 363 yards and six touchdowns. I would not expect those kinds of numbers this week, but it would not be surprising to see him get close to those totals.

    Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would want nothing more than to get to the Super Bowl, especially when they know that it may result in a rematch against the Giants.

    If they keep the Ravens defense at bay, they will be on their way.

NFC Championship: New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    The New York Giants look to continue their hot streak as they face the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon. 

    Both teams have come further than anyone would have expected this season, especially the 49ers. 

    San Francisco could not have expected a home NFC Championship game in the first year of new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

    In November, these two teams met at Candlestick Park and the 49ers came out victorious, 27-20. 

    The two teams kicked five field goals combined in the first half, to give the 49ers a 9-6 lead at halftime.

    Akers added another field goal in the third quarter, before Manning connected with Manningham, to give the Giants a 13-12 lead going in to the fourth quarter.

    The Giants allowed two touchdowns, however, in the first 2:34 of the fourth quarter to find themselves trailing 27-13. In between touchdowns, Manning threw an interception, giving San Francisco great field position and setting up a one play, 17-yard touchdown run by Kendall Hunter.

    New York had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, driving to the San Francisco 10-yard line but failing on a 4th-and-2.

    The rematch should be just as exciting as the first game. With sloppy weather in the forecast, it might come down to who can execute the most efficiently.

How the New York Giants Advance to the Super Bowl

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    The Giants have been playing do or die football for over a month now, and enter this game with a 4-0 record in NFC Championship games.

    Eli Manning threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns the last time they played the 49ers. Manning threw a costly interception however, and two total in that game.

    On Sunday, he will need to play flawlessly if the Giants want to win. 

    Victor Cruz is going to be important for the Giants as well. Even if he does not put up a lot of yards, he will attract attention from the defense and open things up for Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. 

    Cruz was on a tear entering the playoffs and did his part to get the Giants in the playoffs. Since the playoffs began he has warranted a lot of attention.

    Nicks has been able to put up huge numbers with the defense focusing more on Cruz, reeling in 13 catches for 280 yards and four touchdowns in two games.

    A crucial element to the game will be the deep throw by Manning.

    He leads the league with 96 15+ yard attempts and 44 completions. He also was second in the league in 30-yard completions.

    The 49ers secondary is very good, meaning Manning will have to be precise with these attempts.

    On defense, the Giants have looked like a different team in the last few weeks.

    They have thrown all the numbers out the window that they were burdened with in the regular season. They are clearly improving and are now healthy.

    The dominant Giants line will be trying to disrupt Alex Smith's management of the game.

    Alex Smith is going to be handing the ball off a lot in this one. The Giants have to get to not only Smith, but also Frank Gore in the backfield.

    As for New York's backfield, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw need to be productive from the beginning of the game.

    Last week against the Green Bay Packers, they did most of their damage when the game was already put away.

    If they are able to carry over that momentum this week, then they might be able to break through on the best rush defense in the league.

    If the run game is not there however, the Giants cannot waste time trying to get it going. 

    Their strength is the passing game. 

    If the Giants are able to get the production from Manning and the receivers, they will be on their way to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

    For more on why the Giants can win the Super Bowl, visit here.

How the San Francisco 49ers Advance to the Super Bowl

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    The San Francisco 49ers will be looking to beat the Giants for the second time this season.

    They will need to do a better job of containing Eli Manning this time. They lived on the edge in the last matchup, allowing Manning to throw for over 300 yards.

    If they want to win this game, they need to keep Manning under 300 yards. 

    Their rushing defense is the best in the NFL. However their passing defense, in terms of yards allowed per game, ranks 16th in the league.

    This is where the game will be decided. 

    The Giants have shown that they can have a mediocre rushing attack and still win games. Their passing game is electric, and the 49ers will try to limit New York's execution early on in this game.

    San Francisco led the league in turnover ratio at plus-28. If they force turnovers again against New York, they will have a better chance to win.

    San Francisco can virtually eliminate a team's rushing attack, so it will be important that the secondary is able to contain all of the Giants' receivers.

    Alex Smith has to be effective managing the game, and not allow the Giants defense to overwhelm him.

    Vernon Davis is going to have to have another incredible game for the 49ers, if they want to be productive in the passing game.

    Frank Gore will also have to have a great game in this one, if the 49ers want to keep their remarkable season alive.

Super Bowl Prediction

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    When the games end on Sunday, I believe the New York Giants and New England Patriots will be set to face off in the Super Bowl.

    No matter what happens, all four teams deserve to be battling for their spot in the Super Bowl.