The epic conclusion to the mega NFL preview is finally here! You've all been waiting for it, and I am happy to deliver.
Who will win the AFC Championship game? Will it be the Baltimore Ravens led by the cannon arm of Joe Flacco and the pitter-pattering feet of Ray RIce? Or will it be the perennial powerhouse New England Patriots reserving a spot in their sixth Super Bowl since 2001?
Who will be deemed the best in the NFC? The surprising Chicago Bears spurred to victory by the combination of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall? Or is it finally time for the Dallas Cowboys to return to the glory they so thoroughly enjoyed in the 1990's?
And the even bigger question. Who will be the victors of it all? Who will be crowned the best football team in the world?
You'll have to read to find out.
I have been tirelessly researching and studying. I have looked at NFL patterns, measurements and all kinds of things you wouldn't even want to know about it. And it all comes down to these last three games. I break down these future matchups for you right here, right now, and highlight the biggest plays made by the biggest players, in the biggest games. (The way I think it will happen; take it with a grain of salt).
AFC Championship Game:
- New England wins the coin toss and elects to defer. Like it matters, Belichick.
- The Ravens take the opening kickoff and drive down the field, stalling inside the Patriots 15. They settle for a Justin Tucker 39 yard field goal. Ravens lead 3-0.
- The Patriots respond with a long drive of their own, but Tom Brady misses an open Rob Gronkowski on 3rd and 6, and they settle for a 52 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Game tied 3-3.
- Both teams are forced to punt on their next drives, as the first quarter ends with an unspectacular 3-3 score.
- The Ravens find success on the ground with Ray Rice as he finds daylight and goes for 33 yards to the Patriots 40. However, the Patriots defense holds again, and the Ravens attempt a 53 yard field goal, which Tucker barely gets over the crossbar. Ravens up 6-3.
- Brady has a tough time finding his rhythm as his 3rd and 7 pass to Brandon Lloyd is knocked away.
- The Ravens enjoy another sustained drive but for the third time stall in New England's side of the field. Tucker puts through his third field goal from 43 yards out. Ravens extend the lead to 9-3.
- But with 1:46 remaining, Baltimore has left too much time on the clock. Brady marches down the field, as he so often does, in the dying minutes of the half. He completes 7 of his 8 pass attempts on the drive and caps it off with a 12 yard strike to Gronkowski with just 22 seconds remaining. Patriots capture their first lead of the game at 10-9.
- Three minutes into the second half, we see the first turnover of the game as Ed Reed jumps in front of Brady's pass and gives the Ravens the ball at their own 29.
- The teams trade blows back and forth but ultimately punt on the next two possessions.
- Finally Joe Flacco turns it on and directs his team into the Patriots red zone. He finds Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin for two receptions each during the drive. Rice finishes it with a three-yard plunge into the end zone. Ravens reclaim the lead 16-10.
- Brady returns the favor as he really starts to heat up. He finds Lloyd over the middle for a five-yard touchdown pass. Patriots up 17-16.
- On the next drive, Flacco makes his first big mistake and tries to force one into tight coverage. Cornerback Kyle Arrington makes the interception for the Patriots and returns it to the Baltimore 19.
- From there, it takes Brady only three plays to turn it into points. Wes Welker breaks away from his defender and glides in for an easy seven-yard score. Patriots pull ahead 24-16.
- With just about 9 minutes left now, the Ravens fail to convert a fourth down and are forced to punt.
- Ray Lewis comes up with a huge stop on 3rd and 2, stuffing Stevan Ridley up the middle. Patriots punt it back.
- With 3:17 remaining, Flacco converts a huge 3rd and 8 with a screen pass to Rice who heads up the field for 17 yards to the Baltimore 44.
- The Ravens methodically move down the field, getting just inside the Patriots 10, setting up last minute drama.
- With 15 seconds left, Flacco is sacked back to the 15 by Vince Wilfork. The Ravens have to burn their final timeout.
- With seven ticks left, Flacco finds Boldin in the end zone. He hauls in the catch but is called out of bounds. Instant replay confirms the call.
- 4th and 11, the last play of the game, Flacco throws it into the end zone but has it batted down. Foxborough erupts, and the Patriots are back to the Super Bowl.
Final Score: Patriots 24, Ravens 16
- The Cowboys take the opening kickoff and move down the field. Their drive stalls at the Bears 42, just outside field goal range. On 4th and 3 the punting unit trots out, but it's a fake! Punter Chris Jones pulls the ball down and looks to pass, but the coverage is there and the pass falls incomplete
- The Bears struggle to get warmed up, going three and out with their great field position.
- Dallas comes back down and this time gets close enough for Dan Bailey who makes a 49-yard field goal to open the scoring. Cowboys 3-0.
- Things start to heat up as the Bears choose to go for a 4th and inches from the Dallas 26. Matt Forte rams his way through and picks up the first down.
- Two plays later, however, Jay Cutler is picked off in the end zone by Safety Gerald Sensabaugh. The Cowboys defense has come out impressive.
- The Cowboys return to Bears territory, and Tony Romo finds Dez Bryant on 3rd and 5. Bryant slips away from his defender and gets down to the Chicago 20 but fumbles as he goes to the ground. The Bears jump on the ball. Dallas challenges the call, but the call is upheld.
- With the resulting momentum, Chicago gets on the board with a beautiful 41 yard pitch-and-catch between Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Bears lead 7-3.
- On the very next play from scrimmage, Romo tips his hand, and Charles Tillman jumps the route. He makes the easy interception and trots into the end zone for a 14-3 Bears lead.
- But Romo is not to be deterred. He does his best Tom Brady impression and leads the Cowboys down the field, finding Miles Austin for the 4 yard score with less than a minute remaining. Halftime score, Bears lead 14-10.
- The Cowboys force a quick three and out. They take possession and waste little time getting into the red zone. Just three minutes in, Romo hits Austin again for another TD catch. The Cowboys pull ahead 17-14.
- After another failed Bears possession, Romo nails Bryant in stride for a 56 yard reception down to the Bears seven-yard line. Two plays later, DeMarco Murray pays dirt from four yards out. The tables have turned, and the Cowboys threaten to pull away 24-14.
- But Cutler will have none of it. He composes himself and leads a strong drive, capping it off with a TD strike to Earl Bennett from 14 yards. Bears climb back, down just 24-21.
- As the quarter winds down, Romo is pressured and sacked by Julius Peppers. The ball pops loose and is picked up by Brian Urlacher who easily runs the remaining 25 yards to the end zone. The crowd goes absolutely bonkers, but the Cowboys use their final challenge, and the play is overturned with video evidence clearly showing Romo was down by contact.
- The Bears take the lead back anyways as Forte dives in from the one-yard. 28-24 Chicago.
- Halfway through the final period, Dallas can't convert a third down deep in Chicago territory and settle for a Dan Bailey chip shot field goal. The lead is cut to 28-27.
- The Bears chew up six minutes of game clock and Robbie Gould connects on a 35-yard field goal to push the lead back to 4. Bears 31-27.
- Dallas takes over with just 2:30 remaining. They get to midfield and face a big 3rd and 7 with 1:38 left. Romo finds Jason Witten for a 13-yarder gain to move the chains.
- Dallas' dream ends when Romo is intercepted again by Tillman at the Chicago 18. Three kneel downs from Cutler, and the celebration is on.
Final Score: Bears 31, Cowboys 27
Welcome to the New Orleans Superdome for Super Bowl XLVII! It's the Patriots and the Bears. Let's get it on!
- The coin toss comes up heads, and 50% of betting Americans throws their remote at a wall.
- The Bears win the toss, and they want the ball. They're going to score.
- Or maybe not... Jay Cutler, the quarterback who hasn't been to the Super Bowl six times, shows early nerves and is intercepted in the end zone by Devin McCourty.
- Tom Brady picks apart the Bears defense and drives down for the opening score. Danny Woodhead scampers in from three yards out. 7-0 Patriots.
- Matt Forte takes a pitch from Cutler and breaks away down the sideline for a 40-yard pickup. The Bears advance to the New England one-yard line but are held out on third and goal. Robbie Gould picks up the easy chip shot. Bears cut the lead to 7-3.
- Brady again looks unstoppable as he spreads the ball around and finds Brandon Lloyd for an 11-yard score. A hot start for the Patriots has them up 14-3 early in the second.
- The pace slows as the Bears defense starts to pick things up. However, Cutler and the offense are having a really tough time finding their legs in this game.
- With about five minutes left in the half, the Bears tack on another field goal, this one from 48 yards. Patriots still lead 14-6.
- The Bears even get another shot before the half, but Cutler throws his second interception. Patrick Chung makes the pick and is pushed out of bounds at his own 33.
- After each team is forced to punt, the Patriots take possession near their own 20. On the first play, Brady is intercepted by Brian Urlacher who rumbles back to the Patriots 19-yard line. It was a great opportunity for the Bears to get back in it.
- However, the offense continues to struggle and can only move the ball two yards in three plays. Gould makes his third field goal, and the lead is 14-9. The Bears fans in the crowd start to murmur.
- Late in the period the Bears have possession again and a big decision to make. They face 4th and 4 at the Patriots 41. Cutler and the offense trot onto the field. Cutler drops back and looks for Marshall, but his pass falls incomplete. He walks off the field, head in hands, kicking himself for the missed opportunity.
- Brady makes them pay as he glides down the short field with ease, connecting with Rob Gronkowski on a 12-yard score. The Patriots begin to pull away, 21-9.
- Cutler brings the Bears back but takes a big sack on third, and the Bears are knocked out of field goal range.
- The Patriots get the ball with about seven minutes, and do what they do best—grind. A 12 play, 82 yard drive seals the game with a second TD run for Woodhead. With only 1:38 remaining, the Patriots have blown it open 28-9.
- The Bears charge down the field and score on a Marshall 15-yard TD catch, but it is far too little, far too late. Under a minute remaining, and the celebration is already underway.
Final Score: Patriots 28, Bears 16
So there you have it, folks. Tom Brady captures his fourth Super Bowl ring as well as his third Super Bowl MVP. The curse of Bridget Moynahan is finally broken, and Tom Brady, accompanied by his wife Giselle Bundchen, announces his retirement from football.
Thanks for reading, and have a great 2012 NFL season!