NFL Playoff Schedule: Everything You Need to Know About Each Championship Game

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won 31-30. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

After the thrilling Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, it will be tough for football fans to wait an entire week for more. Fortunately, the AFC and NFC Championships are certain to be just as entertaining.

With only two games remaining until Super Bowl XLVII, the final four looks very similar to last year. The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will once again compete in the AFC, while the San Francisco 49ers return to the NFC title game.

The only difference is the Atlanta Falcons, who take the place of last year's champion New York Giants.

Anything can happen in this year's playoffs, so make sure you do not miss a second of the action. Here is everything you need to know about the two matchups.


San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

When: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.

Watch: FOX

Spread (via Vegas Insider): 49ers -3.5


How Each Team Got Here

Atlanta finished the regular season with a 13-3 record to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

In the second round of the postseason, the Falcons blew a 20-point lead to the Seattle Seahawks before getting a game-winning field goal from Matt Bryant with only a few seconds remaining.

The San Francisco 49ers won the NFC West and earned a first-round bye with an 11-4-1 record. They were then able to defeat the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-31 behind 181 rushing yards by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 


Key Players

Falcons: Tony Gonzalez

Prior to last week, Tony Gonzalez had accomplished almost everything on a football field except win a playoff game. He finally was able to cross that off his list with a victory over the Seahawks.

The tight end has been in the league for 16 years, but he is still one of the top players in the league at his position. He finished third among tight ends in both receiving yards and touchdowns.

Gonzalez has been a matchup problem throughout his career, and he continues to be, especially against a tough defense like the 49ers. 

Atlanta is 7-1 when the veteran gets a touchdown this season. Quarterback Matt Ryan must make sure he looks his way when the team gets near the end zone.


49ers: Patrick Willis

Although Colin Kaepernick was the star of the playoff win over the Packers, it is important to note that the defense held the high-powered Green Bay offense in check for most of the game.

That is mostly thanks to Patrick Willis, the first-team All-Pro linebacker who is one of the best defensive players in football.

While he did not rack up the statistics of teammate NaVorro Bowman, he is still everywhere he needs to be on the field and continues to be a leader of this top defense.

For the Falcons to succeed offensively, they must know where Willis is on the field at all times.


Prediction: 49ers 31, Falcons 27

This is certain to be a higher-scoring game than many expect. Atlanta can throw the ball as well as anyone in the league, while San Francisco is just starting to utilize its offensive weapons.

However, the game will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes.

Only one team in the NFL had fewer turnovers than the 49ers this season, and Kaepernick has done a great job taking care of the football, with only three interceptions. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan almost cost his team the game last week with two interceptions, and he threw 14 during the year.

In a close battle like this, the team that does not make a mistake will win.


Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

When: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.

Watch: CBS

Spread (via Vegas Insider): Patriots -9


How Each Team Got Here

Baltimore is the only remaining team from the Wild Card Round after upsetting the Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime. Before that, the Ravens were able to easily defeat the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 24-9.

The New England Patriots were one of the first teams to clinch the playoffs and easily won the AFC East with a 12-4 record. After receiving a first-round bye, the squad took care of business with a second-round win over the Houston Texans by a score of 41-28.


Key Players

Ravens: Terrell Suggs

One reason that the Ravens struggled defensively throughout the season was the lack of production from two of its biggest contributors over the last few years: Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

Both were hurt for various points of the season, and neither were expected to contribute much in the playoffs. However, Lewis finished with 17 tackles in the win over Denver, while Suggs had 10 tackles and two sacks.

A lot has been made of Lewis' retirement tour, but Suggs might be more important in this upcoming game. His ability to put pressure on Peyton Manning kept him out of rhythm, and it led to three turnovers.

He must do the same thing in this game against Tom Brady.


Patriots: Tom Brady

As long as Brady is playing, it does not seem to matter who else is playing on offense. Wes Welker will be his go-to target, but various injuries have limited his options deep into the playoffs.

Still, the quarterback proved that does not matter by finding little-used running back Shane Vereen five times for 83 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in the win over the Texans.

The Ravens might have a more physical team, but Brady has the experience and patience to find the best option and put it in a perfect location. If he plays to his ability, it will be all the Patriots need to come away with another win in the conference title game. 


Prediction: Patriots 38, Ravens 35

As well as New England has played in recent weeks, the Ravens always have a habit of making this matchup close. 

Baltimore only lost by three points in last year's title game and even beat the Patriots 31-30 in Week 3 of the regular season.

However, the quarterback play is going to be the difference, as Brady simply knows how to win at this level. Joe Flacco is overmatched in this matchup. 


For more NFL talk leading up to the Super Bowl, follow me on Twitter. 


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