Big-name stars will rule championship week this year in the NFL. This is going to lead us to two great games this Sunday as the Baltimore Ravens head to New England to take on the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers.
Check out the full playoff schedule here, and here is the schedule for this weekend.
|San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons||Sunday, Jan. 20||3 p.m.||Fox|
|Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots||Sunday, Jan. 20||6:30 p.m.||CBS|
Now, on to the players ready to shine this Sunday.
Ray Lewis is retiring at the end of the season, but the guy still has the game to keep playing. He has lost a step during his 17 seasons in the league, but this freakish athlete had a step he could lose and still hang with most NFL linebackers.
Also, his instincts and intelligence remain unequaled. This Lewis knows where a play is going almost as soon as the offense does.
Lewis missed most of the season due to injury. He returned for the playoffs and he has not shown any signs of rust. In the Ravens' two playoff games in this run, he has totaled 30 combined tackles and 19 solo tackles.
He is not just an inspirational player for the Ravens, he is also making a huge impact on the field, and he will again in this one as he helps diagnose what Tom Brady is trying to do with his many weapons.
Ray Lewis will be out there helping the Ravens figure out what Tom Brady is trying to do, but that doesn't mean they can stop him.
Brady is going to be on point in this game as he tries to erase memories of his poor showing in last year's championship game against the Ravens when he chucked two interceptions.
Brady has been stellar all season, and he is in the middle of a hot streak. In his past two games, he has thrown for 628 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Ravens' defense has gotten the job done in the playoffs, but this pass defense is still vulnerable. It has allowed 578 passing yards in its two playoff games.
Also, in Week 3 against the Ravens, Brady torched that defense for 335 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Brady will go for more than 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Just three times in this past regular season did Frank Gore cross the 100-yard mark. In the 49ers' playoff win over the Packers, he ran for 119 yards on 23 carries.
I get the feeling that Gore and the 49ers were making sure the 29-year-old had something left in the tank for the playoffs.
With the Falcons setting their sights on containing the rushing abilities of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Gore is going to exploit this defense.
Atlanta finished the season 21st in rushing yards allowed and 28th in yards allowed per rush.
The Falcons held Marshawn Lynch to 2.9 yards per carry last week, but Beast Mode only had 16 carries as the Seahawks fell behind early.
Gore will get plenty of touches and he will wear that defense down. He will end up with 127 yards rushing and one touchdown.
Tony Gonzalez is playing as good as he ever has during his amazing 16-year career. While he isn't going to burn anyone deep, he knows how to find open spaces and use his body to pull down catches in traffic.
Gonzalez had six grabs last week against the Seahawks on just seven targets, and whenever the Falcons needed a big play, there was Gonzalez doing whatever it took to get open, or toe-tapping his feet in the back of the end zone for a big touchdown.
The 49ers do an excellent job of defending tight ends, and Football Outsiders ranks them as the seventh best in the league at defending that position in the pass game.
However, the 49ers will have to pay extra attention to the Falcons' outside weapons, and Gonzalez will exploit the middle of the field.