NFL Playoff Schedule 2013: Viewer's Guide to AFC and NFC Championship Games
There is a big difference between being among the final four teams in the NFL and actually playing in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, each remaining squad will try to get a spot in the biggest championship game in sports.
The Atlanta Falcons will host the NFC Championship Game after a wild victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the last round. This was not only the first playoff win for quarterback Matt Ryan, but for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez as well.
They will face the San Francisco 49ers, who are trying to take one more step after losing in this game last season.
In the AFC Championship Game, it will be a rematch of last year's battle between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots.
Here is everything you need to know about both games.
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
When: Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Spread (via Vegas Insider): 49ers (-4)
Injuries (via ESPN)
DT Justin Smith (Arm) Probable
LB Aldon Smith (Shoulder) Questionable
DE John Abraham (Ankle) Questionable
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback
After defeating the Green Bay Packers with 181 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, Colin Kaepernick put to rest concerns about a lack of experience.
However, there is a big difference between winning a playoff game at home and doing it on the road.
In the quarterback's last road game against the Seattle Seahawks, he struggled to complete passes and finished with a season-low quarterback rating of 72. The team ended up losing 42-13.
Atlanta has as tough of an environment as Seattle, so Kaepernick needs to show that he can handle the crowd in order to lead his team to victory.
Falcons: Julio Jones, Wide Receiver
It is not easy to defeat the San Francisco defense. The unit is solid against the pass and is even better against the run.
However, one place that the team is a little vulnerable is at cornerback. Atlanta needs to use its strength at wide receiver and try to beat this team on deep passes through the air.
Specifically, Julio Jones has great size and strength and should be able to use it to succeed against this tough defense.
Prediction: Falcons 24, 49ers 21
Atlanta has a better defense than people realize. The team gave up a lot of yards, but turnovers allowed the unit to be ranked No. 5 in the NFL in points allowed. Along with a tough home crowd, this group will be able to slow down the San Francisco offense.
While it will be difficult for the Falcons to score, Matt Ryan should be able to complete enough deep passes to win this game.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
When: Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
Spread (via Vegas Insider): Patriots (-8)
Injuries (via ESPN)
RB Bernard Pierce (Knee) Questionable
RB Danny Woodhead (Thumb) Probable
TE Rob Gronkowski (Arm) Out
DE Chandler Jones (Ankle) Questionable
Ravens: Terrell Suggs, Linebacker
The Ravens are not used to struggling defensively, but that is what happened this season. However, the return of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs has brought the group back to life.
Suggs missed the first part of the season due to an Achilles injury, and when he came back he was undoubtedly less than full strength.
He was only able to total two sacks during the regular season after finishing with 14 a year before. However, he woke up last week against the Denver Broncos and had two sacks on Peyton Manning in the win.
If he is able to replicate that performance against Tom Brady and the Patriots, it will go a long way toward helping the Ravens get the win.
Patriots: Stevan Ridley, Running Back
As good as Brady has been this season, Stevan Ridley has created balance in the Patriots offense with his ability to run the ball.
When he struggles, so does the team. New England was only 1-3 this season when the second-year player failed to top 65 rushing yards.
Ridley needs to get his carries to make sure the team does not become too one-dimensional. The Ravens will be able to slow down Brady by himself, but it will be much harder with a running game added.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 28
The Ravens are playing as well as they have at any point in the year. This will at least give them the ability to keep the game close.
However, New England might be too good offensively to stop. The Patriots averaged 34.8 points per game this season, almost five more points than anyone else in the NFL.
Even with Ray Lewis, Baltimore will not be able to keep up with the high-powered offense of the Patriots.
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