NFL Conference Championships: Preview and Result

Frank Doyle | Updated Jan 18, 2013

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San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

A Second Chance for San Francisco

Last year, the 49ers looked ready to punch their Super Bowl ticket late in the NFC Championship against the New York Giants. Then Kyle Williams imploded. The young wideout fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter to let the Giants back in the game. When the contest went to overtime, Williams fumbled yet another punt, setting up Lawrence Tynes’ game-winning field goal. This time around, the 49ers won’t leave the game in the balance.

Atlanta is a tough place to play, but now that Colin Kaepernick has settled in as the 49ers’ quarterback, the club’s offence has confidence and balance. He has the speed and agility to keep plays alive and the arm to stretch the field. “He can take a play that looks like a broken play, and looks like we have covered up, and turn it into a 70-yard touchdown run,” Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson told reporters of Kaepernick.

“That’s something that we’re definitely cognizant of.” Knowing about it and stopping it are two completely different things. You could question whether the Falcons even deserve to be in this game after blowing a 20-point lead last week against the Seahawks, while the 49ers easily rolled over Green Bay. It’s hard to take a road team favoured by 4.5 points in any game, let alone the NFC Championship, but the 49ers are a much better team. Final score prediction: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 21.

End of an Era

Sure, it would be a great story if Ray Lewis played in the Super Bowl in his final season, but it’s not going to happen. He played his heart out in last week’s upset win over the Broncos, piling up 17 tackles. That’s the kind of game his fans will remember. These two teams always seem to play close games, but I can’t see Joe Flacco and Baltimore’s offence keeping up with Tom Brady and the Patriots.

While New England won’t have Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, home-field advantage will be a big factor. Early forecasts expect a cold, windy matchup and in that situation, you have to give Brady a big edge over Flacco. “You’re talking about arguably the top two or three greatest quarterbacks of all-time. So when you go from Peyton Manning to Tom Brady, you’re going from 1A to 1A,” Ray Lewis said Thursday on a conference call with national reporters. “It’s not like you get a drop-off. … Playing against Brady and just watching him sometimes, you’re always in awe on watching on how good he really is.”

Nobody’s ever said anything like that about Joe Flacco. Expect Brady and the Pats to learn from the mistakes Manning and the Broncos made last week and roll to a big win. Final score prediction: New England 35, Baltimore 24.

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