The penultimate week of the 2012-13 NFL Season takes place in Atlanta and New England this weekend with the Falcons playing host to the San Francisco 49ers, whilst the Patriots welcome in the Baltimore Ravens in their respective Championship Games to be played on Sunday.
NFC Championship Game
Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49ers: The first of the two games will take place at the Georgia Dome where the conference top seed Falcons will play host the second seed 49ers.
This will be the Falcons second NFC Championship Game, and their first since 1998 where they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history when they defeated the then Super Bowl favourite Minnesota Vikings.
Atlanta who had lost all three previous playoff games under the reign of head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan finally broke that duck with a dramatic 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks last weekend.
The Falcons twice lead by 20-points before giving that up in the final quarter. However Ryan led the Falcons down the field and Matt Bryant successfully converted a 49-yard field goal.
That win was the Falcons 14th of the season and despite being the conference top seed and hosting the Championship Game Atlanta will enter the game as a slight under-dog.
But that doesn’t seem to faze the Falcons whose ambitions from the start of the season still remain the same, to win the Super Bowl. “Our goal is not to win one playoff game,” Ryan said after the victory over the Seahawks. “Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That’s the mindset I have. That’s the mindset this team has.”
Ryan has been terrific this season and will once again attempt to use his array off offensive weapons (Rowdy White; Julio Jones; Tony Gonzalez) as the Falcons attempt to break down one of the league’s best defenses.
There opponents in San Francisco moved one step closer to redemption following their 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers last weekend.
That game was the first in the post-season for sophomore quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the former University of Nevada star stole the show as he ran and passed for a couple of touchdowns.
Kaepernick, who took over from Alex Smith midway through the season was tremendous in the victory over the Packers and will want to continue that momentium in Atlanta on Sunday.
“It feels good,” said Kaepernick who will take on a Falcons defense that has had trouble tackling a mobile quarterback this season. “We’re one step closer to where we want to be. I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.”
Kaepernick was a rookie when the 49ers, lead by Smith lost in the corresponding game last year, 20-17 to eventual champions the New York Giants.
Jim Harbaugh’s team made several key mistakes during that game and banking on the play of Kaepernick and their excellent defense the 49ers will look to go one better than last year.
Prediction: No-one has given the Falcons any sort of respect this season but on Sunday that will all change as Matt Ryan will lead Atlanta in their first Super Bowl in 15-years. Final Score; Falcons 27 49ers 24
AFC Championship Game:
New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens: For the second year running the Patriots will host the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at Foxborough.
Last time these two teams meet in the playoffs the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl following a dramatic 23-20 victory.
Incredibly the Ravens had the chance to win the game but wide receiver Lee Evans dropped what would have been the game winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter and Billy Cundiff than missed a 32-yard field goal which would have sent the game into overtime.
In that game Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady and he also did so in their week three clash this year when Baltimore avenged their playoff lost last season.
However that week three victory, as good as it was will go nowhere to compare should the Ravens beat the Patriots on Sunday.
“I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” exclaimed Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to reporters during the week. “If we go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough.”
Baltimore the conference fourth seed beat the Indianapolis Colts in the first week of the playoffs before producing one of their most courageous efforts in their 38-35 double overtime victory over the conference top seed Denver Broncos last weekend.
The Ravens are playing on high emotions due to the imminent retirement of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis and the so-called spiritual leader of the franchise is determined for his career to end at the Super Bowl to be played in New Orleans.
However if Lewis, Flacco and the rest of the Ravens want to get to New Orleans then they have to get past Brady and the all conquering Patriots.
New England, who many regard as the best team remaining in the playoffs comfortably beat the Houston Texans 41-28 in their Divisional game last weekend but their victory was soured with star tight end Rob Gronkowski re-breaking his forearm and therefore missing the rest of the playoffs.
Despite Gronkowski’s absence Brady was able to find an unknown hero in the form of Shane Vereen who caught three touchdowns last weekend. Brady and the Patriots will look to find a way past this highly emotional Ravens team and make it back in the Super Bowl where they will look to make up for last year’s heartbreak.
Prediction: For the first time in 25-years the AFC Championship Game will feature the two teams from the year before and Baltimore will avenge last year’s defeat to New England and finally make it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13-years. Final Score; Patriots 20 Ravens 27