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Friday, January 20, 2012

Sportaholic AFC-NFC Championship Game Rountable

The NFL Divisional round is usually the most entertaining round of the entire playoffs. You have the 8 best teams in the league ready to tear each other apart on the field for four highly captivating games. Only two of the four games lived up to its billing as the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers played an instant classic that produced 3 lead changes in the final two minutes. The mighty and once seemingly invincible Green Bay Packers were taking down by a much crisper and effective New York Giants team that appears to be rekindling its 2007 Super Bowl run.

The Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans played a bore of a game with the Ravens coming out on top even though their offense sputtered at best (more on that later) and Tom Brady (5 TD passes in first half) just obliterated the Denver secondary as the New England Patriots ran the Broncos and Tim Tebow out of town and the playoffs

Now that the dust has settled, we now have our conference championship match ups set with New England vs. Baltimore for the AFC crown and San Francisco vs. New York for the NFC. As always here at the Sportaholic, we will attempt to tackle the five burning questions for both championship games. As usual we have staff regulars Taylor Cannon and the lovely Ashley Danielle. We also have enlisted special guest writer and sports fanatic Qwan Dowell along with the crew this time.

So without further ado, we present to you the burning questions of AFC-NFC games:

AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

1. How concerned should the Ravens be with their offense after producing lack luster numbers against Houston?

Carlos Paige: I for one have always questioned the leadership skills of Joe Flacco. It’s especially ironic that he called himself out this off season by saying he belongs in the elite QB talk as well, yeah right. 14-27 for 176 won’t get it done against the Pats high octane offense. Even future Hall of Famer Ed Reed can’t hide his disgust for what he saw out of Flacco saying: “They had a lot of guys in the box on him and they were giving [the pass] to him," Reed said. "I think a couple of times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense. I don't know how much of [that was] the play calling … The Ravens offense should be concerned about their ace all purpose back Ray Rice as he was held to 60 yard on 20 carries. Rice will have to be at his best in order for Baltimore to have a chance. He will need to come out and assert himself and to give the Ravens a chance to control the time of possession. So to answer the question, yes I think they should be a bit concerned with their offense and the mindset that Flacco has right now going into the biggest game of his life.

Taylor Cannon: They should be concerned but not too much. The Patriots D is ranked last in the league in defense. The O-line has to step up their blocking though because I don’t think Flacco can take back to back beatings and still win. They have to get Ray Rice and Ricky Williams (wow there’s a name I haven’t said or thought would be a factor in a championship game).

Quawn Dowell: The Ravens offense has never been the focal point of their team or philosophy. The Texans boasted a very good defense under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips this year. Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin have mis matches that can be exploited againts New England's defense. Look for several big plays from screens to Rice and a touchdown from Boldin this Sunday.

2. Is there any way Tom Brady and the red hot Patriots offense be contained?

Carlos Paige: This is a multi faceted offense that seems to add just enough of a new wrinkle each game to throw teams off (See: Aaron Hernandez at running back). Tom Brady seems to be in his zone right now after ripping the Broncos secondary a new backside. I saw no weakness in their offense last game but of course the Ravens defense with Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, Terrell “T-sizzle” Suggs and Ed Reed will present a significant upgrade in talent they will face. As the Broncos defense proved, if you don’t get pressure on the golden boy, he will absolutely cold bloodily kill you. The Ravens will most definitely get more pressure on Brady (Ravens team had 48 sacks this year) and have sack extraordinaire Suggs. They also will have to find a way to contain the tempo when the Pats choose to go no huddle as that proved to much for the fighting Tim Tebow’s but if any team can do it then it’s the Ravens.

Taylor Cannon: They might be stalled if Aaron Hernandez can’t go and they have to get Wes Welker involved too keep the Ravens guessing.

Quawn Dowell: Containing Tom Brady is a very tall task for any team to accomplish, even one with the Ravens defense. With that being said Tom has shown this year at times he can get flustered and make a few mistakes. If the Ravens can control the ball running and with short passes that keep the clocking running they help their defense immensly. The Patriots TE's have a match up nightmare for any team and the Ravens won"t be the exception. Look for two TDs from the best TE tandem in football

3. Which is the better strength for both respective teams? The Ravens defense or the Patriots offense?

Carlos Paige: Right now based on the way their playing I have to go with the Pats offense for the reasons I stated above.

Taylor Cannon: Patriots offense, The Ravens D, As the old saying goes offense wins games but defense win championships

Quawn Dowell: The Ravens have a great defense this year but the Patriots have a historically good offense. In this new passing era where running backs are interchangeable the Patriots utilize their complete roster to keep the defense off balanced. In order for the Ravens to win this game they will have to outscore the patriots.

Ashley Danielle: I always say a defense wins games so that will be the test of the night. If the defense can produce a master plan to attack the receivers then they may have a chance. I don't even consider shutting down Brady an option. That just won't happen. The game changer would only come from mistakes on the rest of the offense.

4. Was New England’s new found defense last week just a product of facing Tim Tebow or was it a sign of things to come?

Carlos Paige: A little bit of both I think. Tebow only completed 9 passes but those are typical numbers from him anyway. The key for New England’s defense was limiting the big plays in the passing game that allowed the Broncos to beat the Steelers. The Pats defense is as healthy as it’s been all season with the return of safety Patrick Chung, LB Jerod Mayo, and DB Devin McCourty. Those guys all ar einstrumental to the what the Pats like to do on that side of the ball so I definitely believe that they are playing much better now that they have the right personnel in place for their scheme.

Taylor Cannon: A little of both they stopped Tim Tebow and the offense (sure he didn’t have help or his throwing accuracy was horrible), but that game may have given the Patriots D some confidence in stopping the Ravens offense which had trouble getting Ray Rice going into the game

Quawn Dowell: Lets face it Tim Tebow just isn’t a NFL QB. He doesn’t posses the awareness, the release, the accuracy or the ability to beat you day in day out through the air. Tebow also lacks the speed to go with his ability to run the option. Once the Patriots saw the mistakes Pittsburgh made by giving Tebow the one pass he feels comfortable with, the deep ball, there was nothing he could do. I think this speaks more about Bill Belicheck making adjustments than it does the Patriots defense. I expect Baltimore to be able to effectively do whatever they desire on offense in this one.

Ashley Danielle: That's a good question! I was surprised by the level of confidence everyone had in that game. The defense was in rare form. I won't call it luck but you can tell that the team knows how to play good, clean football when it counts....and that's using good and clean in the filthiest way!

5. Who wins the game and why?

Carlos Paige: The Patriots will win this game and if I had to place it on a scale from 1-10 I would say I’m at about an 8 in the confidence meter. The Ravens offense just doesn’t have enough fire power to hang with Brady and co. Now their defense will keep them in the game for as long as they can but it will come a point in the game when they won’t be able to get the necessary stop they need. The only possible way I can see the Ravens winning is for Flacco to have a major game and as history has told us this year that likely won’t happen. Patriots 35-24

Taylor Cannon: Ravens D will hold for a minute but the D can’t score. The Patriots will do enough to hold and give the Patriots offense field position for them to score. Patriots win 28-21

Quawn Dowell: My heart is telling me the Ravens win and maybe thats because I'd love to see the brother re- match in the Super Bowl, but my gut says New England. Too much fire power and they are too hot at the right time Patriots win 28-21

Ashley Danielle: Umm....I think I've bragged enough for you to know where my money's going....

NFC Championship: New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers

1. How do the 49ers stop Eli Manning?

Carlos Paige: The same way they stopped Drew Brees which they really didn’t with him throwing for 462 yards, they just knocked the hell out of anybody that caught his passes. The 49ers have to be the best tackling team in the league as evident by their performance against arguably the best receiving tandem for gaining yards after the catch. Eli can rack up the yards just as Brees did but as long as the Niners lay the wood like they did against New Orleans they should be just fine.

Taylor Cannon: REPEAT WHAT THEY DID AGAINST THE SAINTS- make him throw picks and pressure him. Also they must shut down the tall athletic Giants receivers. The crowd must get into the game to put some pressure to distract Eli also.

Quawn Dowell: Frank Gore and Patrick Willis. The 49ers got into a shoot out with the Saints; they do not want to take that approach with this one. Pound Frank Gore and blitz the LBs at the right tims to keep Eli under duress. Eli has been playing very well but does have a history of making mistakes under pressure.

2. Can the 49er offense put up points again like they did against the Saints?

Carlos Paige: Alex Smith made me a believer last game with his play. Throwing for 300 yards with 4 TDs (3 passing 1 rushing) and especially doing it when the game was on the line solidified it for me. So yes I think they can put up enough points to beat NY especially with that nasty run game that they feature with Frank Gore. Vernon Davis showed that he finally can be the reliable tight end that we’ve always expected out of him and he is Smith’s go to guy now. It gives me great pleasure that his lasting image now won’t be him walking off the field and being sent to the locker room by Mike Singletary. Who can forget that famous rant that Singletary had: "[As for] Vernon, it was something I told everyone at the beginning of the week. I will not tolerate players who think it's about them when it's about the team. And we cannot make decisions that cost the team and then come off the sideline nonchalant. No. You know what? This is what I believe, I'm from the old school. I would rather play with ten people and just get penalized all the way until we gotta do something else rather than play with 11 when right now that person is not sold out to be a part of this team. I told him he would do a better job for us to take a shower and watch the game on the sidelines rather than take the field."

Taylor Cannon: No, The Giants Front D is a little better than the Saints D so they will not let them get their run game started and they will rattle Mr. Smith a whole lot more than the Saints D, but the Gians secondary has been known to be suspect from time to time.

Quawn Dowell: No the 49ers offense isn't best equipped to play the way they did against the Saints. They get back to their game this week and pass when needed. Also the Giants pass rush is the best in football. Osi, Tuck and Pierre-Paul are nightmares for a team wanting to pass the ball. I see this game staying in the low 20s high teens at best.

Ashley Danielle: San Francisco has some key players including Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. If Alex can link up with Davis and Crabtree like he did last week then they won't have a problem. I'm not banking on a high scoring game....may even come down to a field goal for the win.....

3. Which WR is likely to have the bigger game for the Giants?

Carlos Paige: Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz? Hmm now that is a good question. If I had to pick I guess I would say Nicks who is having a breakout playoff performance so far. Nicks has 13 catches for 270 yards and 4 TDs. The most impressive stat however is the 21.5 yards per catch he is averaging right now. Cruz has received a lot of double coverage to open up that side of the field for Nicks so it almost like pick your poison at this point. I do believe Cruz will make it to the end-zone at least once in this game so get ready for a little salsa dancing.

Taylor Cannon: Wow, I think both need to come up big to help the Giants win cause THIS IS THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP , everyone needs to bring their A game  (especially the receivers) to get to the BIG GAME..

Quawn Dowell: By the way things have been going it appears to be Victor Cruz's time to take the stage. Both of these guys have shown the ability to step up when they other is not having their best game. I see Cruz with his speed being able to get downfield and cause problems for Niners secondary.

Ashley Danielle: Hmmmm.....Hakeem Nicks will be my pick. Last week he had 7 receptions, 2 TD's and longest catch, an impressive 70 yarder to Cruz's 5, 0 and 18, respectively. Since he had such a big game last week, I don't doubt that Eli will ultilize him this Sunday. Hell, either way they both play on the same team....whoever has the best playoff bonuses will probably do the talks....that's all I'm sayin'

4. Which defense is playing better and which would rather have?

Carlos Paige: Both defenses have just been mauling opponents this post season. The Giants defensive linemen are just big powerful men who overwhelm you with power and speed. Justin Tuck, Osi Umineyora, and Jason Pierre-Paul can wreak havoc on any team and they have all come to play in the playoffs. But if I had to choose I think I would have to say San Francisco because they seem to be the more complete unit. The defensive line with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith provide adequate pressure on the QB, the LBs with Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman will hit like a freight train, and the secondary has been all over the field with Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner and Tarell Brown in coverage. This defense reminds me of the old dynasty defenses that the 49ers had in the late 80s and 90s.

Taylor Cannon: - The Giants -They kind of remind me of the run they did a few years ago when they were the wild card. This team somehow plays its best when they have its backs against the wall. Also if the front line gets going and puts some pressure they cannot be stopped.

Quawn Dowell: The 49ers have the beter defense but the Giants defense is playing the best. Right now there is no better pass rush than the Giants posses and this allows their corners to play more aggressive. The 49ers will be hard to run the football on but the Giants have numerous weapons and will be tough to

Ashley Danielle: If I was still playing fantasy football I'd prefer to have the 49ers defense. They have some impressive men on the line including Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and defensive end Justin Smith. They were first in the league in run defense (77.3 yards per game) and fourth overall (308.1 yards per game) which means they are a force to be reckoned with. All I have to say is "Watch out Eli!! Them boys are coming for ya, AGAIN!"

5. Who wins and why?

Carlos Paige: The 49ers 27-20 victory in week 8 was one of the better games of the year and gives us somewhat of a blueprint towards how this one will be played. Both teams are physical upfront with New York having the edge on offense, and San Fran the edge on defense. I’m taking the 49ers in this one by the slimmest of margins based on the fact that they have home field advantage and that defense that suffocated one of the most potent offenses of all time in the Saints. Look for it to be tough physical game that will see a few players go down. I do believe that if Eli Manning gets hot then he may just will the Giants to the win but like I said I just think San Francisco with that defense and at home will be too tough. San Francisco 30-23.

Taylor Cannon: Giants defense will set up great field position for its offense and Giants will not turn the ball over and will get the run game going to set up the pass early. Giants 28-17

Quawn Dowell: The Giants win a close game mainly due to Eli Manning out playing Alex Smith. Lets face it Alex Smith impressed everyone last week with his gutsy performance. But I’m not sure it didn’t take everything they had emotionally to win that hard fought battle. The Giants had an easier time with GB and I see them more poised to win the game. Looks like we are headed to a rematch with NY vs. NE, Giants win 24-14

Ashley Danielle: These two teams met up in the regular season with a Giants loss, 27-20. Eli has something to prove since Justin Smith single handedly batted down his 4th down pass to potentially win that game. I'm going to to leave this one up to the God's of Football. I just want to see a great game.


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