The Denver Broncos learned first-hand last week what a team run by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can do to a young squad in the playoffs. For their next test, New England hosts the Baltimore Ravens for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Sunday at 3:00 p.m. (Eastern): Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
New England's 45-10 win over Tim Tebow and the Broncos was impressive enough to make the Patriots the odds-on Lombardi Trophy favorites, especially after the Green Bay Packers -- 15-1 in the regular season -- were upset at home by Eli Manning and the Giants. Baltimore is no slouch, though.
The Ravens got past the Houston Texans, 20-13, a week ago by causing four turnovers. The Ravens' defense is as proud as it is good, but replicating such a performance will be no easy task against New England's high-octane offense. Baltimore will have to slow down New England tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have been nearly uncoverable for opponents all season long.
If Baltimore is to pull the upset, Ray Rice needs to find his groove. Rice was dynamic in the regular season, but only gained 60 yards on 21 carries last week against the Texans.
Sunday at 6:30 (Eastern): New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
Much of the regular season in the NFC made it feel like a Packers vs. Saints NFC title game was inevitable, but San Francisco and New York had other ideas. Each earned surprising wins highlighted by inspired play for their respective quarterbacks.
Aaron Rodgers is the NFL's best QB, but Eli Manning may be one of the league's most underrated at the position. Manning tossed a Hail Mary to Hakeem Nicks to end the half last week, and finished with 330 yards and three touchdowns in the surprising win at Lambeau Field.
Alex Smith has transformed from a No. 1 overall draft pick bust to a certifiable game manager this season in San Francisco. Against the Saints, he was so much more. Smith tossed the game-winning touchdown pass last week to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left in the game. He finished the contest with 299 yards and three touchdowns, with zero interceptions.
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