By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Sunday, January 22nd
2 p.m. CBS
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Line: New England -7.5
Two years ago, the Ravens went into Gillette Stadium and embarrassed the Patriots 33-14. It began a streak where New England lost two straight home playoff games. When Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos came to Foxboro last Saturday night, that mattered little. Less than two minutes into the game, the Patriots led 7-0 en route to building a 35-7 halftime lead and won easily 45-10. Meanwhile, Baltimore used four turnovers by Houston to hold off the Texans 20-13.
It’s hard to imagine another time when Tom Brady has been so good. Granted he broke records a few years ago but six touchdown passes in a playoff game? Perhaps Brady was insulted by all the Tebow coverage and the lack of attention that was focused in his direction. The Ravens will have to do their best to keep Brady off the field. That means Ray Rice, Ray Rice, and more Ray Rice. Joe Flacco isn’t the liability many make him out to be but in Baltimore’s four losses Rice averaged only 38.8 yards per game. In the 12 games the Ravens won, Rice picked up 100.9 yards on the ground.
What seems to stand out the most about this matchup is how different Baltimore is when they play at home as opposed to on the road. At home the Ravens scored 27 points per game and only gave up 15. On the road Baltimore only managed 20 points while surrendering 18. However, the Patriots didn’t beat a team with an above .500 record all year. The Ravens had six victories against such teams.
5:30 p.m. FOX
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
Line: San Francisco -2.5
The unlikeliness that has been the 49ers continued in last week’s dramatic, last-second victory against the Saints. If Joe Montana and Dwight Clark had “The Catch” and Steve Young and Terrell Owens had “The Catch II”, how do we title what Alex Smith and Vernon Davis hooked up for last Saturday. No one will ever confuse Smith for Montana or Young but Smith did something that’s never been done in the history of the NFL. He led two drives that ended in go-ahead touchdowns in the final three minutes of a playoff game.
The Giants on the other hand, look like the same G-men who made a magical run to the Super Bowl and knocked off the undefeated Patriots four years ago. Before the season most of us laughed when Eli Manning said it was time to start thinking of him as an elite quarterback in terms similar to Tom Brady. Yet, while starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw was out and New York struggled to find anything on the ground, Manning carried the Giants.
San Francisco has already defeated the Giants once, in early November, but Bradshaw didn’t play in that game and the 49ers Frank Gore sat out after only a few carries. San Francisco has been the beneficiary of turnovers all season. The 49ers led the league in turnover margin during the regular season and got five in their playoff game with New Orleans. The thing that most forget is San Francisco’s dominance on special teams. Punter Andy Lee can flip the field and set his defense up in great position. Kicker David Akers has been money all season. Plus their coverage teams held down Darren Sproles and created two of the five turnovers last Saturday.