NFC and AFC Championship Game 2013 Preview & Capsules

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

From NFL Communications, here are the previews of the two Conference Championship Games as well as the game capsule for the Ravens @Patriots contest.

NFL’S "FANTASTIC FOUR" READY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND

"This is playoff football," says Baltimore Ravens linebacker RAY LEWIS. "Year after year, time after time, great competition. It really doesn’t get any better. That’s what playoff football is all about."

For the second consecutive year, the final four teams are all division champions.

Visitor

Home

Time

Network

NFC Championship Game

San Francisco 49ers

Atlanta Falcons

3:00 PM ET

FOX

AFC Championship Game

Baltimore Ravens

New England Patriots

6:30 PM ET

CBS

Last weekend was the highest scoring round in NFL postseason history (276 points), excluding an eight-game first round in 1982.

In the AFC Divisional Playoffs, the No. 4 seeded Ravens outlasted No. 1 Denver on the road in a double overtime marathon, earning a 38-35 win in thefourth-longest game in NFL history (76:42). Quarterback JOE FLACCO connected with wide receiver JACOBY JONES for a 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining to force OT, and rookie JUSTIN TUCKER kicked a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime period.

Baltimore will travel to New England to face the No. 2 seeded Patriots, who scored 40+ points in a playoff game for the third time in team history in their 41-28 home victory over Houston on Sunday afternoon.

The top-seeded Falcons advanced to the NFC Championship Game as MATT BRYANT’s game-winning 49-yard field goal provided the winning points in Atlanta’s 30-28 win against Seattle. The Falcons, who have won eight of nine games at the Georgia Dome this season, will host the NFC Championship for the first time in club history.

San Francisco advanced to their second consecutive title game with a decisive 45-31 home victory against Green Bay, with quarterback COLIN KAEPERNICK leading the 49ers to 579 total net yards, the fourth-most by any team in a playoff game in NFL history.

With each of the four remaining playoff clubs looking to capitalize on the momentum built this past weekend in hopes of advancing to Super Bowl XLVII, they’ll have their work cut out for them on Championship Weekend.

A closer look at the AFC and NFC Championship Games:

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-4-1) at ATLANTA FALCONS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 3:00 PM ET)

San Francisco and Atlanta will meet for the 76th time. The 49ers hold a 44-29-1 edge in the regular-season series, but the Falcons won the lone playoff meeting between the two clubs, earning a 20-18 Divisional playoff win en route to their Super Bowl XXXIII appearance.

Last week, Atlanta built a 20-0 first-half lead that was quickly erased by the red-hot Seahawks, who had won eight of their past nine entering the Divisional round. Seattle’s MARSHAWN LYNCH nearly capped off the incredible comeback with a two-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Seahawks a 28-27 lead.

But MATT RYAN of the Falcons completed a 22-yard pass to wide receiver HARRY DOUGLAS followed by a 19-yard strike to tight end TONY GONZALEZ to set up Bryant’s game-winning kick.

"Wow. We talk all the time about playing a 60-minute game and finishing those games. That’s exactly what we did today," says Atlanta head coachMIKE SMITH. "Our quarterback is a special player. He did a great job there on that last drive."

Ryan passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns, both career-highs in the postseason, and earned his first playoff win.

"I think the one thing that I’ve learned in my five years, and specifically in the postseason, is that it’s hard," says Ryan. "I thought that collectively as a team, and as a coaching staff, nobody flinched. We just kept battling, kept doing what we do, and that’s just kind of been the makeup of our team this season."

The 49ers advanced to their 14th NFC Championship Game, tying the Dallas Cowboys for the most since 1970. Only Pittsburgh (15) has more conference championship appearances during that span.

Kaepernick set the tone in the 49ers’ 45-31 victory against Green Bay, accounting for four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) and 444 of San Francisco’s 579 total yards. In addition to his 263 passing yards, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in an NFL game, regular season and playoffs included.

"He’s that new-style quarterback in the NFL that can run the read option, that can pull the ball down, run it and take it the distance from anywhere on the football field. Extremely strong-armed, accurate," says San Francisco safety DONTE WHITNER. "He’s our quarterback, he’s our leader and he did a great job out there today."

Kaepernick’s most popular target against the Packers was wide receiver MICHAEL CRABTREE, who became the third player in club history with at least nine catches (nine), 100+ receiving yards (119) and two or more TD catches (two) in a playoff game. Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE andTERRELL OWENS are the only other 49ers to accomplish the feat.

"It doesn’t stop here," says Pro Bowl linebacker PATRICK WILLIS. "We got a big one next week."

BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-6) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-4) (Sunday, CBS, 6:30 PM ET)

New England will once again host Baltimore this Sunday in the first AFC Championship game rematch in consecutive years since Denver and Cleveland met in back-to-back conference title games following the 1986 and 1987 seasons.

The Ravens return to Gillette Stadium for the first time since their heartbreaking defeat in last year’s AFC Championship Game. New England narrowly escaped with a 23-20 victory, after a potential go-ahead touchdown catch was knocked from the grasp of wide receiver LEE EVANS and BILLY CUNDIFF missed a field goal attempt in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

"We fought hard to get back to this point," says Flacco. "We are definitely proud of being here. We are going to give it our all and we know what it felt like last year. We walked off that field without that win. We know what we’ve put in to get back to this point. It is going to be a great game."

Last week, Baltimore defeated Denver 38-35 and improved its road playoff record to 8-5 (.615), the highest road winning percentage in postseason history (minimum 10 games). Flacco’s unforgettable 70-yard TD pass to Jones was the longest game-tying or game-winning scrimmage touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter of an NFL playoff game.

"I had my eye on the ball, I wasn’t even looking at the safety," says Jones, whose 70-yard touchdown was his first catch of the game. "As soon as he missed and it hit my hand, I was like, ‘Touchdown.’"

The Patriots advanced to their 10th AFC Championship with a 41-28 win over Houston in the Divisional round. New England is 7-2 in AFC Championship Games, including 4-0 at home. With the victory, TOM BRADY recorded his 17th playoff victory as a starting quarterback, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (16) for the most in NFL history.

"Tom is a great competitor," says New England head coach BILL BELICHICK. "He’s our leader and we all follow him. There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady."

Meanwhile, Belichick earned his 18th postseason win as a head coach, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE GIBBS (17) for the third-most in NFL history. He trails Pro Football Hall of Famers DON SHULA (19) and TOM LANDRY (20) for the most wins by a head coach in NFL playoff history.

Brady passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ Divisional win, including two TD passes to running back SHANE VEREEN, who had only eight career receptions prior to Sunday’s game. Vereen also had a one-yard touchdown run against Houston, becoming the third player in NFL history with two TD catches and a touchdown run in a playoff game, joining ROGER CRAIG and RICKEY WATTERS.

"I think the two best teams are in the finals," says Brady. "Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we, so it's very fitting. We played them early in the year. They got us. We’re going to have to play our best game this week."

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP:

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

SUNDAY, JANUARY 20, 2013

BALTIMORE RAVENS–AFC NORTH (12-6) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS–AFC EAST (13-4)

SERIES

RAVENS

PATRIOTS

LEADER (REG. SEASON)

6-1

STREAKS (REG. SEASON)

4-0 at home

COACHES VS. OPP.

(REG. & POSTSEASON)

Harbaugh: 2-3

Belichick: 5-2

COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD

7-4

18-7

VS. COMMON OPP.

(REG. SEASON)

Bal.: 0-2 (Den. 0-1; Hou. 0-1)

NE: 2-0 (Den. 1-0; Hou. 1-0)

PLAYOFF RECORD

12-7

24-16

LAST WEEK

W 38-35 at Broncos (OT)

W 41-28 vs. Texans

LAST GAME

(REG. SEASON)

9/23/12: Patriots 30 at Ravens 31. Patriots take 13-0 1st quarter lead on SNF. Ravens QB Joe Flacco passes for 382 yards with 3 TDs, including 2 to WR Torrey Smith. RB Ray Rice adds 101 rush yards with TD as Baltimore nets 503 total yards. Rookie K Justin Tucker kicks game-winning 27-yard FG as time expires.

LAST GAME AT SITE

(REG. SEASON)

10/17/10: Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (OT). Patriots score game’s final 13 points. QB Tom Brady throws for 292 yards & 4th quarter TD. Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski converts all 3 FG attempts, including 24-yarder to force OT & 35-yarder to earn win.

LAST PLAYOFF

1/22/12: Ravens 20 at Patriots 23. In AFC Championship, Ravens QB Joe Flacco throws 29-yard TD to rookie WR Torrey Smith to give Ravens 17-16 lead. Patriots QB Tom Brady has 1-yard rush TD to gain 4th quarter advantage. Ravens K Billy Cundiff misses 32-yard FG with :15 seconds left as Patriots advance to Super Bowl XLVI.

BROADCAST

CBS (6:30 PM ET): Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Steve Tasker & Solomon Wilcots (Field reporters). Dial Global Radio: Kevin Harlan, Dan Fouts, Mark Malone (Field reporter). SIRIUS: 88 (DGR), 92 (Bal.), 86 (NE). XM: 88 (DGR), 225 (Bal.), 226 (NE).

STAT LEADERS

PASSING

Flacco: 317-531-3,817-22-10-87.7

Brady: 401-637-4,827 (1C)-34 (2C)-8-98.7 (2C)

RUSHING

Rice: 257-1,143-4.4-9

Ridley: 290-1,263 (3C)-4.4-12 (T3L)

RECEIVING

Boldin: 65-921-14.2-4

Welker: 118 (1C)-1,354-11.5-6

OFFENSE

352.5

427.9 (1L)

TAKE/GIVE

+9 (3C)

+25 (1L)

DEFENSE

350.9

373.3

SACKS

Kruger: 9

Ninkovich: 8

INTs

E. Reed, C. Williams: 4 (T3C)

McCourty: 5 (T1C)

PR

J. Jones: 9.2

Welker: 9.7

KR

J. Jones: 30.7 (1L)

McCourty: 24.2

PUNTING

Koch: 47.1

Mesko: 43.1

KICKING

Tucker (R): 132 (42/42 PAT; 30/33 FG)

Gostkowski: 153 (1L) (66/66 PAT; 29/35 FG)

NOTES

TEAMS MEET for 3rd time in postseason. Patriots defeated Ravens, 23-20, in AFC Championship Game on 1/22/12.

RAVENS: Club has 8-5 (.615) all-time road record in postseason, highest win pct. in postseason history (minimum 10 games)…Aim for 2nd SB appearance in franchise history…In past 2 postseason games, QB JOE FLACCO has 5 TDs vs. 0 INTs & 120 passer rating. Flacco registered 5th career playoff road win last week, tied with ELI MANNING for most in NFL history. Tied NFL single-game postseason record for most touchdown passes of 30+ yards (70, 59, 32) last week. Passed for most yards (331) in franchise history in single-postseason game last week. Flacco is 1st QB in Super Bowl era to win postseason game in each of his 1st 5 seasons. In past 3 vs. NE (incl. postseason), Flacco has completed 77 of 110 passes (70 pct.) for 973 yards with 7 TDs vs. 2 INTs & 110.9 passer rating. Has 7-4 postseason record, incl. 2 AFC Championship appearances. Had career-best 3,817 passing yards in ’12, 2nd-most in season by Raven. Incl. postseason, Bal. is 31-3 (.912) when Flacco has 100+ passer rating…RB RAY RICE (131) posted 2nd career 100-yard rush game in postseason last week (159 vs. NE on 1/10/10). Rice is averaging 123 scrimmage yards per game in ’12 postseason. Rice (1,621) reached 1,600 scrimmage yards for 4th season in row. Led AFC RBs with 61 catches in 2012. Rookie RB BERNARD PIERCEis averaging 6.5 yards per carry in postseason (18 att., 117 yards)…WR TORREY SMITH has 5 receptions for 129 yards (25.8 avg.) with 2 TDs in 2012 postseason. In 2 career games vs. Patriots (incl. playoffs), Smith has 9 catches for 209 yards (23.2 avg.) with 3 TDs. Smith averages 24.4 yards per catch in 4 career postseason games (9 receptions, 220 yards). Smith had career-best in receiving yards (855) & TDs (8) in ’12. WR ANQUAN BOLDIN is averaging 108 receiving yards per game in 2 playoff games in ’12. 10 of Boldin’s 11 receptions in ’12 postseason have been for 1st downs. Boldin (145) registered most receiving yards in postseason game in franchise history in Wild Card vs. Colts. For career in postseason, Boldin has 41 receptions for 642 yards (15.7 avg.) with 4 TDs. KR-WR JACOBY JONES had 2nd-longest postseason TD reception in franchise annals last week (SHANNON SHARPE, 96). Ranked 1st in NFL with 30.7 KR avg. in ’12. Tied league-high with 3 kick-return TDs (2 KO, 1 PR) this season…Incl. postseason, TE DENNIS PITTA has 2 TDs in past 2 vs. NE. Pitta (7) tied TODD HEAP (7 in ’05) for most TD receptions by TE in franchise history this season…Defense has 7 INTs in past 4 against Patriots…LB RAY LEWIS has played in 19 career postseason games (12-7, .632). S ED REED has 8 career postseason INTs, tied for 4th-most in NFL history. S BERNARD POLLARD had team-high 98 tackles in ’12…CB COREY GRAHAM became 4th Raven to register 2 INTs in playoff game last week…LB TERRELL SUGGS has 12 career postseason sacks, tied for 3rd-most since sacks became official statistic. Has 3 sacks in past 4 vs. NE (incl. postseason)…K JUSTIN TUCKER made 47-yard game-winning FG in OT last week, tied for 3rd-longest OT FG in NFL postseason history & longest ever by rookie…Club had 6 players selected to 2013 Pro Bowl (KR Jones, FB VONTA LEACH, DT HALOTI NGATA, S Reed, RB Rice, G MARSHAL YANDA).

PATRIOTS: Club is 14-3 (.824) at home in postseason…Patriots have 7-2 all-time record (4-0 at home) in Conference Championship Games…Seek 2nd consecutive Super Bowl berth & 8th overall…Head coach BILL BELICHICK & QB TOM BRADY (17) have most postseason wins by QB-head coach duo…Belichick (18) surpassed HOFer JOE GIBBS (17) for 3rd-most playoff wins all-time last week, trailing only HOFers TOM LANDRY (20) & DON SHULA (19)…Brady’s 17 postseason wins are most playoffs wins by QB in NFL history. Brady (5,629) has 4th-most passing yards in NFL playoff history. Brady (41) joined Montana (45) & BRETT FAVRE (44) as only QBs to reach 40 postseason TD passes all-time. Brady (524) has most career postseason completions all-time. Has 17-6 (.739) playoff record, best postseason record as starting QB in NFL history (min. 15 starts). Brady has 5 postseason games with 300+ passing yards, trailing only PEYTON MANNING (8), HOFer JOE MONTANA (6) & KURT WARNER (6)RB STEVAN RIDLEY rushed for 82 yards on 15 att. (5.5 avg.) with TD last week. Ridley (1,263) is 5th player in franchise history to reach 1,200 rush yards in season.Last week RB SHANE VEREEN joined ROGER CRAIG & RICKY WATTERS as only players in NFL postseason history with 2 TD catches & TD run in same playoff game. Vereen totaled 124 scrimmage yards last week (83 receiving, 41 rushing)WR WES WELKER (61) has most career postseason receptions in club history. Welker (131) posted 2nd 100-yard career receiving game in postseason last week. WR BRANDON LLOYD (108) & Welker (142) each posted 100+ receiving yards in last meeting against Ravens (9/23/12). Lloyd posted TD reception in 1st career playoff game last week. WR DEION BRANCH (836) has most career postseason receiving yards in Patriots history…TE AARON HERNANDEZ had 6 catches for 85 yards last week…LB JEROD MAYO led club with 147 tackles in ’12. LB BRANDON SPIKES has sack, INT, FF & FR in 5 career postseason games…DT VINCE WILFORK had sack in AFC Championship Game vs. Bal. last season…DE ROB NINKOVICH posted 1st career INT in playoffs last week…Club had 7 players selected to 2013 Pro Bowl (QB Brady, TE Gronkowski, G LOGAN MANKINS, LB Mayo, WR MATTHEW SLATER, WR Welker, DT Wilfork).

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