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2012 NFL Conference Championships Primer

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco comes to the line during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on January 15, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Ravens @ Patriots, 3:00PM ET, Sunday
Call me old fashioned but I think this game will come down to the play of the quarterbacks. Joe Flacco usually doesn’t have to throw for many yards because Baltimore’s defense limits the production of the opposing offense. But what if Tom Brady and Co. is firing on all cylinders this Sunday? What if the Patriots do the unthinkable and draw the Ravens into a shootout? Can Flacco beat Brady in a wildfire?

If the Patriots were smart, they’d use the Chargers’ 34-14 Week 15 beat down of the Ravens as a blueprint to beat Baltimore. In that game, Philip Rivers got the ball out of his hand quickly, attacked Baltimore down field and thus, never allowed the Ravens’ fierce pass rush to get into a rhythm. If Baltimore, which led the league in sacks this season, can’t get to the quarterback then its defense can become ordinary. In their 12 wins this season, the Ravens sacked the quarterback 43 times. In their four losses, they got to the opposing signal caller just five times. Considering New England has one of the better offensive lines in the game, it’s not unfathomable that the Ravens will have trouble defensively this weekend.

Which leads me back to Flacco. Can he be the quarterback that threw for 300 yards and led the Ravens to that great fourth-quarter comeback in Pittsburgh this season? Or will he succumb to the pressure of trying to go toe-to-toe with Brady? Nobody will confuse New England’s defense with San Francisco’s but the Patriots did harass Tim Tebow last weekend. If they’re able to take away Ray Rice and Torrey Smith like Houston did last week, will Flacco step up?

Baltimore has often been a match up problem for New England. But the Patriots seem hell bent on getting back to the Super Bowl so it’s probably safe to say that the Ravens will get New England’s best effort this weekend.

New York Giants QB Eli Manning (10) cranks back to throw a long pass against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on November 13, 2011. The 49ers defeated the Giants 27-20. UPI/Terry Schmitt

Giants @ 49ers, 6:30PM ET, Sunday
With all due respect to the other contenders still left in the playoff field, the Giants are probably the most complete team remaining. The Patriots have the better offense and the 49ers have the better defense, but the Giants aren’t far off in either category. They also have a better quarterback in Eli Manning than the Ravens have in Joe Flacco, the latter of which has been highly inconsistent this season.

But the question is whether or not the Giants have started to read their own press clippings. As I’ve written before on this site, the G-Men are the perfect underdog. When their backs are pressed firmly against the wall and they believe that it’s them against the world, they beat teams like the Packers and Patriots (multiple times, in fact). When they’re well aware that they’re the favorite, they’re liable to lose to inferior opponents like Washington, Seattle or a Michael Vick-less Philadelphia team. The Giants are just weird that way.

That said, New York has very few weaknesses. They finished dead last in rushing during the regular season but the duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs looks much more potent now that at any time this year. When he protects the football, Eli is tough to beat and he has a trio of wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham that can win individual matchups in coverage. If the defense has a weakness, it’s in the secondary but the pass rush is so good that it masks the holes in the backfield. Yes, the Giants are a complete team.

But let’s pay a little respect to the 49ers, who knocked off a team in the Saints that many people believed was unstoppable. Led by Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Carlos Rogers and rookie Aldon Smith, the Niners don’t have many weaknesses defensively (if any). And while they don’t have as many weapons offensively as the Giants do, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis have proven that they can take over games this season.

The Niners also have home field advantage and have already beaten the Giants once this season (27-20 in Week 10). So again, if the Giants think they’re going to breeze in and out of San Francisco on its way to Indianapolis, they better pause to re-focus. They’ll have to earn what they get this weekend.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 10 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

- Carlos Rogers is having a resurgence in San Francisco? People left this guy for dead coming out of Washington and all he’s done this year is be the Niners’ best cornerback. He clinched the Niners’ win over the Giants in my eyes. San Francisco had just taken a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when he picked off Eli Manning (his second of the day) deep in Niner territory. A couple plays later Kendall Hunter raced 17 yards for a touchdown in order to give San Fran a 27-13 lead in an eventual 27-20 victory. The Niners have been getting big plays like that out of their defense all season. They obviously proved today that they’re for real.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (L) and head coach Chan Gailey talk on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of their NFL football game in Arlington, Texas November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Do you know who’s not for real? The Buffalo Bills. I have zero confidence that they’ll turn things around, party because of their defense and partly because of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Everyone knew Buffalo’s defense would be overmatched most Sundays and they have been. And everyone knew Fitzpatrick was only going to lead the Bills so far. He was brutal last week and even worse today. It’s struck midnight on this fairytale, which is a shame because I could watch Fred Jackson run all day. Dude is siiiick.

- The Cardinals parted with a starting cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick in 2012, and $65 million in order secure Kevin Kolb as their starting quarterback this season. And John Skelton has two of their three wins on the season. Incredible.

- If you looked hard enough, you probably saw the Ravens’ loss to Seattle coming. Baltimore just swept Pittsburgh and had to travel cross-country to play a Seahawks team that is usually competitive at home. I figured the Ravens would suffer a letdown but the fact that they didn’t lead at any point today was a little jarring. With losses to Tennessee and Seattle as well as a near loss to Arizona at home, it would appear as though John Harbaugh’s team plays down to its competition.

- Speaking of the clock turning Midnight, it’s probably about time the Bengals come back to earth. Don’t get me wrong: they fought hard today against Pittsburgh and gave the Steelers a game until the end. But cornerback Leon Hall looks like he’s out for the season and I just don’t see Cincinnati being able to finish this race on top. That said, the Bengals certainly have something to build off of. Andy Dalton was poised today and A.J. Green is a freaking star in the making.

- Does anyone else feel like the Houston Texans are the NFL equivalent to the Clemson Tigers? You keep waiting for both teams to eventually crash and burn and yet, both keep winning. Granted, Clemson did lose to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago and almost dropped its second game to Wake Forest on Saturday but still, you get the point. I keep waiting for the Texans to eventually stumble and they keep racking up double-digit wins without Andre Johnson. Finally, it would seem, we’ll get to see Houston in the postseason.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith coaches from the sideline during the second half of their NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta, Georgia November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- If you’re one of the people who is defending Mike Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth and one from his own 29-yard line in overtime, let me remind you that it’s simple risk vs. reward. If the Falcons pick up that first down, they still have at least 40 yards to go to get into field goal range to possibly win the game. If they don’t pick up the first down, well, we saw what happened when they didn’t. It was a stupid call by a head coach that was simply trying to get lucky. Smith and Mike Mularkey played not to lose the entire game and all of a sudden they decide that they’re going to take a big risk. It was just a stupid decision by a team without a true identity.

- Saint Peters of Joseph, Chris Johnson is alive.

- Huge win for the Saints today but there’s still something off with the boys from Naw’lins. They managed to squander a 10-point lead in under five minutes and if it hadn’t been for Mike Smith’s stupid decision to go for it in overtime, who knows if they would have walked out of the Georgia Dome with a victory. I have no doubt that they’ll win the NFC South because the Falcons still don’t know what they are offensively. But I’m not sure if the Saints can go into Green Bay in the playoffs and win a huge game on the road. Again, there’s just something off.

- You can always count on Michael Vick to mail it in when his team is seemingly out of playoff contention. Granted, his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping the ball multiple times in the first half and he was without DeSean Jackson, who was benched after missing a team meeting. But Vick looked completely turned off by the thought of playing football today. In a lot of ways, he is the exact same player as he was in Atlanta and Philadelphia is now paying for his shortcomings as a player. (UPDATE: Apparently Vick played with two broken ribs, which he sustained on the game’s second play. Thus, I take back what I said about him mailing it in. Any player that stays in a professional football game with two broken ribs has a bigger pair than I do. Well done, Mike.)

- Tim Tebow threw eight passes, completed just two of them and was the winning quarterback today in Kansas City. I don’t even care what his numbers are outside of the fact that he’s now 3-1 as the starter. I just want to sit back and watch guys like Phil Simms’ head explode that Tebow keeps winning. These talking heads want to debate about whether or not Tebow will ever be a good passer. That was never a debate. People have said from the start that his motion is too funky for him to be a good passer and yet these media members keep boasting about how he’ll fail. And yet…3-1 as a starter. I love it. Nobody can explain how the dinosaurs became extinct and how Tebow is winning. Tim Tebow: #winning.

- I realize the Niners are a very good football team but leave it to the Giants to beat the Patriots on the road and then erase a lot of the good vibes that have surrounded New York the past week by losing today. Freakin’ Giants.

- The NFC South is now a one-team race. The Saints are clearly the best team in the division, as the Falcons are still suffering an identity crisis and the Bucs are just plain bad. Tampa Bay’s front office thought it could get by without making any significant upgrades in the offseason and figured the team would just win 10 games again. Whoops. Turns out Josh Freeman is going to need more help, Bucs.

- This comment was made by one of our regular readers, Jester of the Apocalypse, earlier this week. He’s a huge Browns fan and was commenting on my Week 10 preview in which I wrote, “this is a game [vs. the Rams] the Browns should win.” Said Jester: You underestimate my Brownies knack for clutching defeat out of the jaws of victory . . . How absolutely, positively appropriate given the debacle that happened in Cleveland today.

- Even after their performance today I’m still not sold on the Cowboys. Outside of their miraculous victory against the Niners in Week 2, they still haven’t beaten a team of substance. I realize the Bills have a winning record but they’re on a downslide. Three weeks ago the ‘Boys were pummeled by a Philadelphia team that has clearly given up on the season and their other losses have coming against New England, Detroit and the Jets. That said, Dallas still has games against Washington, Miami, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia and thus, the playoffs are still well within their reach. I’m just sayin’ I’m not sold. And this is coming from a guy who predicted them to win the NFC East this year.

Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass thrown by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on November 13, 2011 in Chicago. The Bears won 37-13. UPI/Brian Kersey

- Wow Matthew Stafford was bad today. Granted, he was playing with a fractured index finger and 25-30mph wind gusts but still – wow. Two of his four interceptions were taken back for touchdowns by the Bears, who are now suddenly 6-3 on the season following two huge wins. If Chicago’s offense line can continue to play as well as it has, there’s no reason to believe Lovie Smith’s team won’t make it as a Wild Card.

- All I want for Thanksgiving is for Larry Fitzgerald to have a quarterback willing to throw him the ball every down. Because his seven-catch, 146-yard, two-touchdown performance today proved once again that he can completely take over a game if he gets enough opportunities.

- One week later, the Steelers finally get their big defensive stop to preserve a win.

- Two of the Seahawks’ three wins this year have come against the Giants and Ravens. And yet, they lose to the Browns, 6-3. The NFL is a funny league.

Skins’ Rogers calls out Snyder

While reflecting on his team’s struggles this season, Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers was quick to note that Daniel Snyder doesn’t escape blame.

From NBC Sports.com:

“We’ve got a lot of things we need to iron out, a lot of problems,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “It’s from personnel to coaches to whatever it is, there’s a lot of things we need to iron out, and until we address those issues and turn it around, we’re going to be the same, going up and down. It not only starts with the players, coaches; it starts with the ownership. They bring everybody in and they’ve got last say-so of everything, so that’s where it starts, I guess.”

It’s unusual for a player to implicate owner Dan Snyder and executive vice president for football operations Vinny Cerrato along with everyone else. After painting that picture, Rogers was asked what could be done in the short team to address the team’s needs.

“You can’t do too much right now,” Rogers said. “You just have to go with what you’ve got and make the best for it, and that’s what we’re doing. They’re making changes where they feel they need to make changes. Other than that, players are going to have to step up, coaches are going to have to step up, and we’ve just got to find a way — that’s the bottom line — we’ve got to find a way to turn it around and deal with what we’ve got.”

The Redskins will have a hard time winning with Snyder in control. He signs free agents at will with no regard for team chemistry and then wonders why his jambalaya never pans out. What’s interesting is that now his players are starting to realize his methods don’t work.

Barring a dramatic turnaround, Jim Zorn will be fired at the end of the season. But for real change to occur, Snyder is going to have to allow his general manager and scouting staff to find players and not meddle in their game plan by carelessly throwing money at top dollar free agents. If he can’t trust his staff to put together successful roster, then the Redskins are doomed because he certainly doesn’t have what it takes to build a winner with his current strategy.

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