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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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2010 NFL Draft Recap: NFC West

Here are quick-hit 2010 NFL Draft observations for the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals
Nose tackle Dan Williams is a great fit for the Cards, who were fortunate he slipped to them at No. 26. The team has been trying to fill the nose tackle position for years and they may have found the player to do it in Williams, who is explosive off the line. There’s a great chance he’ll beat out Gabe Watson for the right to start in Week 1. I also really liked Arizona’s second round pick, linebacker Daryl Washington. He’ll play alongside Geno Hayes in the Cards’ 3-4 alignment and might rack up 100 tackles with his sideline-to-sideline style of play. Citadel receiver Andre Roberts is a sleeper and will help out immediately as a punt returner. Third-rounder O’Brien Schofield had a first round grade on him before tearing his ACL in the Senior Bowl. He’s a prototypical 3-4 edge-rusher and has high upside, although he may need more time to fully recover from the injury. I also love the selection of John Skelton in the fifth. He’s athletic, has a cannon for an arm and he was a gamer at Fordham. He could be a great developmental project down the road, especially if Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson don’t pan out. All in all, this was one of my favorite drafts of any team this year.

San Francisco 49ers
I loved what the Niners did with their first three picks, which is where teams usually find starters and players that can make an impact right away. Anthony Davis will compete with Adam Snyder for the starting right tackle job, while Mike Iupati will battle David Bass at the starting left guard position. To nab two potential starters with their first two picks was excellent for San Fran. I also really liked the Taylor Mays selection in the second round because it showed great value, although he has a lot to prove after a sub par senior season at USC. The good thing for the Niners is that he has a chip on his shoulder, is a great athlete and will be working close with Mike Singletary, who is an excellent motivator. I didn’t like the pick of Navorro Bowman in the third round, only because he’s too small to play inside linebacker in a 3-4 and might wind up being a career special teamer if he stays in San Fran. It was a little early to be selecting special teamers in the third round. I did really like what San Fran did in the later rounds, however, nabbing bruising runner Anthony Dixon and burner Kyle Williams in the sixth.

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2010 NFL Draft Third Round Recap: Head-Scratchers, Values & More

Biggest Head-Scratcher: Armanti Edwards, WR, Panthers
I’m fully convinced that Carolina GM Marty Hurney wants to get fired. There’s just know other logical explanation as to why he would trade a first rounder last year for Everette Brown and a second rounder in 2011 for Armanti Edwards. I could only imagine how that phone call went between Hurney and Bill Belichick: “Oh hey, Bill? Yeah, this is Marty Hurney from the Panthers. Hey listen Bill, I’m dying to get out of this place and I’m looking to make a really bad decision in hopes of getting canned. I traded our first round pick this year for Everette Brown last year…yeah, Everette Brown…I know, right? Hahaha. Anyway, it didn’t work and now I have to try something drastic again. What do you think about giving us your third for our second in 2011? Awesome. Hey, you watching your TV? Watch this, I’m about to take Armanti Edwards with your pick. Yeah, seriously…I know, right? Haha…” Look, I watched from the stands as Armanti Edwards almost single-handedly burned down the Michigan football program a couple years ago. I know what kind of player he is and thought he would have been a good pick in the later rounds. But Carolina is set to make him a receiver when he’s never played the position before and they gave up a second round pick in the process. It was a major reach and a major risk seeing as how quarterbacks tend to struggle making the transition to receiver. What another lousy draft day decision by Hurney.

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2009 CFB Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

Check out our other 2009 college football previews.

Preseason Ranking: No. 9 in AP Top 25; No. 8 in USA Today Poll.

Key Returning Players: Evan Royster (RB); Stephon Green (RB); Daryll Clark (QB); Mickey Shuler (TE); Dennis Landolt (OT); Stefen Wisniewski (G); Navorro Bowman (LB); Josh Hull (LB); Jared Odrick (DT); Ollie Ogbu (DT); Drew Astorino (S).

Key Losses: Deon Butler (WR); Aaron Maybin (DE); Jordan Norwood (WR); Derrick Williams (WR); Gerald Cadogan (OT); A.Q. Scirrotto (C); Tony Davis (CB); Lydell Sargeant (CB); Maurice Evans (DE); Josh Gaines (DE); Rich Ohrnberger (G); Mark Rubin (S); Tyrell Sales (LB).

Player to Watch: Navorro Bowman, LB.
Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster are just as deserving to be mentioned here, but Bowman is one of the best linebackers in the nation and arguably the best defender in the Big Ten. He made the most of his playing time opportunities last year after Dan Connor was drafted and Sean Lee was out with an injury. In his first start of the season, Bowman recorded 11 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in a 45-3 trouncing of Temple in Week 4. That performance lifted him to a fantastic ’08 campaign, one that was capped with him being named a consensus First Team All-Big Ten player. Now a redshirt junior, Bowman is looking to gain superstar status and get nationally recognized as one of the best linebackers in the country.

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