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Game capsules: NFC and AFC title games

NFC: Giants (11-7) at 49ers (14-3)

Time: 6:30 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 13; 1010-AM

Coaches: Giants — Tom Coughlin (74-54 overall, 6-3 playoffs); 49ers — Jim Harbaugh (13-3 overall, 1-0 playoffs)

The 49ers win if …

The defensive front holds the Giants in check on first and second down. San Francisco will win, perhaps easily, if it is able to zero in on Giants QB Eli Manning on tough down-and-distance situations. The 49ers' pass rushers are too good to make things easier for the Giants on predictable passing situations.

The Giants win if …

They can effectively mix up their play calls, something that will require they successfully run the ball. The forecast calls for messy weather (rain and high winds) in the Bay Area today anyway, so this aspect is paramount. The Giants ran for 95 yards against the Packers last week; not a lot but more than enough to keep the defense honest. Ahmad Bradshaw averaged 5.2 yards on his 12 carries.

Matchup to watch

49ers DE Justin Smith, left, will see multiple blockers on the left side of the Giants offensive line. It will take multiple blockers to contain him after he had one of the three sacks of the Saints' Drew Brees last week.

Our take

This is a game featuring two teams built in opposite fashion. The Giants, with QB Eli Manning and his playmaking receivers, test the defensive-minded, efficient 49ers. Whichever team can play its style and tempo positions itself to win, and we think that team will be the Giants. The Saints were effective in playing an up-tempo game last week against the 49ers but lost because of their defense. The Giants defense is plain better.

Prediction: Giants 26, 49ers 24

AFC: Ravens (13-4) at Patriots (14-3)

Time: 3 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 10; 1010-AM

Coaches: Ravens — John Harbaugh (44-20 overall, 5-3 playoffs); Patriots — Bill Belichick (139-53 overall, 15-5 playoffs)

The Ravens win if …

They can find a way to break out of their offensive mediocrity. The defense got three interceptions last week against the Texans. But the offense produced just 227 yards, which won't be enough to beat the Patriots. QB Joe Flacco, left, took some friendly fire from teammate Ed Reed last week. Here's Flacco's chance to have the last laugh.

The Patriots win if …

QB Tom Brady can make more plays than the Ravens defense. That means he has to avoid interceptions and get rid of the ball quicker than he'd like with the Baltimore pass rush certain to be closing in. Brady rarely plays poorly at this time of year with a 4-1 record in AFC title games.

Matchup to watch

Until someone proves they can stop Aaron Hernandez — or fellow TE Rob Gronkowski — the Patriots passing game is going to have a decisive edge. With Hernandez, left, consistently winning matchups, it gives Brady way too many easy completions. Ultimately, that moves the chains. It's up to the Ravens linebackers to stop him.

Our take

We think the New England defense, for all its weaknesses and advanced age (particularly on the line), can hold up against the Ravens offense. However, it's less likely even a defense as dominant as Baltimore's can shut down the Patriots' offensive machine. Their creative use of tight ends coupled with QB Tom Brady's accuracy make it a tough assignment for any defense.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 24

Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer

Stat pack

passing yards

rushing yards

passing yards allowed

rushing yards allowed











offensive rankings: Giants — 8th; 49ers — 26th

defensive rankings: Giants — 27th; 49ers — 4th

points scored: Giants — 24.6 (9th); 49ers — 23.8 (11th)

points allowed: Giants — 25.0 (25th); 49ers — 14.3 (2nd)

Stat pack

passing yards

rushing yards

passing yards allowed

rushing yards allowed











offensive rankings: Ravens — 15th; Patriots — 2nd

defensive rankings: Ravens — 3rd; Patriots — 31st

points scored: Ravens — 23.6 (12th); Patriots — 32.1 (3rd)

points allowed: Ravens — 16.6 (3rd); Patriots — 21.4 (15th)

Game capsules: NFC and AFC title games 01/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 8:31pm]
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