Conference Championship Previews

IT'S OUR AFC & NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEWS!

CATCH THE ANALYSES, SPREAD NOTES, PAST PERFORMANCES & THE 2011 SEASON GAME-BY-GAME CHARTS IN THIS SPECIAL FOOTBALL-FILLED EDITION OF JIM SEZ

By Jim Hurley:

So, how many folks have asked you this week the following question:"Who's gonna win the Super Bowl?"

Well, according to the latest odds out of Las Vegas it's a real toss-up as to who's getting there from the National Football Conference while - of course - the New England Patriots are the preferred pick from the American Football Conference.

Here's the up-to-the-minute"Odds to Win Super Bowl XLVI" on February 5th from Indianapolis (note all odds below are based on $100 per-play wagers):

TEAM ODDS TO WIN SB
New England Patriots + 100 (or Even Money)
New York Giants + 200
San Francisco 49ers + 200
Baltimore Ravens + 500

Now how about making a"combo" play where you attempt to nail the Super Bowl XLVI matchup?
A New England-San Francisco possible showdown is rated at 3-to-2 odds ...
A New England-New York Giants showdown is rated at 2-to-1;
A San Francisco-Baltimore potential battle for it all is rated at 9-to-2;
And a potential SB XLVI hoedown between the NY Giants versus Baltimore is rated at 6-to-1.

Hmmm, not so easy, right?

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will rock-n-roll on with the NFL Championship Games this Sunday - that's Baltimore at New England (a 3 p.m. ET kickoff) in the AFC Championship Game followed by the New York Giants at San Francisco (6:30 p.m. ET kickoff) in the NFC Championship Game as we get you Sides & Totals Winners on both big games -- plus remember there's plenty of NBA and College Basketball winners each/every day too and so just make sure you're all aboard when you check with us at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else get it all online right here online. Cha-ching!

THE NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEWS

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#2 BALTIMORE (13-4) at #1 NEW ENGLAND (14-3)
- 3 p.m. ET, CBS
Can it really be that the New England Patriots have been in only one Super Bowl since the start of the 2005 season? No question that"time flies" but it's hard to believe head coach Bill Belichick and ace QB Tom Brady have finished their season off with a Super Bowl appearance just once in the past six years and nobody in/around the Boston area likes to talk about that SB 42 loss four years ago to the New York Giants.

Still, here's the Patriots favored by a solid touchdown in this title tilt in Foxboro and fresh off their biggest margin-of-victory this season as last Saturday night's 45-10 butt-kicking of the Denver Broncos featured an NFL playoff-tying six TD strikes by the all-business Brady plus you had to love the newest wrinkles to the N'England attack as TE Aaron Hernandez lined up in the backfield on many occasions and wound up rushing for a team-best 61 yards before getting dinged late.

And that leads us to this key question:

What new stuff is in Brady's arsenal here while going up against a Ravens defense that has allowed more than 16 points just one time in their last seven games (see 34-14 loss in San Diego back on Week 15)?

Brady's got to be ready for a different kind of Baltimore defense here - one that will jam the all-important Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and the aforementioned (if healthy) Hernandez and then expect the Ravens to really make slot WR Wes Welker"pay" for his receptions here with some truly physical play by the Baltimore secondary.

If you're looking for something out of the ordinary here than look for Brady to hand off on draws/traps while operating out of the shotgun formation and so RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (667 yards rushing and 11 TDs in the regular season) may have to shoulder more of the load than usual. Hey, keep in mind the Ravens led the NFL with 48 quarterback sacks and hard-charging OLB Terrell Suggs (a team-leading 14 sacks) appears to have a real size/speed/strength advantage going up against this New England offensive line.

What's the Baltimore strategy on offense?

Hey, we said it prior to last week's unimpressive 20-13 non-cover AFC Divisional Playoff win against Houston and we say it again: Get RB Ray Rice 25-or-more touches (preferably 25-or-more rushes and then a couple of catches, to boot) and take your chances that he'll move the chains and bust off a couple of big ones against the NFL's weakest statistical defense. Rice rushed for 159 yards in that oft-documented 33-14 AFC Wild Card Playoff win at New England two years ago and may need a buck-and-a-quarter or more rushing yards for Baltimore to thrive here ... do the Ravens really/truly want to rely on QB Joe Flacco (sacked five times and some bad throws in last week's win) to save the day?

Spread Notes - New England is 10-7 ATS (against the spread) overall this year and that includes a 5-4 spread log as home betting favorites. The Patriots - who are just 7-10 versus the vig in all post-season games these past 10 years - are a collective 19-12-1 ATS when playing non-divisional foes since the start of the 2009 campaign. On the flip side, Baltimore is 9-8 ATS overall this year and that includes a single win/cover when placed in the road underdog role (see 23-20 win at 3 ½-point favorite Pittsburgh back in Week 9 play). In all, the Ravens are 13-10-1 spreadwise as pups the past four years and they enter this tilt with a dead-even but vig-losing 4-4 spread record in post-season tilts under fourth-year head coach John Harbaugh.

Here's the past 5 head-to-head meetings between the Ravens and the Patriots (note all home teams are in CAPS below):

YEAR WINNER SPREAD LOSER RESULT
2010 NEW ENGLAND - 3 Baltimore NEW ENGLAND 23-20
2009# Baltimore + 3.5 NEW ENGLAND Baltimore 33-14
2009 NEW ENGLAND - 2 Baltimore NEW ENGLAND 27-21
2007 New England - 18.5 BALTIMORE New England 27-24
2004 NEW ENGLAND - 7 Baltimore NEW ENGLAND 24-3

# = AFC Wild Card Game

Note that all home teams below are in CAPS and the"W" or"L" or"T" in the Result category pertain to what the feature team did against the spread:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

WK FAV SPREAD DOG RAVENS RESULT
#1 BALTIMORE - 1.5 Pittsburgh W 35-7
#2 Baltimore - 5.5 TENNESSEE L 13-26
#3 Baltimore - 6 ST. LOUIS W 37-7
#4 BALTIMORE - 5 NY Jets W 34-17
#5 Bye Week
#6 BALTIMORE - 7 Houston W 29-14
#7 Baltimore - 10 JACKSONVILLE L 7-12
#8 BALTIMORE - 11.5 Arizona L 30-27
#9 PITTSBURGH - 3.5 Baltimore W 23-20
#10 Baltimore - 7 SEATTLE L 17-22
#11 BALTIMORE - 6.5 Cincinnati W 31-24
#12 BALTIMORE - 3 San Francisco W 16-6
#13 Baltimore - 6.5 CLEVELAND W 24-10
#14 BALTIMORE - 15.5 Indianapolis L 24-10
#15 Baltimore - 1 SAN DIEGO L 14-34
#16 BALTIMORE - 11 Cleveland L 20-14
#17 Baltimore - 3 CINCINNATI W 24-16
DIV BALTIMORE - 7.5 Houston L 20-13

DIV = Divisional Playoff Game

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

WK FAV SPREAD DOG PATRIOTS RESULT
#1 New England - 7 MIAMI W 38-24
#2 NEW ENGLAND - 6.5 San Diego W 35-21
#3 New England - 7 BUFFALO L 31-34
#4 New England - 6.5 OAKLAND W 31-19
#5 NEW ENGLAND - 7.5 NY Jets W 30-21
#6 NEW ENGLAND - 6.5 Dallas L 20-16
#7 Bye Week      
#8 New England - 3 PITTSBURGH L 17-25
#9 NEW ENGLAND - 10 NY Giants L 20-24
#10 NY JETS - 2.5 New England W 37-16
#11 NEW ENGLAND - 17 Kansas City W 34-3
#12 New England - 3 PHILADELPHIA W 38-20
#13 NEW ENGLAND - 20 Indianapolis L 31-24
#14 New England - 7.5 WASHINGTON L 34-27
#15 New England - 7 DENVER W 41-23
#16 NEW ENGLAND - 7 Miami L 27-24
#17 NEW ENGLAND - 10 Buffalo W 49-21
DIV NEW ENGLAND - 14 Denver W 45-10

DIV = Divisional Playoff Game

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#4 NEW YORK GIANTS (11-7) at #2 SAN FRANCISCO (14-3)
- 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox
If there are anti-New York sports fans out there than they already know this marks the fourth time in the last five NFL seasons that either these Giants (2007 and now 2011 season) or the New York Jets (see 2009 and 2010) have played in a conference championship game and all four times the formula's been pretty much the same:

Stagger through a good part of your regular-season and then get hot late.

The Giants - who own a four-game spread winning streak while heading into this title game at Candlestick Park (the longest such pointspread winning streak by the four surviving teams) - are looking to display their"road warrior" talents again just one week after Tom Coughlin's crew battered #1 NFC seed Green Bay 37-20 behind QB Eli Manning who now has thrown for 607 yards with 6 TDs and just 1 INT in this year's post-season wins against Atlanta/Green Bay.

No doubt Manning - who seems to be over a mid-week bout with the flu - will need some time in the pocket to make big-time downfield passes to the likes of WRs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz who combined for 158 receptions worth 2,728 yards and 16 TDs and now have not missed a beat in the playoffs as Nicks already has accounted for a quartet of TD grabs including that"Hail Mary" pass that ended the first half at Lambeau Field last week with a bang.

Simply put, if the interior of San Francisco's defensive line cannot collapse things here and if rookie stud DE Aldon Smith (14 sacks) can't get to Manning than the Giants could feast (see 30.3 ppg average during this four-game winning streak) while the flip side holds true too:

In short, a Giants pass rush that's collected 17 sacks during the past four games must make its presence felt early/often here and that might be a problem on what figures to be a"muddy track" what with all the rain forecasts in/around the Bay Area in the next 48 hours.

If DLs Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora don't disrupt suddenly-hot San Fran slinger Alex Smith (see 299 yards passing with 3 TDs and 0 INTs and a glitzy 103.2 QB rating in last week's 36-32 donnybrook win against 3 ½-point road fav New Orleans) than the Niners could wreck havoc with a still average Giants secondary that's been buoyed lately by that aforementioned great pass rush.

No doubt the Niners made their bones this season in Year One of the Jim Harbaugh Era with an old-fashioned, blue-collar work ethic that relied on a solid ground game starring RB Frank Gore (an underrated 89 ground yards last week), a bone-jarring defense that forced a league-tying 38 takeaways and a star-studded special teams that needs Pro Bowl PK David Akers (3-for-3 against New Orleans last Saturday) to nail each/every 45-yard-or-closer FG try plus P Andy Lee must make the Giants work a"long field" but lest anyone forget TE Vernon Davis (7 catches for 180 yards and two scores including the game-winner with 9 ticks last weekend) the 49ers might try to deliver some deep balls to WRs Ted Ginn Jr. here and so pay special attention when he enters this game and especially on"giveaway downs" like second-and-short.

Spread Notes - San Francisco is 12-4-1 against the odds overall this year and that includes a sizzling 8-0-1 ATS mark at home (and a perfect 7-0 spreadwise as home betting favorites). The 49ers are 9-1-1 spreadwise in non-divisional games this year and that includes last weekend's wild 36-32 NFC Divisional Playoff win against 3 ½-point favored New Orleans. The New York Giants, meanwhile, are 10-8 ATS overall this season but they roll into this title tilt riding an above-mentioned season-best four-game spread winning streak. The G-men are 6-2 versus the vig as dogs this year and a collective 22-11 against the numbers when grabbing up points since the start of the 2007 season.

Here's the past 5 head-to-head meetings between the Giants and the 49ers (note all home teams are in CAPS below):

YEAR WINNER SPREAD LOSER RESULT
2011 SAN FRANCISCO - 4 New York SAN FRANCISCO 27-20
2008 NEW YORK GIANTS - 10.5 San Francisco NEW YORK GIANTS 29-17
2007 NEW YORK GIANTS - 9.5 San Francisco NEW YORK GIANTS 33-15
2005 New York Giants - 10.5 SAN FRANCISCO New York Giants 24-6
2002# SAN FRANCISCO - 3 New York Giants SAN FRANCISCO 39-38

Again, note that all home teams below are in CAPS and the"W" or"L" or"T" in the Result category pertain to what the feature team did against the spread:

NEW YORK GIANTS

WK FAV SPREAD DOG GIANTS RESULT
#1 NY Giants - 1.5 WASHINGTON L 14-28
#2 NY GIANTS - 7 St. Louis W 28-16
#3 PHILADELPHIA - 7.5 NY Giants W 29-16
#4 NY Giants PK ARIZONA W 31-27
#5 NY GIANTS - 9.5 Seattle L 25-36
#6 NY GIANTS - 3.5 Buffalo L 27-24
#7 Bye Week
#8 NY GIANTS - 9.5 Miami L 20-17
#9 NEW ENGLAND - 10 NY Giants W 24-20
#10 SAN FRANCISCO - 4 NY Giants L 20-27
#11 NY GIANTS - 6 Philadelphia L 10-17
#12 NEW ORLEANS - 7 NY Giants L 24-49
#13 Green Bay - 7 NY GIANTS W 35-38
#14 DALLAS - 4.5 NY Giants W 37-34
#15 NY GIANTS - 6 Washington L 10-23
#16 NY JETS - 2.5 NY Giants W 29-14
#17 NY GIANTS - 3 Dallas W 31-14
WC NY GIANTS - 3 Atlanta W 24-2
DIV GREEN BAY - 8.5 NY Giants W 37-20

WC = Wild Card Playoff Game
DIV = Divisional Playoff Game

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

WK FAV SPREAD DOG 49ERS RESULT
#1 SAN FRANCISCO - 6 Seattle W 33-17
#2 Dallas - 3 SAN FRANCISCO T 24-27(ot)
#3 CINCINNATI - 1 San Francisco W 13-8
#4 PHILADELPHIA - 10 San Francisco W 24-23
#5 SAN FRANCISCO - 3 Tampa Bay W 48-3
#6 DETROIT - 5 San Francisco W 25-19
#7 Bye Week
#8 SAN FRANCISCO - 9 Cleveland W 20-10
#9 San Francisco - 5 WASHINGTON W 19-11
#10 SAN FRANCISCO - 4 NY Giants W 27-20
#11 SAN FRANCISCO - 10 Arizona W 23-7
#12 BALTIMORE - 3 San Francisco L 6-16
#13 SAN FRANCISCO - 14 St. Louis W 26-0
#14 SAN FRANCISCO - 3.5 Arizona L 19-21
#15 SAN FRANCISCO - 3 Pittsburgh W 20-3
#16 San Francisco - 2.5 SEATTLE L 19-17
#17 San Francisco - 10.5 ST. LOUIS L 34-27
DIV New Orleans - 3.5 SAN FRANCISCO W 36-32


DIV = Divisional Playoff Game

NOTE: Catch our College Basketball Weekend Notebook in the next Jim Sez.

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