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Friday, January 18, 2013
Friday Forecast: Conference championships

By Jamison Hensley

My picks in last weekend's divisional playoff round can be summed up like this: Saturday was awful and Sunday was perfect. In other words, I split last weekend. Here's my predictions for Sunday's conference championship games (for entertainment purposes only):

Baltimore Ravens 31, New England Patriots 27: You got the feeling from the Ravens last week that they needed things to fall the right way in order to beat the Broncos. That's not the case against the Patriots. Baltimore is brimming with confidence heading into Sunday's game, and this team should be confident. The Ravens won in the playoffs in New England three years ago and they believe they should have won there in last year's AFC Championship Game if not for Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff flinching in the final minute. The biggest mismatch of the game is the Ravens' deep passing game against the Patriots secondary. I know the Patriots aren't allowing as many big plays since trading for cornerback Aqib Talib, but Joe Flacco has been almost unstoppable when throwing deep in these playoffs. The key will be Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones getting off the line against what should be physical coverage by the Patriots. Flacco won a shootout with Peyton Manning last week and he'll do the same against Tom Brady.

Atlanta Falcons 28, San Francisco 49ers 23: Home-field advantage will be a factor here. Or should I say dome-field advantage. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 34-6 at the Georgia Dome, including the playoffs. The 49ers went 1-2 in domes this season (11-2-1 outdoors), losing at the Rams and Vikings. Where this game should be decided is inside 20-yard lines. The Falcons rank in the top 10 in red zone offense and defense. The 49ers have the 21st-ranked red zone offense and the 28th-ranked one on defense.




Wild-card record: 2-2. Season record: 34-21 (.618).

Ravens 38, Broncos 35, 2OT (my prediction: Broncos 23, Ravens 20)

49ers 45, Packers 31 (my prediction: Packers 27, 49ers 20)

Falcons 30, Seahawks 28 (my prediction: Falcons 24, Seahawks 20)

Patriots 41, Texans 28 (my prediction: Patriots 31, Texans 16)