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Who is the X-Factor in the Baltimore-New England AFC Championship Game?
- QB Tom Brady NE: Brady has been waiting for a chance to get back in the Super Bowl and also a chance to get back at the Ravens for beating the Patriots a couple of years ago. Brady was only 23-of-42 for 154 yards, throwing two touchdowns but three interceptions. The offense revolves around Brady.
- RB Ray Rice BAL: Rice started that playoff game a couple of years ago with a 83-yard touchdown. With a maligned quarterback in Joe Flacco, Rice may shoulder the load of the offense and the Patriots defense will have to stop Rice to win.
- TE Rob Gronkowski NE: "Gronk" has set records this season with his receiving and he has been the favorite red zone target of Tom Brady. He is athletic and part of the new breed of agile, pass-catching tight ends. He normally creates a good matchup for the Patriots due to his size, strength, and agility.
- QB Joe Flacco BAL: Flacco has had his critics in the press, but last week, Ed Reed called him out. Could this be a wake-up call for Flacco to perform at his highest level in the most important game of his young career?
- SS Ed Reed BAL: Reed has eight interceptions in ten career postseason games, including one last week. Reed leads the defensive secondary, as each level of the Ravens defense has a solid leader. Reed can change a game and could make Brady pay for making errant passes.
- DE Terrell Suggs BAL: Suggs leads the defensive line and leads their pass rush. If Brady is not comfortable in the pocket, it will be because of Suggs. Solid defensive pressure may take Brady and the Patriots from executing their offense at their tempo on their terms in their house.
- QB Eli Manning NYG: You can never count Eli Manning out. He set a record for 15 fourth quarter touchdown passes this season. Manning is now counted among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Do you doubt how much he means to his team? Just ask his players...or anyone that watches him play. The Giants have had one of the worst running games in their history, but the offense has not suffered.
- QB Alex Smith SFO: Alex Smith had a huge game last week, passing for 299 yards and accounting for four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) without turning the ball over. Is this the new Smith or will the Giants pass rush get to him? Smith can create outside the pocket and the Giants can be thrown on.
- WR Hakeem Nicks NYG: Nicks set the tone for the Giants last week, making two game-breaking plays in the first half against Green Bay. Nicks is rangy and has the speed to make the Niner defenders see the "88" on his back as he runs into the end zone. His height makes him a big-time threat in the red zone as well.
- WR Victor Cruz NYG: Just as Nicks has breakaway speed, so does Cruz, as both have a lot of yards gained after the catch. Cruz does it from the flanker position and goes over the middle, which is dangerous. If Cruz draws a double-team, Nicks is freed up. If Nicks is double-teamed, that could mean a huge day for Cruz.
- RB Frank Gore SFO: Gore can help the 49ers control the ball and limit Manning and the time that the Giants offense is on the field. Gore is the 49ers all-time leading rusher and seems healthy, with 127 all-purpose yards last week against the Saints. Gore could be looking for revenge against the Giants, as he had zero yards rushing on six carries in Week 10.
- TE Vernon Davis SFO: Davis had an amazing game against the Saints, with two touchdowns, including the game-winner with nine seconds left. Davis will be pivotal if the 49ers have any kind of success throwing the ball, as he accounted for 60% of Alex Smith's passing yardage last week.
- LB Patrick Willis SFO: Willis is known as one of the best defensive players on the 49ers and the best have a tendency to come up big in the biggest moments. But, Willis has had his fewest number of tackles in his NFL career this year (97) and second-fewest amount of sacks (two). Willis did have eight tackles last week against New Orleans.
We will talk about both the AFC and NFC title games on "Sports With The StatMan", this Monday (January 23rd) at 11pm ET (Click here for the live broadcast). You can tune in on our show page or look for us on iTunes. And, if you miss us, you can click on the live broadcast link above or get onto the Facebook page for the audio of the show, Episode #230.
Upcoming episodes this week:
Monday, January 23rd - 11pm ET - Sports With The StatMan #230: NFL Conference Championship Talk, NHL Talk (Episode Page)
Wednesday, January 25th - 11pm ET - Sports With The StatMan #231: This Week in Fantasy Sports (Episode Page)