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Predictions for the NFL championship weekend

Michael Kim
Eli Manning 300x225 Predictions for the NFL championship weekend

Eli Manning of the New York Giants

How strange that the defending Super Bowl champion is the only team that has failed to win its home game during this NFL postseason.   Other than the Packers, home teams are a combined 7-1 in this year’s playoffs entering this weekend’s conference championship games.   If the 49ers and Patriots escape victorious, the nine wins will mark the most for home teams in a single postseason.

It won’t be easy.  The two road teams – the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens – have experienced success away from their friendly confines in playoffs past.  The Giants are co-owners of a league record with their four consecutive playoff victories on the road.  Also, head coach Tom Coughlin has led his teams to six road playoff wins – one shy of Tom Landry for the most in NFL history.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have more road playoff wins than all but three franchises – even though this Baltimore entry has been around for just 15 seasons.

As for the quarterbacks, Eli Manning of the Giants has won four playoff games away from the Meadowlands.  This ties him with five others, including Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Here are my predictions for this Championship Weekend.  Both games will be played Sunday.  As always, I extend my thanks to the ESPN research department for the notes, stats and trends seen above and below.

RAVENS at PATRIOTS:

The Ravens have won just once in seven games against the Patriots, but that lone win was in the 2009 postseason. A trip to Indianapolis was on the line in that game, just as it is in this game.

This No. 1 seed vs. No. 2 seed meeting marks the 22nd time the top two seeds collide in a conference championship game. It’s the first time in the AFC since 2004.  Not only do the Patriots own home-field advantage, they have history on their side.  The No. 1 seed is 13-8 in these matchups.

The Pats also have Tom Brady on their side.  The three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback is 15-5 as a starter in the playoffs.  A 16th win would tie him with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, for playoff wins by a starting quarterback.

They are also 3-0 in the AFC Championship at home.  With the Ravens bickering among themselves over Flacco’s leadership and performance on the field, it’s tough to expect anything other than this record improving after Sunday’s game.

Pick:  Patriots

GIANTS at 49ers:

While the Ravens and Patriots game pits a No. 1 vs. a No. 2, this game features a No. 1 vs. another No. 1.  Eli Manning, the first pick in the 2004 draft, squares off against Alex Smith, the top pick the 2005 draft.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is just the fourth playoff game in the Super Bowl era between starting quarterbacks who were both No. 1 overall picks in the NFL Draft.

This is the eighth postseason meeting between the Giants and 49ers.  In their only meeting in a conference championship game, the G-Men won the 1990 NFC title game.

The Giants have lost 11 of their last 14 road games against the Niners, including a 27-20 loss in Week 10 earlier this season.  But the postseason brings better results for Big Blue, as previously stated.  No team can match the Giants’ streak of four road playoff wins, in a span dating back to 2007.

The Niners own the home-field edge and a great deal of confidence from their stunning comeback win over New Orleans, but as I mentioned last week, there’s something special about this Giants team.  I failed to go with my gut last week, but not this week.  I sense Eli and the G-Men will spoil another home party.

Pick:  Giants

Michael Kim is the host of SportsCenter, the flagship US sports news programme on ESPN America – Sky channel 430, Virgin channel 531 and TalkTalk TV channel 566 – every weekday morning live from 6:00am with an updated show at 10:30pm, visit www.espnamerica.com. Watch Sunday NFL Countdown  as ESPN’s expert analysts build up to each round of the playoffs every Sunday at 3pm on ESPN America. ESPN and ESPN America are the exclusive home of live NBA, MLB, NFL Monday Night Football and NCAA US college sports in the UK. Watch NCAA Football and Basketball, including Bowl Games, BCS Games and March Madness on www.ESPNplayer.com

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