Jay Castro’s NFL Preview – Summary

First, some adjustments to my original picks based on recent events… Read more of this post


AFC Championship Breakdown: Ravens At Patriots

The top 2 seeds in the AFC meet for the chance to go to the Super Bowl.


I am very excited to see this matchup so I will breakdown this game by position.

Quarterback: Advantage Patriots

This is not even close. Tom Brady is the best ever (in my opinion) so stacking him up against Joe Flacco is unfair to say the least.

Brady Needs To Have a Great Game

Take it from a Jet fan, Tom Brady rarely loses in the playoffs at home. Brady is one of the clutchest quarterbacks ever and it will take a great effort to stop him and come away with a victory.

Brady has been awesome all year and has carried the Patriots to where they are now. Look for Brady to throw a lot of short passes to offset the Ravens pressure and if the Ravens dare sit back and play coverage look for Brady to absolutely pick them apart.

Flacco has one advantage, he will not be asked to do as much as Brady (for good reason). Flacco just needs to be efficient and manage the game. Do not turn the ball over to the Patriots in your own territory because if that happens look for the Patriots to destroy the Ravens.

Running Backs: Advantage Ravens

Clearly, this is the only offensive category where the Ravens are better than the Patriots.

It is also the only way the Ravens can win this game.

Rice Needs To Flex His Muscle To Go To Indianapolis

Ray Rice MUST get over 25 carries for the Ravens to win, Houston did an excellent job on containing Rice and Belichek will find a way to contain him.

Despite that, Rice must be force-fed the ball, your best defense against Brady is to keep him on the sidelines. The Ravens need to go back to the formula that got them a victory against the Patriots a couple of years back when Ray Rice ran through the Patriots defense at will.

On the other hand, Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead will be factors just to keep the Ravens off-balanced on defense. Look for screens to Woodhead to expose the Ravens blitz and Green-Ellis on short-yardage situations to get it done.

Wide Receivers: Advantage Patriots

Wes Welker is a beast we all know that but what we don’t know is how he will be used in this matchup. Brady is great at seeing the defense and taking what they give him.

The Patriots have great route-runners at the wide receiver position and there could be an Ochocinco sighting .

In fact, I believe Ochocinco will have over 60 yards receiving and a touchdown. He is the only player at this position that I believe can consistently beat man coverage down the field. Especially with all the attention Welker and Gronk will be getting, I just think it is Ocho’s time.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have solid options on the outside also. With a terrible secondary, this receiving core of Boldin and Torrey Smith can have a big game.

Boldin needs to make catches over the middle and move the chains, while Smith goes over the top for the big plays. Smith is critical for this team’s success, if he can “take the top off the defense” it will open up the running game for Rice.

Boldin and Smith will have their chances to make big plays.

The question is will they be able to capitalize on their opportunities?

Tight Ends: Advantage Patriots

Gronk And Hernandez Are The Keys To Patriots Success

Again this one is not even close.

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are matchup nightmares and production machines. The Ravens will have trouble matching up with these guys, especially since their linebackers are better suited against the run game than the pass.

You can not cover both of them.

Gronk will demand double coverage in the middle so Hernandez will see single coverage and unless Ed Reed plays, I like his chances.

David Pitta and Ed Dickson for the Ravens are decent tight ends. Both are good blockers with decent hands.

Pitta and Dickson along with Boldin, must make catches to move the chains, thereby backing the Patriots off the run game. The Patriot linebackers are also vulnerable to the pass so unlike the Texans game, Flacco must find his tight ends in this game to have success.

Offensive Line: Advantage Patriots

The only reason I give the Patriots offensive line an edge is because of the signal caller behind them. Brady is very tough to sack because of his awareness in the pocket and his quick reads.

Also, the Ravens offensive line looked terrible against the Texans. Granted, the Patriots have a much softer defense, but their scheme will make up for their lack of talent. I have serious questions about the Ravens being able to protect Joe Flacco, especially if the run game has a slow start.

Defensive Line: Advantage Baltimore

The Ravens have an outstanding front with Ngata and Suggs. Both players will need to be disruptive in order to have a chance against Brady.

One stat that blew my mind from last weeks game against the Texans is that the Texans did not allow one sack. With all the pressure and talent on the defensive front the Ravens could not mount a pass rush to sack rookie quarterback TJ Yates?

You can not beat the Patriots if you do not hit Tom Brady; he is just too damn good. Despite last week’s performance, this defensive front is great and I can see them getting pressure on Brady.

One player on the Patriots defensive front needs to have a GREAT game.

Vince Wilfork.

He is the anchor to the patriots 3-4 scheme, and he is their best defender against the run. He will need to be at his best to stop the Ravens rushing attack.

Which means clogging up the line for Jerod Mayo to make tackles as well as creating havoc in the Ravens backfield.

If you hear Jerod Mayo’s name a lot in this game, that means Wilfork is doing his job.

Linebackers: Advantage Ravens

Ray Lewis is still a beast and he is still one of the best linebackers in the

Lewis Needs To Hit Brady To Get The Victory

NFL. Expect a lot of pressure from Ray up the middle to disrupt Brady. The one thing about Brady is that if you get pressure on him up the middle you can create mistakes.

Ray Lewis needs to play a fast and smart game because Brady will be doing everything he can to counter what Lewis is doing and should be a great chess match between two Hall of Famers.

From the Patriots perspective, they need to use their linebacker blitzes to confuse Flacco. The one advantage the Patriots defense has is Flacco’s inexperience.

Although Flacco is in his 4th year, he still can be confused with defensive looks he has not seen before. Who better to devise those schemes than Mr. Bill Belichek?

But that is IF the Patriots can stop Ray Rice.

Rob Ninkovich,Jermaine Cunningham and Jerod Mayo need have an excellent day stopping the run. If they can do that, look for exotic linebacker blitzes to confuse and force Flacco into making a mistake.

Secondary: Advantage Ravens

That is IF Ed Reed plays.

Without Reed over the top, Brady will pick apart the secondary and have a

The X-Factor

field day against the Ravens in the passing game. I believe Ed Reed is the X-Factor in this game. His presence alone will force adjustments Tom Brady will have to make.

Everyone will focus on Ray Lewis vs Tom Brady, but believe me it is Ed Reed vs Tom Brady. Especially since the Patriots have become such a passing team, Reed’s importance can not be overlooked.

The Patriots will have to contain Torrey Smith and keep Boldin away from the middle of the field. If they can shut down Smith over the top and squeeze down on the Ravens passing attack like the Texans did, then the Patriots will have great success.

Kyle Arrington needs to have a great game. He led the Patriots with 7 interceptions this season and needs to be able to shut down Torrey Smith.

Special Teams: Even

I do not see an advantage from the special teams aspect of the game. Both kickers, Gostowski and Cundiff, are great long distance kickers and very accurate.

Also both punters Zoltan Mesko (AWESOME first name)  and Sam Koch are great punters and have consistently switched field positions for their teams all season long.

In the return game, I do not see an edge for either team. Both teams do not have “specialists” on their teams that have had consistent success returning punts or kicks.

In the end, I see the Patriots winning this game. Although the Jet fan in me wants to see Brady get blindsided by Terrell Suggs or Ray Lewis endless amount of times, I just do not see that happening. The Ravens offense is just too inconsistent. Patriots win, 28-10.

Who Wants It More?

NFC Championship Breakdown: Giants At 49ers

What a great matchup we have this week for the NFC Championship.

Lets break this game down by position:

Eli Manning Leading The Way

Quarterback: Advantage Giants.

Eli Manning is not only a better passer than Alex Smith, but he is also much more clutch. Although Alex Smith had a breakout game against the Saints, Eli still gets the nod.

Also, Eli has the experience that is  needed for pressure packed games like this. Eli is no stranger to tough situations on the road and with the exception of Tom Brady, Eli Manning is the most successful and experienced quarterback left in the playoffs.

Running Backs: Advantage 49ers.

The combination of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter seemingly gives the Niners the advantage over the Giants in the run game. Jacobs and Bradshaw are good backs, but Gore is an elite caliber running back and Kendall Hunter is an excellent change of pace for him.

Both of the Niners’ backs will need to have an excellent game in order for the Niners to have any chance to pull off a victory and punch their ticket to Indianapolis.

Offensive Line: Advantage 49ers.

The Giants offensive line is excellent but their run blocking has been sub par the whole year. However, in the passing game the Giants have kept Eli upright and given him enough time to find his receivers downfield.

On the other hand, the 49ers offensive line is not only massive, but they impose their will on defenses. Joe Staley is one of the best Left Tackles in the league that no one has heard about.

Right Tackle Anthony Davis has also been great for the Niners all year-long. One of the key matchups in this game will be Staley/Davis against JPP and Tuck: I believe the winner of this matchup will tip the game in their team’s favor.

Wide Receivers: Advantage Giants

This was easy because the Giants receiving core is so much better than the 49ers.

Giants fans hope they see a lot of this.

Giants fans hope they see a lot of this.

With play-makers Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham on the outside look for Eli to get it to his weapons early and often.

I am very interested to see how the Niners deal with this three-headed monster. The Niners contained the Saints offense until the final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter. Simlilarly, they can not allow Eli to torch them late and they must stop him on 3rd downs.

Tight Ends: Advantage 49ers

Beckum and Ballard have been good surprises for Eli and the Giants passing attack. Both players will need to have an impact on this game whether it be through the passing game or picking up the 49ers blitz.

But make no mistake about it, the 49ers have the clear advantage here. Vernon Davis is a beast and force to be reckoned with.

Also one of the major strengths for the 49ers is one of the Giants major weaknesses.

Expect A Big Week From Vernon Davis

If for some ridiculous reason Vernon Davis is being covered by Michael Boley or Chase Blackburn, look for Alex Smith to exploit that matchup EVERY TIME.

Kenny Phillips will probably draw Vernon Davis on man coverage, this is a critical matchup that both teams need to win so it will be very interesting to see how the Perry Fewell decides to cover Davis.

Defensive Line: Advantage Giants

Not by much, but the Giants get the advantage in my opinion because of their pass rush ability. The key for the Giants is stopping the run; you can not allow Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to dictate the pace of the game.

The key is if the Giants D-Line can stop the run on 1st and 2nd down and set up 3rd and longs for the 49ers offense.

Than the Giants will have a huge advantage and can use their speed on the d-line to their advantage against a stronger but slower 49ers offensive line.

Do not underestimate the 49ers defensive line, though. They consistently pressured and knocked down Drew Brees and thus held the great passing attack of the Saints more or less in check.

Linebackers: Advantage 49ers

Giants fans DON'T want to see this.

Giants fans DON'T want to see this.

The 49ers have two of the best inside linebackers in the NFL with Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. In addition they have defensive rookie of the

year Aldon Smith and Aaron Brooks coming from the outside. All four of their linebackers are individually and collectively better than the Giants linebacker core.

I believe the Giants could have one of the worst linebacker cores in the NFL. Everyone wants to make comparisons to the ’07 Super Bowl team but the one player that the Giants do not have is Middle Linebacker Antonio Pierce.

Pierce was the leader and signal caller for the Giants defense in that Super Bowl run. His skill and attitude are missed and the Giants have never had a linebacker of decent caliber since.

Defensive Backs: Advantage 49ers

The 49ers led the league in takeaways this season and forced 5 turnovers against one the best offenses in the Saints.

Despite the secondary’s great play in Green Bay, I still feel that the Giants rely on their pass rush way too much and with the great running game the 49ers posses, the secondary could be exposed with one on one matchups.

The Giants knew Green Bay was not a good run team and very one-dimensional. This matchup will be the Giants’ biggest test in terms of balance between run and pass.

Special Teams: Advantage 49ers

Ted Ginn is a potential game changer from the kick and punt return positions. The Giants do not possess a specialist on kick and punt returns which can hurt the Niners in this aspect.

David Akers has been money all year. He broke the team points record set by JERRY RICE and set the record for most field goals made in NFL history. If you break a record held by Jerry Rice you instantly have the advantage in my opinion.

Andy Lee has also been a major weapon for the 49ers from the Punter position. He has consistently switched field position for the Niners defense all year.

Getting a short field for the Giants is CRUCIAL to their victory, but if Andy Lee is on his game the Giants will have to go the distance of the field against the best takeaway team in the league.

In the end, for some ridiculous reason I’m picking the Giants to win 24-21. After I’m done throwing up, check out my AFC Championship Breakdown coming soon!

Winner Gets A Chance

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