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NFL

5 Bold Predictions for NFL Conference Championships

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5 Bold Predictions for NFL Conference Championships

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Daniel Shirey - USA Today Sports

When I was a kid, I used to watch every single one of my favorite basketball team’s games. The best part was the pre-game analysis from the homegrown announcer, who would highlight the “Keys to the Game,” such as: score more points than the other guys; get more rebounds than the other team; stop the other team’s superstar.

It would always crack me up that these were the “keys” - i.e. the most basic, common sense fundamentals for any sporting event ever. I’m going to try to be a little bit bolder in my predictions for this weekend’s NFL Conference Championship games.

I won’t go soothsayer crazy and predict that Bernard Pollard will take out yet another New England Patriots player, or that Matt Ryan will post exactly 367 yards, but I’ll try to find something a little unexpected (or at least not completely obvious) in each of the matchups.

The number one seed in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons, will be hosting those stupid San Francisco 49ers (who knocked my team out of the playoffs) and will have to contend with fast-rising star Colin Kaepernick, who can kill defenses with his arm or legs.

The Baltimore Ravens, who seemed in a free fall at the end of the regular season, had a strong win over the AFC's top-seeded Denver Broncos. They’ll be taking on the always-in-contention Patriots. More than the actual matchup, however, we’ll all be treated to unashamed fawning and salivating by the media over what could be the final game of Ray Lewis’ career.

After a divisional round filled with surprises and disappointments, what will the conference round bring? Click through at the top of the page to see my 5 bold predictions for the NFL Conference Championships.

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Absence of Rob Gronkowski Won't Be That Big of a Deal

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David Bulter II - USA Today Sports

The Patriots’ second-best player re-broke his arm last week and will not be able to play. Rob Gronkowski is a beast and a game-changer, but New England will be able to overcome his loss. Last year’s New England-Baltimore AFC Championship game came down to a Billy Cundiff missed field goal, but that was when Baltimore ranked 4th in the league in total defense, not 17th. The Ravens are old and injured, and Tom Brady will take advantage of the hobbled Ravens defense, with or without Gronk.

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Michael Crabtree Will Have a Monster Game

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Cary Edmondson - USA Today Sports

Though I believe Atlanta will win, I expect a monster game from Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick and Crabtree have developed a strong on-field connection. Crabtree has had some behavioral problems in his first few years, but fans are starting to see his massive potential coming to fruition this season. The Falcons defense won’t be able to stop the red-hot receiver.

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Health of Joe Staley Could Decide Game

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Jeff Hanisch - USA Today Sports

San Francisco’s starting left tackle Joe Staley has a serious right arm injury. He was in visible pain throughout last weekend’s game. San Fran owes a huge amount of their success to their best-in-the-business offensive line. If Staley is unable to go, or is not close to full strength, things could go wrong fast for the Niners.

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Joe Flacco Will Be Joe Flacco

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Frank Victores - USA Today Sports

How’s that for bold? Flacco will have some very nice plays that will have fans thinking, “Hey, maybe Joe can play with the big boys.” Flacco will play above-average against a sloppy Patriots defense, but not well enough to win.

To their credit, the Ravens have upped their offensive game the last few weeks, but Flacco is still not a quarterback who can be trusted to shoulder an entire team in the biggest game of his career.

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Colin Kaepenick Will Struggle in Georgia Dome

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Robert Hanashiro - USA Today Sports

Kaepernick won’t fall apart - we all saw the way he handled the pressure of his first postseason start last week - but he will have more trouble controlling the offense away from home. The Georgia Dome will be rocking and will give Kaepernick trouble in communicating with his offense. Without Kaepernick at his best, the 49ers will not be able to keep up with the Falcons.