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NFL Playoff Preview Conference Championships

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And then there were four.

After the grueling four month season and two weeks of high-intensity playoff games, we are left with four NFL teams that still have a chance to make their way to the Super Bowl and compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

2012's postseason attrition continued this weekend as four more very good teams were proved to be not quite good enough. The Denver Broncos, the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Texans all find themselves on the outside looking in as the playoff dance continues. Each team fought the good fight the Broncos and Seahawks were especially dogged in their pursuits but in the end, they came up short.

Four teams left standing. One more victory to gain access to the most celebrated championship game in all of American team sports. One more win and you're in.

Let's take a look at those conference championship games.

(Last week's picks: 2-2; postseason to date: 5-3)

AFC

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

The Ravens surprised me (and just about everyone not living in the mid-Atlantic region) with their victory over the Broncos. Denver looked like the real deal, but Baltimore stepped up when they needed to, battling through two overtimes on their way to victory. The much-maligned Joe Flacco has looked excellent spearheading the Ravens offense receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith have looked great. If Ray Rice can get going too, Baltimore will put up some points. Their aging defense looks to have drunk from the fountain of youth; the entire unit is riding high. Sure, they allowed 35 points to the Broncos it doesn't matter. They are riding high and playing without fear.

New England took care of business, beating Houston 41-28 in a game that wasn't even that close. Tom Brady was his usual unflappably efficient self. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, along with receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez, helped the Patriot offense move the ball at will. The rapid-fire play calling and execution had the Texans on their heels all day. The loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski will hurt, but the team already learned how to play without him earlier this season. The defense looked great against the run, but the passing defense left something to be desired, both in terms of pass rush and coverage. If they can improve in those areas, the sky's the limit.

Baltimore won the first meeting between these two teams, but that was months ago. It's a whole new ballgame. The Ravens have a puncher's chance, but the New England offense will likely prove to be too much for them.

New England 35 Baltimore 24

NFC

San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons

At the beginning of the season, the 49ers were considered a contender due to their stout defense and a powerful running game. They were led by an efficient game-manager of a quarterback. Now, while the defense remains fairly tough and the running game looks good, they also just happen to have the most dynamic player still standing in the playoffs under center. QB Colin Kaepernick set an NFL record with 181 rushing yards against the Packers along with two touchdowns. He also threw for nearly 300 yards and another pair of scores. And while the defense gave up four TDs, they were up against one of the most proficient offenses in the league. Their defensive line is a bit banged up, but they still have one of the best linebacking corps in the league. All systems are go in San Francisco.

It's been awhile since a top playoff seed received the sort of disdain the Falcons have seen this year. I'm as guilty as anyone; I picked them to lose their game against the Seahawks (though in my defense, I was almost right). Led by QB Matt Ryan, the Falcons pulled one out in the final seconds against one of the hottest teams in the league. Tight end Tony Gonzalez had a great game and finally got his first playoff win despite being in the NFL since the days of leather helmets. The Atlanta running game has looked so-so at times this season, but they got it together against Seattle. The defense looked great for three quarters before almost coughing it up in the end. They might be lucky to be here, but heythey're here.

Atlanta might have gotten a monkey off their collective backs with this win, but they're going up a San Francisco squad that looks legitimately great right now. The Falcons will put up a fight, but there's no denying the 49ers.

San Francisco 31 Atlanta 20

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