The Final Four!

The Captain Morgan Playoff Challenge continues and below is a Sunday’s Conference Finals preview brought to you by InGamer co-Founder and fantasy sports expert Nic Sulsky. Enjoy the read and come try the coolest new sports game around at http://football.ingamer.sportsnet.ca

BAL @ NE

There is one offensive juggernaut left. Can the Raven’s D do what the 49’ers did to the Saints and the Giants did to the Packers? I doubt it. The Ravens have a very good Defense, but they are not elite in any aspect of their game. They have 3 elite players in Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata (Ray Lewis is no longer elite, folks) and one of them is dinged up (Reed). You can stop the Patriots if you can get heat on Brady and force him into making bad decisions; but I don’t think the Ravens can stop what Brady & co. have in store for them.

Rob Gronkowsi and Aaron Hernandez are a match-up nightmare...and it’s getting worse for defenses. They seem to be getting better and Belichik is starting to get even cheekier with how he deploys them. Hernandez, the 2nd best TE on the Pats, was their leading rusher last game. These two are big, fast, explosive weapons with great hands and a mean streak. My gut: The Ravens will do everything to limit Gronkowski. Hernandez is going to be the star in this game. Wes Welker will get a ton of underneath looks and Brady should have a solid game (but he always throws a pick or two against the Ravens). Terrell Suggs will be coming hard and fast all game and should be good for 1.5+ sacks. Ladarius Webb is a playmaking corner who also returns kicks; he’s a great play.

The Ravens offense runs through one man, and that man will have a huge day. Ray Rice is going to be an absolute beast. He will likely get 20+ carries and 6+ catches. The Patriots will try and bottle him up, and Jerod Mayo will play a key role. Rob Ninkovich has been making plays all year and he (along with DE Mark Anderson) are the Pats key pass rushers. They will have some opportunities to get pressure on Joe Flacco, but they are risky 1st half bets. If the Pats build a huge lead, then they will pin back their ears and attack Flacco, who is a risky start in his own right. The Pats secondary is leaky, but they have been playing better since the return of SS Patrick Chung. Flacco will try and stretch the field with Torrey Smith while looking at Anquan Boldin in-between the hash-marks. Boldin is the only other Ravens offensive player to seriously consider.

The two stars of this game may end up being the kickers. Both Cundiff and Gostowski could see a ton of chances as the Ravens D is tougher as it’s back get closer to their goal-line and the Pats have a bend-but-don’t-break D. Also look for 2 entirely different halves of football here. Don’t rush to make player changes if your 1st Quarter/Half picks start slow.

My Starting 6:
Captain: Ray Rice - RB, BAL
Patrick Chung - DB, NE
Wes Welker - WR, NE
Tom Brady - QB, NE
Aaron Hernandez - TE, NE
Terrell Suggs- LB, BAL

Keep an eye on: Rob Gronkowski (i know what you’re thinking), Billy Cundiff, Anquan Boldin, Stephen Gostowski

NYG @ SF

This is a hard game to get a grasp of as there doesn’t seem to be any consensus building when it comes to predicting the outcome. The one thing folks seem to agree on is that each defense is going to pose a much stiffer challenge to each offensive unit than they faced last week. My take: If the Giants front 7 can get 5 sacks on Alex Smith, they win. The Giants need to get in Alex Smith’s face and make him significantly more uncomfortable then the Saints did last week. I think they can and will. Osi, Tuck, JPP and, surprisingly, Boley need to step up huge again and if they do that, Eli and the Offense should muster enough points to beat the 49’ers.

Vernon Davis was an absolute monster last week. The Giants will undoubtedly learn from the Saint’s ill-fated man-on-man strategy and double Vernon most of the day. Can Crabtree make some plays? Can one of the other SF wideouts do anything? The 49’ers will get Frank Gore involved early and often. They will use him to set up some play action and if the WR crew can make a couple early plays, the Giants D will need to take notice. If Alex Smith can scare the Giants away from stacking the box, coming after him play after play, the 49’ers will win. If Frank Gore goes for 125+ total yards, that willl do the trick.

Eli Manning and Hakeen Nicks have been playing lights-out football. No QB-WR combo has been hotter in recent memory; only Warner/Fitzgerald have been close to the explosiveness the Giant’s duo is showcasing. Victor Cruz has disappeared of late, but with Carlos Rogers likely glued to Nicks all day, it’s Cruz that may supply the explosiveness in this game. But the 49’ers D has the ability to shut down any team, any game. Yes, Drew Brees put up 30+ pts, but that’s the Saints. The Giants will have a hard time getting their running game going (as the Saints did) and Eli Manning (as great as he has been playing) is not Drew Brees. And, the Giants don’t have a weapon like Jimmy Graham that can force constant mid-field attention. Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and Dashon Goldson are studs. They will be play huge in this game. And Donte Whitner, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith will also make plays. This D is for real and the Giants better hope they can get some big plays or it’s going to be a long day.

Similar to the 1st game, the kickers may be stars for us InGamers. Davis Akers, my captain pick, did break the all-time FG record this year, and unless this game is played in a torrential down pour, he will have 3+ FGs.

My Starting 6:
Captain: David Akers - K, SF
Navarro Bowman - LB, SF
Patrick Willis - LB, SF
Victor Cruz - WR, NY
Frank Gore - RB, SF
Michael Boley - LB, NY

Keep your eye on: Dashon Goldson, Jason Pierre-Paul, Hakeem Nicks, Osi Umenyiora

Good Luck Everyone and see you in the games!!

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