In Baltimore, the talk has been about the quarterback; same in New England, but for different reasons. Nobody is questioning Tom Brady's poise and effectiveness -- and definitely not somebody from his own team.
Analyst Picks: Championship Sunday
The storylines are obvious, as are most of the keys. But a common thread between both games deals with the position that, over the course of this season (and especially the playoffs), has arguably become the most dangerous on the field: Tight end.
AFC Championship: Will Baltimore flip the script on New England?
Teams that love to press don't like to be pressed themselves.
Darlington: Boston TE party
The Baltimore Ravens have a nice pair of young tight ends in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. They combined for 94 catches and eight touchdowns in the regular season, and have both emerged as solid red-zone options. By throwing to them early, Baltimore can put New England linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes on notice. It could also soften the alignment of Patriots safeties Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo. If the Ravens are able to move the chains and get those key between-the-hash-marks defenders to focus on the tight ends, it could create running lanes or soft receiving zones for running back Ray Rice, who said he figures to get more than 20 touches. Also, by occupying the safeties from time to time with the tight ends, Baltimore might be able to make some throws over the top.
NFC Championship: Can New York contain divisional-round hero Vernon Davis?
Anatomy of 'The Catch III'
Although New York allowed Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten to catch seven passes in the de facto NFC East Championship Game in Week 17, Witten didn't get into the end zone and really wasn't a huge threat in the overall scheme of the game. In the wild-card round, the Giants' defense overwhelmed the Falcons and tight end Tony Gonzalez had four catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns. Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley had four catches for 37 yards against New York last Sunday. To cover tight ends, the Giants incorporate combinations of linebackers -- Michael Boley has been regarded as a coverage 'backer for years -- and safeties.
When New York lost to San Francisco in November, Niner tight ends Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis combined to catch nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown (by Davis). Walker has missed the past three games with a broken jaw, but he could return this week. Davis, meanwhile, has become quarterback Alex Smith's go-to guy over the past month. In last week's thilling divisional-round win over New Orleans, these two hooked up seven times for 180 yards and two touchdowns (including the game-winner).