Smith may be inconsistent, but he can be spectacular and that showed last week. Smith simply burned an overmatched Champ Bailey, once the most feared cornerback in football, and re-established his viability as a deep threat. The Patriots' secondary has been shaky for years, and now it will probably be up to Talib to try to contain Smith ? this isn't even accounting for the presence of Anquan Boldin.
2 of 10 Rob Carr/Getty Images
While Joe Flacco's encore is probably the most anticipated event of the AFC Championship, the Ravens will need to establish Ray Rice to free up the surging quarterback. This means the offensive line will need to keep the mammoth Vince Wilfork out of the backfield and away from Flacco.
3 of 10 Al Tielemans/SI
Cliché? Perhaps, but given the history between these teams, the respective team leaders will need to step up and deliver in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship.
4 of 10Elsa, Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Patriots demonstrated Vereen's versatility against the Texans, and the second-year back out of Cal found the end zone three times. While Stevan Ridley will probably continue to earn the hard yards up the middle, Vereen will present a dangerous threat to an aging and not completely healthy Ravens' linebacking corps. Whether he is catching passes out of the backfield or taking pitches, Vereen could have the speed to endanger the Ravens' sure-tackling linebackers.
5 of 10Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images
Last week's Broncos-Ravens game may have been exciting, but Ed Reed didn't make the big plays he usually does in the playoffs. Now he will have to limit one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. Reed has looked older in his most recent games, and the Pats will need Hernandez to produce without the presence of Rob Gronkowski.
6 of 10 Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI; David Goldman/AP
Last year, Crabtree was surrounded by questions of being a "bust" after catching one pass for three yards in the NFC Championship Game. Now, he is Colin Kaepernick's favorite target, and the combo will be difficult for the Falcons' secondary to contain. Crabtree just missed setting a career high against the Packers, reeling in nine catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Asante Samuel and company effectively limited Russell Wilson in the first half of last week's divisional playoff game, but the Seattle rookie set a franchise playoff record with 385 passing yards by the end of the game.
7 of 10 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Justin Smith looked healthy last week after missing 2.5 games with a partial tear in his left triceps tendon. After a successful game against the Packers in an elbow brace, Smith will have to battle a successful run-blocker in Blalock, who effectively paved the way for running back Michael Turner this season. The health of Smith will probably be tested, and that will be important for the player considered the most important member of the 49ers defense.
8 of 10 John Bazemore/AP; Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Jones and White will be doing most of their work against Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown (and occasionally nickelback Chris Culliver), but the Niners' hard-hitting safeties present a different challenge. Goldson and Whitner are both renowned for their huge hits on receivers and running backs (see Goldson's hit on Tampa Bay's Mike Williams and Whitner's hit on New Orleans' Pierre Thomas). Neither player is acknowledged as a particularly great safety in coverage, but their intimidating presences can lead teams to reroute even the best receivers.
9 of 10 Tony Medina, Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI; Al Tielemans/SI
The Falcons excelled running the ball last week and that was likely the catalyst in their breathtaking victory over Seattle. The two running backs meet a couple of mean linebackers who are tough against the run.
10 of 10Bill Frakes/SI; David Goldman/AP
Abraham says he is going to play, but he still has not been cleared by the Falcons. That may put even greater emphasis on Biermann, who will need to try to keep the elusive Kaepernick in the pocket. Both players are critical to limiting the Niners' offense by keeping Kaepernick out of the middle of the field and off the edges.
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