NFL Playoffs 2012: Patriots Beat Ravens To Claim AFC Championship, Spot In Super Bowl XLVI

The first two NFL wild card games offered plenty of big plays and entertaining football to begin the playoffs.

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AFC Championship Game: Patriots Beat Ravens, Earn Trip To Super Bowl XLVI

The New England Patriots held on desperately to a three-point lead as the Baltimore Ravens closed in on the end zone in the waning seconds of the AFC Championship game. Then after making a play to deny a sure touchdown two plays earlier, the Patriots celebrated wildly after Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff pulled the game-tying field goal attempt wide left, sending the Patriots to Indianapolis with a 23-20 win and another AFC championship.

Sweet schadenfreude for Cleveland Browns' fans not interested in ever seeing the rival Ravens reach another Super Bowl.

As expected, this hard-fought game was close throughout as both teams took turns with the lead. Baltimore appeared to have control of the game late in the third quarter but couldn't quite take advantage of the situation to put the game away. After taking a 17-16 lead, New England kick returner Danny Woodhead fumbled the ensuing kickoff. After the ball escaped the grasp of several Patriots, the Ravens recovered at the New England 28 yard line.

The Patriots defense stiffened and eventually forced the Ravens to settle for a 39-yard Cundiff field goal to go up 20-16. That would not be enough as Tom Brady took the ball on the next possession and moved the Patriots down the field before punching it in himself from the one-yard line.

After the teams swapped turnovers and possessions a couple of times, the Ravens were left at their own 21-yard line with just 1:44 remaining in the game. Quarterback Joe Flacco went to work connecting with Anquan Boldin four times to put the Ravens inside the red zone with two shots at a game-winning touchdown.

For a split second, it appeared the Ravens were headed to Indy when Flacco laid a pass in the arms of receiver Lee Evans in the end zone. But before Evans could get his second foot on the ground, New England defensive back Sterling Moore knocked the ball out of the loose grasp of Evans.

After Flacco couldn't find any options on third down, the game was left to Cundiff to extend into overtime, but his snap-hook kick ended Baltimore's season in an instant and set off a celebration on the New England sidelines.

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NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: Conference Championships Are Set

One of the more bittersweet moments for Browns fans was watching the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl after the 2000 season, just a few short years after the franchise left Cleveland for Baltimore. Some deja vu may be in order, as the Ravens have reached the AFC championship again and are one step away from the Super Bowl again.

The Ravens held serve at home to beat Houston 20-13 Sunday afternoon and will face the New England Patriots at 3 p.m. next Sunday on CBS.

In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers, consistently the best team all season long, fell badly at home 37-20 to the New York Giants after going 15-1 in the regular season. Ironically, the team with the best regular season record was the only team to lose at home in the playoffs so far. That sets up a New York-San Francisco NFC championship game at 6:30 p.m. next Sunday that seemed very unlikely at the beginning of the season.

For more on the Cleveland Browns, go to Dawgs by Nature. You can also head over to SB Nation's main NFL hub at SBNation.com/NFL.

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NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: Super Bowl Chase Is Down To Eight

The Divisional Weekend of the NFL Playoffs is almost here, and the eight teams left with a chance at making it to Indianapolis will be whittled down to four by the end of Sunday evening. The Browns are on the sidelines, as Atlanta's loss last week secured their second first round draft pick at the No. 22 slot.

The action gets underway Saturday at 4:30 p.m. when the Saints visit San Francisco on FOX. The 49ers are playing their first playoff game since 2003, while New Orleans has yet to win a road playoff game in its franchise history.

Saturday night Denver visits New England in a regular season rematch won convincingly by the Patriots. The 8 p.m. kickoff on CBS should be interesting as the depleted New England secondary has struggled to slow down teams all years.

Sunday afternoon’s games feature the Houston Texans, who are the only team in NFL history that has never lost a playoff game, playing at the Baltimore Ravens at noon on CBS. The Texans are in the playoffs for the first time and are coming off of a win against Cincinnati last week.

The final game of the week has the Giants at the Packers on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on FOX. The Packers won the regular season meeting on a late drive by Aaron Rodgers for the win.

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NFL Playoffs 2012: Bengals Lose To Texans, Saints Advance On Wild Card Weekend

The first two NFL wild card games offered plenty of big plays and entertaining football to begin the playoffs.

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