The road to the Super Bowl will end this Sunday, with four teams battling for two spots and the right to play in New Orleans on February 3rd. The winners of the NFC and AFC Championship games will advance to the ultimate game: Super Bowl XLVII. Here’s what you need to know:
NFC Championship Game
49ers at Falcons
Sunday, January 20th, 3pm (FOX)
What to know from history: The NFL has always struggled a bit with geography. Some tutoring may be in order here. But for one reason or another, the San Francisco 49ers (in California) and the Atlanta Falcons (in GEORGIA) at one time both resided in the NFC West division. (There was also a time when the Arizona Cardinals lived in the NFC East. Riddle me that.) Because of their former divisional association, these two teams have played each other quite a few times. San Francisco bears the lead with 44 wins to Atlanta’s 3o – but let’s remember that the Falcons were pretty bad for a pretty long time in that era, and the 49ers were in their heyday. The last time they met in the playoffs was in 1999 and the Falcons won by 2 points to advance to the NFC Championship game. The last time they’ve played each other in recent history was in 2010 – a game that the Falcons also won, again by 2 points. The Falcons have won 4 of their last 5 against the 49ers…but again, let’s remember that until recently, the 49ers haven’t been a competitive team. Both teams look much different these days.
What to know on Sunday: You can pretty much throw history out the window on this one. On it’s face, it looks like this game is San Francisco’s to lose. I can’t remember the last time a home playoff team was slated to be such an overwhelming underdog. The Niners have the momentum and the scary-good quarterback who hasn’t figured out that he shouldn’t be playing this well this early in his postseason career yet, but the Falcons have a chip. A gigantic chip. It’s a chip on their shoulder from years of winning the regular season but never winning the playoffs, for hundreds of analysts and fans and colleagues who never took them seriously this year even though they were undefeated for more than half of the regular season. On top of that, they experienced watching their postseason dreams die right in front of them last week as the Seahawks came roaring back to put up a fight in the second half. The Falcons struggled to regain the lead…but they did. It might be just the change-of-history the Falcons need to really make a run at this thing.
AFC Championship Game
Ravens at Patriots
Sunday, January 20th, 6:30pm (CBS)
What to know from history: This exact same game was played in this exact same place almost exactly a year ago. (This concludes the usage of the word “exact.”) The Patriots won that game after then-Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32 yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. To say that the Ravens are out for vindication would be an understatement. They’ve played each other since then – the Ravens won their regular season game against the Patriots earlier this year – but that game was valiantly won for Torrey Smith, the Ravens wide receiver who had lost his brother just hours prior. In this matchup, the Ravens will be looking to rectify what happened last January and send Ray Lewis out with one more trip to the Super Bowl.
What to know on Sunday: Make no mistake: New England is the favorite in this game. Baltimore might have all of the emotion, but New England has the knockout punch. It would be logical to assume that the reinjury Rob Gronkowski suffered on Sunday to his broken forearm would have put a wrench in the Patriots offense. But The Hoodie doesn’t do wrenches. He just pulls another tool out of the shed and gets back to work. How else do you explain Shane Vereen, a kid who played scarcely enough to score 4 touchdowns all season, coming into the game and scoring 3 touchdowns in one night. Such is the legend of the Patriots, who never seem to find the bottom of their depth chart.
My prediction: I think we’re looking at a Niners/Patriots Super Bowl. But personally? I’ll be rooting for the Falcons and the Ravens. I’d love to see both of those teams get in.
How about you guys? What outcomes will you be hoping for this weekend?