LOS ANGELES, January 19, 2013—The AFC and NFC Title Games are often more exciting than the Super Bowl. These games tell us who will be in the Super Bowl.
By Sunday night, an AFC champion will hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy and an NFC champion will lift up the trophy named after George “Papa Bear” Halas.
Teams fight all year for home field advantage so they can host this game. Yet almost every year, one of the two regular season conference champions goes down in flames in the playoffs. In 1993, the top seeded Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys held serve at home. For the next 15 years, top seeds went down until 2009, when the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts reached the big game. The last three years again saw top seeds get eliminated as “Any Given Sunday” truly means that. This year the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos were the top seeds. Atlanta needed a miracle finish on the final play to survive a spectacular collapse. Denver did suffer a spectacular collapse, losing in overtime.
Three of the four teams in these games were here last year. The Atlanta Falcons are the party crashers, as last year’s Super Bowl champion New York Giants missed the playoffs. The coaches of the 49ers and Ravens are brothers, so if both road teams win the Super Bowl will be the Harbaugh Bowl.
These are the AFC and NFC Championship games, with everything on the line.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons is the Sunday early game (3pm EST).
PLAY BY PLAY: Two years ago the top seeded Falcons were throttled by Green Bay. Last year the 49ers had home field for the NFC Title Game and a late lead when a pair of fumbled punts resulted in an overtime loss. Falcons Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan finally got their first playoff win last week after five years together. Tight end Tony Gonzalez, expected to retire after the season, won the first playoff game of his 16 year career. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh made the bold decision to switch to Colin Kapernick at quarterback, and that strategy worked brilliantly. Last week Kaepernick set the rushing record for a quarterback in a playoff game.
The Falcons have the high octane offense while the 49ers have the nasty defense.
LINE: 49ers by 4
PREDICTION: The 49ers are the better team but the Falcons have the home field. Seeing the road team this heavily favored in a Conference Title Game is unusual. This time home field will finally be just enough for Atlanta, as their track team of receivers thrives inside the Georgia Dome. Upset special: Falcons win outright.
AFC: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots is the Sunday late game (6:30pm EST).
PLAY BY PLAY: This is the rematch from last year. Baltimore has never feared going into New England. Three years ago the Ravens went there and blasted the Patriots 33-14, handing Coach Bill Bellichick and quarterback Tom “Tommy Terrific” Brady a stunning home playoff loss. Last year the Patriots led 23-20 when the Ravens knocked on the goal line with seconds left. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw the winning touchdown pass, but his receiver dropped it at the last second. A 32 yard field goal to tie the game was no good, as this time a relieved home crowd knew they had survived by luck.
The Ravens are burning for revenge. Ray Lewis has announced his retirement after the season, and the entire team wants to rally and win it for him. They pulled out a miracle win last week at Denver with a Hail Mary at the end of the game and an interception of Peyton Manning to end it in double overtime. New England breezed through its playoff game last week but knows this will be a far sterner test. In the regular season in Baltimore, these teams battled to the final gun, when a Baltimore field goal was ruled good even though it may not have been. The Ravens won 31-30 under a cloud of controversy. Baltimore stumbled down the stretch due to injuries, but now they are healthy.
Baltimore has a good offense and a great defense. New England has a great offense and very little defense.
LINE: Patriots by 8
PREDICTION: The Ravens are the better team and the Patriots have the home field. Yet Baltimore is a tough, physical team built to win anywhere. The Ravens will get their revenge. Upset special: Ravens win outright.
Writer Eric Golub and Communities Writers will be watching the game, chatting the ectasy of winning and agony of loss. Take a seat in your favorite armchair and Quarterback the games with us starting at 3:00pm eastern.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian who is obsessed with the National Football League. There is no offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.”
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