Your Official Viewer's Guide To The AFC And NFC Championships
Who should you root for? What's going to happen? Do any of these players really exist? All this and more.
THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
1. The NFC Championship is between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons.
2. The San Francisco 49ers have won more Super Bowls than every franchise except the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have six, and the Cowboys, who tie them with five. BUT, at a perfect 5-0, the Niners have also never lost a Super Bowl, while Pittsburgh and Dallas have lost three and two, respectively. Depending on how you feel about percentages, that might make you either more or less inclined toward them. If you have strong feelings about percentages, you might be peculiar.
3. The 49ers are coming off an unprecedented dismantling of one of the NFL's title favorites, the Green Bay Packers, during which novice quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took over for former #1 pick Alex Smith mid-season and has since undeservedly lived in the shadow of similarly novice quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III, played like the next evolution of homo sapiens. In the first playoff game of his career, Kaepernick rushed for more yards than any quarterback had ever rushed for in any game previously, and threw the ball like he was mad at it because it hadn't been returning his calls and maybe went to see Zero Dark Thirty without him. Even though Kaepernick had made it very clear that he wanted to see ZDT. God.
4. Now that Robert Griffin III has had two major knee surgeries at the age of 22, Colin Kaepernick holds the honor of being the most promising candidate to realize a decades-long NFL dream: a truly effective dual-threat rushing/passing quarterback. Kaepernick showed tremendous passing touch in addition to his dominant running abilities against Green Bay, putting on one of the best individual performances of the season by any player. Whether he'll be able to reproduce that break-out game against the Falcons is yet to be seen, but it's a hell of a playoff start.
5. You should root for the San Francisco 49ers if you fit any of these criteria:
— You feel comforted by the idea that America, as the Last Remaining Superpower, makes the world a better place;
— You prefer your Hollywood starlets, politicians, and pro athletes to be uncorrupted paragons of virtue;
— You appreciate tremendous coaching;
— You think the evolution of Colin Kaepernick into the league's most exciting and promising quarterback is an under-appreciated NFL narrative;
— You like the color red.
The most important one is that last one, really, if we're honest.
6. The Atlanta Falcons have never won a Super Bowl before.
7. Matt Ryan, the Falcons' quarterback, won his first playoff game last week when Atlanta came back to beat the Seattle Seahawks after the Seahawks themselves had made up a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead. If Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had let Russell Wilson throw for the whole game, rather than just the second half, it is entirely possible that the Seahawks would've scored 80 points and finalized the NBA's return to Seattle.
8. Part of the reason why the Atlanta Falcons did beat the Seahawks was their running game, led by the 1978 Ford F-150 that is Michael Turner and the awesomely named Jacquizz Rodgers, who's playing far and beyond its performance during the regular season. As good as Rodgers looked last week against Seattle, the Seahawks were also missing lineman Chris Clemons and had to replace him with Bruce Irvin, a pass-rush specialist.
9. Because of their success during the regular season — the Falcons went 13-3, earning the NFC's #1 seed — Atlanta has home-field advantage, meaning that the 49ers will be flying from the West Coast to the East Coast for the game. Depending on how you feel about air travel, this may make you more or less sympathetic to the 49ers as a team and the Falcons as a team. Depending on how you feel about the city of Atlanta, same deal.
10. You should root for the Atlanta Falcons if you fit any of these criteria:
— You went to Boston College or any other Jesuit school and will only refer to Matt Ryan as "Matty Ice."
— You are excited for the movie Spring Breakers, which features Atlanta rap luminary Gucci Mane.
— The idea of firm, hard-nosed, unyielding defense and fundamental, conservative offense excites you and/or stirs your loins.
— You are a wide-receiver connoisseur and so understand the rare abilities of Julio Jones and Roddy White. (With notes of oak and cherry.)
Prediction: San Francisco shows up to the game late, blaming plane trouble when in fact, Jim Harbaugh forgot to adjust for West Coast time. After Justin Smith and Aldon Smith sack Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan at the same damn time, they pretend to shotgun him like the cheap beer he's named after in celebration. Julio Jones and Roddy White play while sitting on top of each other's shoulders. Colin Kaepernick runs for 900 yards, and wherever he's watching the game, Steve Young explodes. 49ers win, 34-23.
THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
1. The AFC Championship is between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens.
2. The Mainstream Media (smdh) would like you to believe that the AFC Championship is between Tom Brady and Ray Lewis in sort of a one-on-one square-dance. ("It takes two to tango," Lewis says. Brady hands him a pair of man-Uggs.)
3. In 2001, the New England Patriots began a streak in which they appeared in five of the next 11 Super Bowls and won three of them, losing the other two, in 2007 and 2011, to the New York Giants, who are to the Patriots what Newman was to Jerry Seinfeld. Whether you wear a sleeveless hoodie to sleep every night or you have a picture of Tom Brady on your wall that you throw darts at, you have to acknowledge that the New England Patriots have been the best football franchise of this millennium. (Don't worry, football fans: a lot can change! We still have 988 years to go!)
4. In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, beating the New York Giants. Ergo, the Baltimore Ravens are greater than the New England Patriots.
5. The only player remaining on the Patriots since the 2001 Super Bowl-winning team is Tom Brady. This is because Coach Belichick sends the players out to be dry-cleaned after every season and the cleaners constantly lose them.
6. Wes Welker, who has always seemed to me to be a profoundly odd human being — just a hunch; it has to do with the way he looks up at interviewers when they're interviewing him, as though he were running through in his head all the different animal suits they could possibly wear — is the Patriots' next-most visible player, and then Vince Wilfork after that. (Since Rob Gronkowski isn't playing.) Both are tremendous football players and athletes, especially considering that Wilfork is the size of a refrigerator, and Welker is the size of an ergonomically designed bottle of ketchup that you would put in the door of a refrigerator. Could you place Wes Welker directly within Vince Wilfork? Very easily.
8. Aside from Vince Wilfork, the Patriots' defense is led by a guy named Mayo (BIG MAYO) and a guy named Spikes, meaning that a great nickname for the Patriots' defense would be Spiky Mayo. The Patriots' best defensive back is named Aqib Talib; Talib was acquired by the Patriots from the Buccaneers during the season and wears his hat on the side of his head.
9. You should root for the New England Patriots if you fit any of these criteria:
— You are from Boston or wish you were from Boston;
— You work for Uggs;
— You are Australian;
— You really liked Argo but wish it were more like The Town;
— You were a Congressional representative involved in the creation and passing of the Patriot Act but have chosen not to run for re-election and no longer have to worry about your constituency taking offense to you cheering for a non-local team;
— You frequent the restaurant Hooters;
— You are the type of person who throws the controller when you lose a completely no-stakes video game;
10. Joe Flacco, one of the most confounding human beings I've ever seen play a professional sport, is the quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. Despite giving off an overwhelming and omnipresent stink of failure and despondency, Flacco also occasionally plays very well and can throw the ball very far — and not just in a North Korean-missile "this will go far but we don't know where it'll land" sort of way; he actually has some sense of where the ball will end up. Last week, he killed the Denver Broncos with a number of perfect long throws to viciously fast Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith, including the one that, thanks to a horrifyingly blown Denver coverage, ended up putting the Ravens back in the game. If Flacco manages to beat the Patriots this weekend, I will grudgingly acknowledge that he's good at football; if he doesn't, then I will not.
11. If you've ever watched one of those car commercials where a professional driver pilots a very small car through a series of very tightly-wound cones, and the driver has an easier time of it than you do pulling out of your own driveway, then you have some idea of what it's like to watch Ray Rice play football. At 5'8" and 210 pounds, Rice still runs a 4.4 40 and cuts around the field with dizzying agility; if defenders leave any space between each other, he usually finds and exploits it.
12. Nobody who is not originally from the Baltimore area has ever cheered for the Baltimore Ravens.
13. You should root for the Baltimore Ravens if you fit any of these criteria.
— You are from the Baltimore area.
— You feel like you are from the Baltimore area, i.e. you are a huge fan of The Wire.
— You like the color purple.
— You are a literal raven.
Prediction: John Harbaugh floats the idea of the whole team playing with the name "Lewis" on the backs of their jerseys, and Roger Goodell threatens to detain him indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay if he goes through with it. Ray Lewis spends the entire game dancing instead of actually playing football. Joe Flacco takes a snap and throws the ball 60 yards the wrong way, resulting in a safety. Tom Brady throws more touchdowns than incomplete passes. Rob Gronkowski, who is injured, Gronk-spikes a basket of french fries. After the Patriots win, Bill Belichick looks as though the government was foreclosing on his home. Patriots 27-20.