If you didn't enjoy this weekend in the National Football League, you simply need to rethink your outlook on sports. It was one of the greatest weekends of football I have ever witnessed.
Four teams remain with championship games to be played in the AFC and NFC next Sunday. If we see a repeat of the drama that took place over the last weekend, you can bet some fans in New England, Baltimore, San Francisco and Atlanta will have paper bags around to breathe in.
Colin Kaepernick dazzled onlookers against the Green Bay Packers as the San Francisco 49ers tore apart Aaron Rodgers and company.
Joe Flacco outplayed Peyton Manning and led the Baltimore Ravens to a second consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance.
Meanwhile, all hell broke loose at the Georgia Dome as Matt Ryan proved his worth in overcoming a ridiculous comeback effort by Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
And Tom Brady showed everyone why the New England Patriots are the best team in the AFC and should make a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Yes, now it is time to breathe and take a step back.
As I have done over the last few weeks, today's article is going to give you the most recent Super Bowl odds from Vegas. Once again, the site I will reference is BetVega.
So, let's take a gander.
Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
Joe Flacco went into Sports Authority Field at Mile High and clearly outplayed Peyton Manning, leading the Baltimore Ravens to one of the biggest upsets in the modern history of the playoffs.
Flacco threw for 331 yards and three scores, while Manning turned the ball over a total of three times. Those three turnovers led to 17 points for the road team, including a double-overtime field goal by Justin Tucker to send the Ravens on to New England.
As bad as Manning might have been—that last interception, specifically—Denver's defense looked completely lost against a Ravens offense that seems to be running on all cylinders.
Baltimore tallied nearly 500 yards of total offense against a unit that ranked second overall during the regular season. It did so against a team that had yielded just 15 points per game in its last five home outings.
Needless to say, this was one of the most impressive performances by Flacco and company in a long time.
Baltimore now takes on the New England Patriots in a rematch of the 2012 AFC Championship Game. It has to have a nice amount of confidence after going into Denver and defeating a team that had won 11 consecutive games heading into the postseason.
Meanwhile, Ray Lewis had another stellar performance and continues to show us why he is the best linebacker to ever put on a football uniform. His leadership and passion have made a dramatic difference for Baltimore during the playoffs.
Let's just hope Billy Cundiff remains on the San Francisco 49ers' inactive list and is nowhere near Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
Matt Ryan proves skeptics wrong, will host NFC Championship Game
The Atlanta Falcons were probably the least impressive victor from this wild weekend of playoff football. After opening up a 20-0 lead heading into the half, Atlanta let the Seattle Seahawks come back, nearly blowing a game that it needed to quiet critics.
Then a funny thing happened.
Matt Ryan took over possession of the ball following a go-ahead score by Seattle with 31 seconds left. He proceeded to lead Atlanta into field-goal range on a drive that lasted just 23 seconds. In the end, Matt Bryant nailed a field goal from 49 yards out to keep Atlanta's postseason run alive.
For Ryan, it put to rest any suggestion that he just couldn't win the big January game. All that talk about the Pro Bowl quarterback being 0-3 in the playoffs can now be placed in the dustbin of history.
His late-game performance has to be considered career-defining.
Atlanta will now host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon. It will do so as an underdog in yet another example of a team that isn't getting much respect around the world of football.
It will do so after yielding 290 total yards to Seattle in the second half. The dirty birds will be going up against a San Francisco offense that netted the third-most yards (579) in playoff history (in Super Bowl era) against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday (via Yahoo! Sports).
Additionally, defensive end John Abraham injured his ankle late in the first half and did not return. It doesn't seem like much of a coincidence that Russell Wilson took over the game with him out.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated after the game that taking Abraham out was "purely cautionary" (via Fox Sports).
As Rotoworld pointed out, "Had the decision been purely precautionary, the Falcons would have re-inserted their most effective pass rusher with Russell Wilson dominating the game in the third and fourth quarters."
This is definitely something to keep an eye on during the week. Abraham's replacement, Cliff Matthews, didn't get much of a push in the second half with Wilson leading Seattle to score after score.
Needless to say, Atlanta will need to generate a pass rush against Colin Kaepernick. If not, it will be in big trouble on the defensive side of the ball.
A new legend was created in San Francisco on Saturday night.
Despite the game being tied at 24 in the third quarter, the San Francisco 49ers absolutely dominated the Green Bay Packers in nearly every category Saturday night. Colin Kaepernick came through big time in his first playoff start, making big-boy plays throughout the entirety of the game.
Heck, he had arguably the best single-game performance for a San Francisco quarterback in the heralded history of its franchise. Overall, Kaepernick went for 444 total yards and four touchdowns as he outplayed reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers in every facet of the game.
San Francisco's offensive line was absolutely dominant all game long. Joe Staley, despite an arm injury, made Clay Matthews non-existent throughout the night. Mike Iupati opened up huge holes along the interior of the line. And enigmatic offensive tackle Anthony Davis led crucial blocks for Kaepernick, who tallied a single-game NFL record for a quarterback with 181 yards on the ground (ESPN.com).
As I mentioned before, San Francisco tallied the third-most yards in Super Bowl-era playoff history with 579 as it racked up 29 first downs against a Green Bay defense that finished the regular season 11th in yards against (NFL.com).
Needless to say, if San Francisco plays like this next week, it will be making plans to travel to New Orleans in February.
That being said, consistency was an issue for the 49ers throughout the regular season. For some reason they seem to follow up amazing performances by laying eggs every third game. Sorry to tell fans in San Francisco, the NFC Championship Game represents that "third game."
Additionally, Kaepernick making a start in the Georgia Dome with the Super Bowl on the line is much different than lining up under center in the friendly confines of Candlestick Park.
Still, it is hard to discount the utter domination this team showed against an elite Green Bay team Saturday night.
Brady and Belichick back in AFC Championship. Rinse, repeat.
Are we looking at a rematch of one of the best games of the regular season? Of course, I am talking about that epic duel between the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football back in December.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, New England must take care of business in another rematch—this time, against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game—after running the Houston Texans off the field at Gillette on Sunday. Tom Brady was up to his old tricks, throwing for 344 yards and three scores.
To make matters more interesting, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen tallied 219 total yards from the running back position. If New England gets this type of balance on the offensive side of the ball, it is going to be incredibly hard to beat moving forward.
Meanwhile, New England's front seven dominated the line of scrimmage against what was one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL during the regular year. Arian Foster tallied only 90 yards on 22 rushes and wasn't able to break off the big runs that we have seen in the past.
New England showed us why it is the AFC's best team, once again. If it plays up to the level of its talent, Baltimore doesn't stand a chance to come in and win this game.
Still, one has to wonder just how much the momentum Baltimore currently has will play into this game. I am not expecting the Patriots to run the Ravens off the field like they did to Houston on Sunday. Instead, look for a tight game.
I am not, however, going to pick against Brady at home in January with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. That would be utterly foolish.