NFL Playoff Picture: Key Storylines to Watch in Each Conference Title Game

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 45 to 31.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

As hard as it may be to believe, these 2013 NFL Playoffs can get even better.

Last weekend saw the upset of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at the hands of Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens.

Then there was Colin Kaepernick's incredible performance against the Green Bay Packers.

Not to mention the nail-biter between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.

Each weekend, this postseason  has managed to top itself. There's no reason to expect that not to continue.

Here's some major storylines to watch for during the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games.


Which History Will Repeat Itself?

Last week was a tale of regular-season rematches in the AFC, with the Ravens avenging their loss to the Broncos and the Patriots beating the Houston Texans for the second time.

Baltimore and New England are no strangers to each other, either.

The Ravens and Patriots met back in Week 3. On the strength of a last-second Justin Tucker field goal, Baltimore prevailed, 31-30.

The teams have met twice in the postseason. In 2011, it was New England who knocked Baltimore out of the AFC title game with a 23-20 win. Two years prior, the Ravens beat the Pats in the Wild Card Round.


The End of the Road for Ray Lewis?

Every game for the Ravens in these playoffs will carry the added importance of possibly being the last of Ray Lewis' career.

It's absolutely amazing the level at which Lewis has performed during the postseason. Before the Wild Card Round against the Indianapolis Colts, he hadn't played a down in the previous three months.

Against the Colts, Lewis made 13 total tackles. Then, last Saturday, he made 10 solo tackles and seven assisted.

Off-field issues aside, it's been inspiring to see what each game means to Lewis and his fellow Ravens. Baltimore has played at a different level this postseason, and his impending retirement is a part of reason for that.

Whether it's in Foxborough or New Orleans, the curtain will close on the career of one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.


Can Colin Kaepernick Continue His Fantastic Run?

No matter what a 49ers fan will tell you, nobody could have predicted the kind of game Kaepernick would have against the Packers. His 181 rushing yards were the most ever by a quarterback in the playoffs.

His legend would only continue to grow with another great performance.

The Falcons were carved up by Russell Wilson in the Divisional Round, so it's fair to think the chances of Kaepernick going off again are good.

Kaepernick was a QB on the rise with his play in the regular season after replacing Alex Smith. His postseason, however, has lifted him into the stratosphere.

A great performance against Atlanta give the second-year star an almost mythical status.


More Playoff Heartbreak for the Atlanta Falcons?

Few organizations have had the sustained dry spell as the Falcons. They've won a conference title once in their 46-year history, which resulted in a 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl XXXIII.

Atlanta has had its fair share of talented players and tantalizing teams that provided nothing but heartbreak. The most recent example is Michael Vick and the Falcons teams of the early-to-mid 2000s.

With Matt Ryan, fans have another franchise quarterback who has brought some postseason success. In his five-year career, Ryan has already taken the Falcons to the playoffs more than any other quarterback.

He finally got the playoff monkey off his back by winning a game in the postseason. Now it's on him to bring the organization that much closer to a Super Bowl ring.