2012 NFL Playoffs: Storylines to Follow During Conference Championship Weekend
The AFC and NFC Championships are here. Three of the four teams from last season return including a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens look to finally make the push to the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance when they once again face the New England Patriots.
In the early contest, the 49ers will return to the NFC title game with a new on-field general in Colin Kaepernick. They will look to defeat the Atlanta Falcons inside the Georgia Dome. Aside from my sheer excitement of seeing the Niners once again on the edge of championship glory, here are some other great storylines to follow this weekend.
It’s the most anticipated match of the conference championships. The Baltimore Ravens will once again travel to New England to play the Patriots. It’s the next chapter in what has developed into a hard-fought rivalry.
It started back during the 2009 NFL Playoffs. The Ravens won their first game against the Patriots in franchise history. They came into Foxborough and soundly beat the Pats 33-14 largely on the back of running back Ray Rice, who had 22 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
Fast forward to the 2011 AFC Conference Championship, it was a back-and-forth game that came down to the final drive.
A controversial dropped TD pass and missed FG later, and the Patriots were on their way to their fifth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Now the rivalry will reach a pinnacle as these two teams battle it out once again for the right to go to New Orleans.
This weekend could also be the last time we see one of the game’s greatest players, which leads me to…
Ray Lewis' Last Stand
Ray Lewis—the face of the Baltimore Ravens since its inception—has stated that this will be his last season. His teammates want nothing more than to give him the same send-off that has been given to greats like Michael Strahan and Jerome Bettis—a Super Bowl win.
Ray Lewis has been the team’s emotional leader and one of the biggest reasons for its success.
From his trademark dance to his fiery “What time is it” pregame warm-up speech, Ray Lewis has been firing up the city of Baltimore for years.
That could possibly end on Sunday. If it does, rest assured that it won’t end without a fight.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Alex Smith?
One of the most critiqued coaching decisions of the 2012 NFL season was that of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s choice to retain Colin Kaepernick as the starting quarterback and to leave a healthy Alex Smith on the bench.
Kaepernick then proceeded to run with the opportunity, leading the 49ers to the playoffs and putting on one of the best playoff performances in recent memory.
He dominated the Green Bay Packers with his rushing ability and brought the Niners once again to the brink of the Super Bowl.
Now he will seek to do what Alex Smith could not do last year—lead this team to the title game. He will do it on the road, in a dome, against heavy opposition and the top seed in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons.
After years of futility, the 49ers are back as one of the NFL’s elite. Much of that is due to second–year coach Jim Harbaugh and 49ers CEO Jed York, whom I felt the need to apologize to on behalf of 49ers fans everywhere.
In two days, the Colin vs. Alex debate will hopefully be settled once and for all.
Follow Walt J as he comes to you on his blog “Live From AREA 49″ with his rants on the world of sports from the fan perspective. Whether it’s picks against the spread, fantasy football tips or sheer frustration with your team, AREA 49 has a place for you. Follow him on Twitter at @A49_WaltJ and @area49sports, and on Facebook.