NFL Playoffs: A Fan's Guide to Watching Today's Championship Games
We are just 14 days away from Super Bowl 47, folks. It is conference championship weekend in the NFL, and there are four teams vying for two spots in the Super Bowl.
The San Francisco 49ers will square off against the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC crown, and the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will battle to represent the AFC.
Both games will be fun to watch, as all four teams have exciting quarterbacks and stout defenses.
But outside of each team's flashy record, there are a few things to look out for when watching games this weekend.
Here is a fans guide to watching Sunday's championship games.
Ray Lewis Chicken Wings
Did you know that chicken wings are Ray Lewis’ favorite food? Yeah, me either, because it probably isn't.
Sunday’s Ravens and Patriots game may very well be Ray-Ray’s last go round. He announced that he was hanging ‘em up before the playoffs started.
So, in order to properly watch Mr. Lewis and his match with the Patriots, you need a plate of screaming chicken wings.
Head on down to your local Wing Stop, Hooters, Wing House or wherever you get your chicken wings, and make sure you get them as hot as you can stand them.
Every time Ray-Ray makes a tackle, you take a bite of those screaming hot wings and let yourself go. If they are hot enough, they’ll make you jump up and hit the Ray Lewis dance.
It is the only way that you’ll feel dumb enough to actually get up and dance like Mr. Lewis.
What to Watch for with the Ravens
The Ravens lost to the Patriots in last year's AFC title game by just three points. If not for a dropped pass and a missed field goal, it would have been the Ravens playing the Giants, not the Patriots.
Watch for Joe Flacco's confidence and ability to complete the deep ball. During their regular season's matchup, Flacco completed five passes of 20 yards or more against the Patriots.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith averaged 21 yards per catch and had two touchdowns. Baltimore is hoping he can duplicate that success.
Drinking Water and Eating Dumplings for the Patriots
The Patriots are like a morning bowl of oatmeal: filling but not exciting. You know exactly what to expect from New England, and there are usually no surprises.
Bill Belichick's team is going to be ready to roll this evening, and so will Tom Brady.
In celebration of the Patriots' consummate professionalism and success, have a plate of chicken and dumplings and a glass of water.
Water may not be your favorite, and the same goes for the chicken and dumplings, but it gets the job done and won't leave you with an empty stomach.
What to Watch for with the Patriots
The Patriots have made the playoffs for nine straight years, making the AFC title game six times during that span.
That is nothing short of amazing in today’s NFL.
The Pats and Ravens have tangled three times in the playoffs, with each team winning a game. Sunday’s rumble will break that tie.
Watch for how New England’s offense adapts without tight end Rob Gronkowski. He re-injured his forearm last weekend and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Gronk is one of quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite targets, and he caught 11 touchdowns in 2012. Brady will lean heavily on receiver Wes Welker and his other tight end option Aaron Hernandez.
Roddy White Trash Talk
Roddy White is a former UAB Blazer, where the mascot is a fire breathing dragon. So it's no wonder that White can’t help himself when it comes to the art of speaking ill of his opponents.
Just a few days ago, White said that when the Falcons and 49ers lock horns, the Niners have to be careful when going for the big hit.
Those guys do come downhill and they try to knock you out, and anytime you do that, if you miss, there's going to be consequences. It's going to lead to explosive gains on offense.
That’s actually not the worst thing White has said in the past. After his team beat the Seahawks by two points in last weekend’s divisional playoff round, White said that his Falcons were lazy:
We got a little lazy in the second half. We kind of got too complacent, too relaxed. You can't do that in the playoffs. Every series matters. You can't have lulls, man.
Again, not the worst of Roddy White, but I hope you get where I’m going.
Whenever the 49ers score or San Fran quarterback Colin Kaepernick runs roughshod over the Falcons defense, you scream some trash—or throw some trash, for that matter—at your television screen in honor of the Falcons' talkative wide receiver.
What to Watch for with the Falcons
Falcons defensive end John Abraham has vowed to play in this weekend’s game.
Abraham was a quarterback menace this past season, as he recorded 10 sacks and knocked down seven passes.
Watch for how strong Abraham plays. He’s injured and will probably be just 60-70 percent, and that is being generous. If he has to come out because he’s to hurt or cannot get to Kaepernick, the Falcons are in for a long day.
Watching the 49ers Play in Your Romper Room
Well, maybe just in your basement.
This is in honor of the Harbaughs' parents watching their sons coach from the comfort of their basement.
Brothers Jim and John Harbaugh are coaching on conference championship Sunday for the second year in a row.
This year, their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, will not travel to either game, just like last year, opting to see the games through the eyes of a fan.
To keep that new tradition going that was just started last year, watch the Niners from your still-wood-paneled basement. Hopefully it has green carpet and some old-school TV trays.
What to Watch for with the 49ers
Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is an emerging star in the NFL. He replaced quarterback Alex Smith midway through the season and has led San Francisco to its second consecutive NFC Championship Game appearance.
Watch for Kaepernick's ability to run the zone-read against the Falcons. He rushed for an NFL playoff record 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers last weekend and will look to continue that success versus Atlanta.
If the Falcons are unable to keep Kaepernick inside the pocket, the 49ers are looking at their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994.