At the Water Cooler : Conference Championship Sunday

Oh, gang. What a Championship Sunday we had!!! It’s one thing to have two games that are surrounded by legitimate anticipation; it’s completely another thing to have two games that live up to that anticipation. And in my book, both of the games did. Let’s dive right in.

AFC Championship

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (Broncos won, 26-16)

Really, how can you not be excited for Peyton Manning? Answer me that. The guy has overcome so much just to play again, let alone play again at a record-setting level. He’s one of the good guys, a walk-in Hall of Famer, and it’s just good for football (and football fans!) to have him playing in another Super Bowl. Way to go, 18.

As far as the game goes… it was also all about 18. He had a brilliant game. Plus, the Broncos defense held their own against the Tom Brady and the Patriots, and that’s no easy feat. The Broncos deserve this trip to the Super Bowl in every way.

NFC Championship

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Seahawks won, 23-17)

As predicted, this was a tight race between two division rivals, a hard-hitting game to say the least. The Niners dominated the first half, holding the Seahawks to a mere 3 points at the half. But the Seahawks came back in the second half and caught some breaks from the refs and are on their way to the Super Bowl.

Wondering what to expect on the blog between now and Super Bowl Sunday? Good question! We’ll start by wrapping up the 12 Posts of Playoffs this week, dive headfirst into a hardcore overview of the basics next week, and do a little Super Bowl preview in case you need a quick reference guide for the game. By the time February 2nd arrives you’ll be so full of football wisdom you won’t know what to do with yourself.

Actually, when February 3rd arrives you really won’t know what to do with yourself.

But let’s cross those off-season bridges when we come to them. For now, we have a GREAT Super Bowl to look forward to and lots of learnin’ to do before then! See you all tomorrow!

History Lessons : The 1st NFL Championship

football, history, championshipLong before we had the Super Bowl (in 1967 – but we’ll get to that later), we had the NFL Championship.

And let’s just chat about that for a moment, because some fans, not naming names or anything (ahem – Steelers fans), think that because their team has the most Lombardi trophies they have the most total titles. But that is (SO) false! The NFL Championship was the Super Bowl before the Super Bowl was cool. Same game, different name. So by definition, the Green Bay Packers (well, hey, look at that!) have the most total titles in the NFL, with 11 NFL Championships and 4 Super Bowls.

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s move on.

photo credit

The first NFL Championship took place on December 17th, 1933. And aren’t we all glad that the season goes on for well over a month after that now? I don’t know that I would enjoy the holidays quite as much if I knew that football’s end would precede them. But that’s neither here nor there.

Had you been in attendance at the first NFL Championship game, you would have found yourself at Wrigley Field in Chicago watching a matchup between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants. Fitting, since both of those teams are still relevant today. An estimated 26,000 fans showed up, which I think is pretty impressive for a first run!

And they definitely had something to cheer about once they arrived. It was a close back-and-forth game with plenty of offense and it’s fair share of notable names: Bronko Nagurski, Bill Hewittt, Red Badgro, and Ken Strong. In the end, the Bears pulled out the win on a Bill Hewitt lateral to Billy Karr for a touchdown, 23-21.

Interesting anecdote: each Bears player took home $210.34 for the win, while each Giants player took home a $140.22 consolation prize.

Oh, how things have changed.

(Thanks Pro Football Hall of Fame for the education!)

What to Know : Conference Championship Weekend

football, games, championshipThe road to the Super Bowl will end this Sunday, with four teams battling for two spots and the right to play in New Orleans on February 3rd. The winners of the NFC and AFC Championship games will advance to the ultimate game: Super Bowl XLVII. Here’s what you need to know:

NFC Championship Game

49ers at Falcons

Sunday, January 20th, 3pm (FOX)

What to know from history: The NFL has always struggled a bit with geography. Some tutoring may be in order here. But for one reason or another, the San Francisco 49ers (in California) and the Atlanta Falcons (in GEORGIA) at one time both resided in the NFC West division. (There was also a time when the Arizona Cardinals lived in the NFC East. Riddle me that.) Because of their former divisional association, these two teams have played each other quite a few times. San Francisco bears the lead with 44 wins to Atlanta’s 3o – but let’s remember that the Falcons were pretty bad for a pretty long time in that era, and the 49ers were in their heyday. The last time they met in the playoffs was in 1999 and the Falcons won by 2 points to advance to the NFC Championship game. The last time they’ve played each other in recent history was in 2010 – a game that the Falcons also won, again by 2 points. The Falcons have won 4 of their last 5 against the 49ers…but again, let’s remember that until recently, the 49ers haven’t been a competitive team. Both teams look much different these days.

What to know on Sunday: You can pretty much throw history out the window on this one. On it’s face, it looks like this game is San Francisco’s to lose. I can’t remember the last time a home playoff team was slated to be such an overwhelming underdog. The Niners have the momentum and the scary-good quarterback who hasn’t figured out that he shouldn’t be playing this well this early in his postseason career yet, but the Falcons have a chip. A gigantic chip. It’s a chip on their shoulder from years of winning the regular season but never winning the playoffs, for hundreds of analysts and fans and colleagues who never took them seriously this year even though they were undefeated for more than half of the regular season. On top of that, they experienced watching their postseason dreams die right in front of them last week as the Seahawks came roaring back to put up a fight in the second half. The Falcons struggled to regain the lead…but they did. It might be just the change-of-history the Falcons need to really make a run at this thing.

AFC Championship Game

Ravens at Patriots

Sunday, January 20th, 6:30pm (CBS)

What to know from history: This exact same game was played in this exact same place almost exactly a year ago. (This concludes the usage of the word “exact.”) The Patriots won that game after then-Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32 yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. To say that the Ravens are out for vindication would be an understatement. They’ve played each other since then – the Ravens won their regular season game against the Patriots earlier this year – but that game was valiantly won for Torrey Smith, the Ravens wide receiver who had lost his brother just hours prior. In this matchup, the Ravens will be looking to rectify what happened last January and send Ray Lewis out with one more trip to the Super Bowl.

What to know on Sunday: Make no mistake: New England is the favorite in this game. Baltimore might have all of the emotion, but New England has the knockout punch. It would be logical to assume that the reinjury Rob Gronkowski suffered on Sunday to his broken forearm would have put a wrench in the Patriots offense. But The Hoodie doesn’t do wrenches. He just pulls another tool out of the shed and gets back to work. How else do you explain Shane Vereen, a kid who played scarcely enough to score 4 touchdowns all season, coming into the game and scoring 3 touchdowns in one night. Such is the legend of the Patriots, who never seem to find the bottom of their depth chart.

My prediction: I think we’re looking at a Niners/Patriots Super Bowl. But personally? I’ll be rooting for the Falcons and the Ravens. I’d love to see both of those teams get in.

How about you guys? What outcomes will you be hoping for this weekend?