A glorious two days of football leaves NFL junkies with a startling, sobering realization: There are just three more games left this season.
Next Sunday's championship games have a lot to live up to after one of the best divisional rounds in memory. These are not the championship-game matchups most of us expected, but they are stuffed with storylines. Let's take our first quick look ahead, with five thoughts on each game.
- In one sense, the Patriots are lucky to be getting another home AFC Championship Game. On the other hand, they face an opponent that should have no fear playing in New England. The Ravens were a contested catch away from winning in Foxborough last January. They beat the Patriots in a terrific Week 3 matchup this season. The rosters haven't changed that much. The Ravens know they can win; they've done it.
- Fatigue has to be a concern for the Ravens. The Denver Broncos ran 87 plays in more than five quarters against them Saturday. The Patriots run more plays than any team in the NFL. New England's up-tempo approach was too fast for the Houston Texans, and that figures to be a problem for Baltimore as well.
- The Falcons' offense should be in good shape. The defense is the bigger concern; it barely could stop the Seattle Seahawks and has struggled with mobile quarterbacks all season. Cam Newton totaled more than 700 yards in two games against Atlanta. Russell Wilson lit up the Falcons for 385 yards through the air and another 60 on the ground. What's Colin Kaepernick going to do?
- The Falcons got the playoff-win monkey off their backs. Perhaps that will help them play loose and finish better in the fourth quarter.