Ravens, Falcons are Conference Championship underdogs
The NFL's version of the Final Four will play out this Sunday with the two Conference Championship games deciding the matchup for Super Bowl XLVII (that's 47, for all you non-Romans out there).
The NFC Championship game involves the renewal of an old divisional rivalry, as Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons host Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers (3 pm ET, Fox). Then in the AFC title tilt we get a rematch of last year's Conference Championship game as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots host Ray Lewis and his Baltimore Ravens (6:30 pm ET, CBS).
Earlier this week most online sportsbooks opened San Francisco as a three-point road favorite over Atlanta, and New England as a nine-point favorite over Baltimore; as of Friday morning most books had bumped the Niners to -4, but dropped the Patriots to -8.
The 49ers, after missing the playoffs eight straight seasons, are in the Conference Championship game for the second straight year under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Last January the Niners lost a heart-breaker, committing two late-game turnovers on punts and going to fall to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants 20-17 in overtime.
San Francisco won the NFC West again this season, earning the two seed, then opened these playoffs with a 45-31 victory over Green Bay last week as Kaepernick went berserk, accounting for over 440 yards of offense and four touchdowns.
Atlanta, meanwhile, won the NFC South this season and earned the top seed in the conference. The Falcons last played in a Conference Championship game eight seasons ago, when they lost to Donovan McNabb's Eagles. In fact, Atlanta just picked up its first playoff victory under head coach Mike Smith last week - that thrilling 30-28 decision over Seattle. Before that the Falcons had been 0-3 in the postseason for Smith.
New England is 5-1 in Conference Championship games under Bill Belichick. Last year the Patriots held off Baltimore 23-20, thanks to a dropped Ravens pass in the end zone and a missed field goal - both in the final minute.
This year New England won the AFC East again, earning the two seed, then opened these playoffs with a 41-28 victory over Houston last week.
Baltimore is 0-2 in Conference Championship games under John Harbaugh. Five seasons ago the Ravens lost the AFC title game to Pittsburgh, and last year they came up a field goal short of forcing overtime in Foxboro.
This year Baltimore won the AFC North again but struggled down the stretch, losing four of its last five regular-season games. The Ravens then opened these playoffs with a 24-9 Wild Card victory over Indianapolis, then last week upset the top-seeded Broncos in Denver 38-35 in double-overtime.
Back in Week 3 of this season Baltimore got a small measure of revenge on New England, beating the Pats 31-30 on a last-second field goal set up by a questionable pass-interference call.
On the NFL betting futures market New England is listed as a +110 favorite to win Super Bowl XLVII, followed by San Francisco at +200, Atlanta at +550 and Baltimore at +700.