Sorting the Sunday Pile breaks down the biggest storylines from the NFL week that was. With the teams in a final-four situation, we'll primarily focus on who's left. Send questions, complaints and general sarcasm my way on Twitter @WillBrinson.
Just a few weeks ago, the idea of Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh squaring off in New Orleans in the Super Bowl for the right to finally prove who's the greatest sibling seemed unfathomable. Suddenly we're a single win each from the Ravens and 49ers from it happening.
The 49ers are already favored by three points over the Falcons, despite the game being played in Atlanta. Having Colin Kaepernick go assassin-ostrich style on the Packers will do that for you. I will be picking the Falcons because I stick with my guns, but going against Jimmy in the NFC is terrifying.
John is a slightly more difficult proposition: he'll need to head into New England and upset the Patriots, who kicked the Texans aside like they were a cheap can of Heinz. The Patriots look very good and are an eight-point favorite in the early going. On the other hand, Baltimore beat them once already in 2012, they're running on the terrifying momentum that is trying to win a Super Bowl for Ray Lewis before he retires and Joe Flacco's played well in Foxborough before (he lit up the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last season).
When the playoffs began, the odds of a HarBowl were 35:1 at Bovada.lv. Obviously those odds are dramatically reduced with the Ravens surprisingly advancing and the Niners being favored in Atlanta.
The question is ... do we want this to happen? It seems like an obvious and emphatic "yes!" considering it would be the first time two brothers squared off in the Super Bowl. But there is one reason to root against it: the time in between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.
Two weeks is a long time in the sports world, and it's an eternity when you consider how many times the "brothers facing off in the Super Bowl" story can be written, or the number of snarky, sibling-related questions the Harbaughs can be asked.
You can fully expect the Ladies Harbaugh to be on the scene (they're actually wonderful women), and there will be a litany of things written about all the relatives coming out of the woodwork, as well as hilarious anecdotes of Jim and John as kids.
The best news about this potential matchup, though, is that there's ample storylines available from the Ravens and 49ers regardless of the coaches. Flacco's status, Lewis final game, Randy Moss (!!!), Alex Smith riding pine ... it would be a fun Super Bowl, especially with the backdrop of New Orleans.
So if your team's done and you're looking for something to cheer for next weekend, make the HarBowl your rooting interest.
An underrated Super Bowl storyline too ...
How about this for an underrated storyline: Ryan and Flacco, the two would-be stud quarterbacks drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft, going head-to-head in the Super Bowl.
Make no mistake, these guys have routinely been compared to each other. What's fascinating about the comparison is that Flacco's the big arm with with questionable decision-making skills who just keeps winning playoff games, while Ryan's the precision passer and prodigal rookie who never made it out of the first round.
No one's been able to solve the debate about which guy is better so far, and maybe there's no answer. Both are good quarterbacks. Both play for teams with different strengths and weaknesses. Both do different things.
In order to get some sort of answer as to who's better, Ryan would have to beat the 49ers and Flacco would have to conquer the Patriots in Foxborough, which means the matchup would be more than worth the hype.
Schedule the Eagles for their home opener
This is just stunning. The last three home-opener opponents for the Eagles -- the Giants in 2011, the Packers in 2010 and the Saints in 2009 -- have gone on to win the Super Bowl.
The team Philadelphia played in its home opener this year? The Ravens.
Maybe Baltimore really is the team of destiny after all.
Or maybe it's just a random coincidence that will be debunked in a week. Either way, nice find, Reddit user LaxMike.
Seahawks set for the future
I riffed already on Russell Wilson and his performance in the second half for the Falcons-Seahawks winners/losers post, so there's no need to espouse on how good he was again. He was great.
It's amazing how quickly Wilson transformed the Seahawks as an organization, though. Under Pete Carroll, the quarterback's been the major flaw ever since he and John Schneider took over in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck was 35 and on the way out in 2010. The Charlie Whitehurst trade was an absolute debacle. Tarvaris Jackson showed a little progress, but come on. When they signed Matt Flynn this offseason, it was the latest gamble to try to fix the one big weakness for their on-field product.
Then, faster than you can say "Hey, the Jaguars drafted a punter right before you took Russell Wilson," they're absolutely set for the future. Wilson's poise late in the game Sunday, despite a big deficit on the road in the playoffs, was that of a 10-year veteran.
Seattle is loaded too: Marshawn Lynch is 26 and the Seahawks have invested heavily on the offensive line in recent years with Russell Okung and James Carpenter. On defense they've got defensive in Richard Sherman (24 years old), Bobby Wagner (22), Brandon Browner (28), Kam Chancellor (24), Earl Thomas (23), Red Bryant (28) that are all some combo of cheap, locked down and young. Also, potentially insane:
Look out, NFC.
Scene of the Patriots crime
For as long as I'll live, I'l never forget sitting in my house on Groveland Avenue in Raleigh (wood floors, hand-me-down couches, state-of-the-art tube television) watching Tom Brady and the Patriots stun the Rams. February 3, 2002 in the Superdome in New Orleans.
If that sounds familiar it should: The Pats have a shot, by beating the Ravens this coming Sunday, to return to the scene of the original dynasty crime, on the same date, 11 years later. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports penned an excellent piece about the Patriots and their seven-year drought this past week, but what really stood out to me was Bill Belichick focusing on "T-shirt games."
History appears to have an interest in bringing them full circle.
Gronk goes to Bourbon Street
When the news that Rob Gronkowski is out for the rest of the playoffs broke, my immediate instinct was to ask my boss if I could file nightly "Gronk Grades," where I followed the Patriots tight end around New Orleans and rated his evening behavior. It's still up in the air.
What's not up in the air is the Patriots game plan going forward, because it won't feature the talented, touchdown-catching tight end.
It should tell you something that Vince Wilfork immediately knew the score when he found out what's going on with Gronk.
The Patriots can still win without Gronkowski, of course. They did on Sunday against an overmatched Texans team that couldn't produce the offensive output required to keep up with New England.
It definitely makes them less dangerous in the red zone, and it definitely makes you wonder who they'd prefer to face in the Super Bowl. My bet is the Falcons: As good as their receivers are, they don't present the defensive challenge that the 49ers do.
Regardless, for the second straight year, Belichick and Brady will have to adjust their game plan without Gronk (or, at least, with him limited). That makes the aforementioned chase for a fourth title much more difficult.
Early bulletin board material
Not that the Ravens-Patriots mega-rematch needs any fuel added to the fire, but Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo provided a whole can of gasoline when he decided to take some questionable shots at the Patriots offense during their matchup against the Texans:
New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can't really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013
Are you watching the game pats vs texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It's a gimmick.— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013
Their offense is good enough to be successful with out that— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013
Not sure I would go with can't really respect it if I were describing the Patriots decision to run their offense at a faster past. Or, um, gimmick. It's much closer to a smart, aggressive attack that's difficult to stop.
The Patriots can definitely succeed without running a no-huddle offense, but that doesn't mean they want to put themselves at a disadvantage, you know? If they can get the aging Ravens defense on its heel by moving quickly, they will. And they should.
Kaep's the right call
I broke down Jim Harbaugh's decision on Saturday night, so I won't delve too deep into it here either. But it's worth noting, while wrapping up the weekend, that Jim Harbaugh made the right call by going with Kaepernick over Alex Smith.
All the things Smith can't do ... Kaep can. He might have a little more downside at times, but Kaepernick has a cannon for an arm, can run as well as about anyone in the league and makes the 49ers infinitely more dynamic than they are under Smith.
It's not to knock Smith and take potshots at a guy who did good things for the 49ers in 2011; it's just reality.
The early going against Atlanta will be interesting, though.
Mike Nolan's impact
One thing I've noticed anecdotally about the Falcons for much of this year is the fact that they continually seemed to cause defensive trouble for even the most talented quarterbacks in the early going.
Indeed it's a fact: They allowed just 59 first-quarter points throughout the entire season, including the divisional-round game against the Seahawks on Sunday.
Watch how Kaep looks during the first half on Sunday. If he struggles and then seems to have a light bulb come on in the second half -- a la Russell -- it means Nolan deserves even more credit for the Falcons impressive season than he's received thus far and it could open up a window for Atlanta to score some points and extend a lead. Some advice this time: hold onto it.
It was a little surprising that at some point Mike Smith didn't face a critical fourth down and short; facing those situations, making the right decision and getting the wrong outcome has been his M.O. for a while now, especially in big games. But there were still plenty of issues with coaching in the Seahawks-Falcons game. Let's look at a few.
First there was Smith's decision to not go for two with just over two minutes in the third quarter remaining and Atlanta having gone up 26-7. It's made much worse because Richard Sherman pulled a Madden and ran offside trying to block the extra point:
The Falcons had a shot from the 1-yard line to go for two and go up 21 points. Or, as most people like to call it, three touchdowns. Instead, they kicked again, went up 20 and, at one point, watched the Seahawks score a touchdown and go up 28-27. Yes, that made everything very awkward and yes, Smith should've gone for two in this situation, especially when he got the free yard.
Pete Carroll had a couple of questionable calls, too. He eschewed kicking a field goal with nine minutes left in the second quarter and the Seahawks down 13-0 on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons 11-yard line. Going for it wasn't necessarily the problem, it was the playcalling. On third-and-1, Robert Turbin took the ball off the right side of the line for no gain. And on fourth down, Michael Robinson lost a yard on a fullback carry. Neither of those options involve Marshawn Lynch, and that makes it a bad move.
Carroll and the Seahawks also screwed up at the end of the first half by letting Wilson take a sack with no timeouts remaining. The whole process down by the goal line was botched, and it cost them three points. When you lose by two, that's a very bad thing.
Random, but ...
You should watch the following video. In case you hadn't heard about it, an NC State student stormed the floor following the Wolfpack's victory over No. 1 Duke on Saturday afternoon ... in a wheelchair. He was pushed by the student body president, his wheelchair wrecked, and he was rescued by Pack star C.J. Leslie.
He posted a video of his trip on the floor on YouTube Sunday and it's a cool view.
GIF o' the week
I just can't get enough of Richard Sherman. Sorry.