NFL Conference Championships: 4 Key Things to Watch

Image by Mike Sanchez, licensed through Flickr via Creative Commons

The Final Four. The Last Teams Standing. All of the Las Vegas favorites from way back in the beginning of the season have found their way into the ultimate brackets of their respective conferences, breaking the usual NFL tradition of at least one upset making a mark on a championship game. What we have instead, though, are the four best regular season teams in professional football — all apologies to Steve Smith and the Carolina Panthers — lined up to run into each other very quickly and with extreme prejudice. And eventually half of them will play for the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks host the temporarily homeless San Francisco 49ers, who shut the doors on their venerable Candlestick Park stadium by thrashing the hapless Atlanta Falcons. The Seahawks, as famous for their league-best defense and the volume of their fans collectively described as the 12th Man as their diamonds-in-the-rough roster and banned substances violations, dispatched the New Orleans Saints with aplomb last week. That was achieved by crippling the famous N.O. passing game and leaving Saints QB Drew Brees with just 18 yards at halftime.

Across the country, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots will grapple for the AFC crown. Both teams have survived the usual player mauling that defines the regular season, with Denver missing key contributors to their defense and New England having exactly zero of their top five receivers from a year ago. And Tim Tebow. Remember Tim Tebow? Either way, you could be forgiven for forgetting all of that, because the two latest quarterbacks involved in this drama tend to overshadow everything else.