The Divisional Round finished and the Conference Championship Weekend is around the corner, regardless of who advances to the 2013 Super Bowl, each matchup features a proverbial "dead horse" storyline that fans and the media will beat anyway.
And if they don't do it, they should.
Sunday, January 20 will see the San Francisco 49ers take on the Atlanta Falcons, followed by the New England Patriots playing host to the Baltimore Ravens. The winner of each, of course, earns the right to play on February 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Louisiana.
There can be four potential matchups. Here are the top storylines for each.
Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers
Let's get the most obvious one out of the way first.
Should these two teams find themselves in this year's Super Bowl, the big game will inevitably be renamed "The Har-Bowl."
Brothers John and Jim Harbaugh have gotten their teams, the Ravens and Niners respectively, to the Conference Championship for the second consecutive year. Each are just one game away from coaching against one another on football's grandest stage.
They've paced sidelines in opposition of each other before and the media loved every minute of it. Imagine the frenzy if it were for a Ring.
The teams are quite similar: both own vaunted defensive units and possess strong, talented running backs and explosive receiving options.
Still, it'll be the coaches that are talked to death about.
Both men are aggressive and passionate. Both are known for their ability to bring and keep the team together (John during October's "mutiny" and San Francisco's constant support of Jim during the QB and kicker controversies).
At the end of this potential matchup, one Harbaugh will get to say: "Who's got it better than me?"
Hype Meter: 4 out of 5
The media will hype this up to beyond a 5 and fans will likely be tired of hearing about the brother coaches, hence, the four rating. But look past it and you'll get a fantastic, smash-mouth football game.
San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots
This matchup has a few storylines it could ride, but all are related.
First, there will be talk of a generational "passing of the torch" from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Then, there will certainly be talk of transitioning dynasties. New England has dominated since 2001, winning three Super Bowls and appearing in two others. That's three wins in four years and five appearances in 10 years. 2013 could mark their sixth visit in 11 years.
The 49ers, five-time Super Bowl champions and a dynasty in the 80's, are looking for their sixth title. Moreover, they currently have the pedigree for continued success for years to come, starting with their signal-caller.
There may be small digressions, but it all comes back to the quarterbacks.
Count on someone, anyone, pointing out the fact that Brady is from San Mateo, California, near San Francisco and grew up idolizing Joe Montana. Like Brady before him, Kaepernick also grew up wishing to be a future Niner.
One more tidbit: the two teams played during the regular season. The venture was a 41-34 shootout with San Francisco coming out on top. Brady threw 65 times for 443 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Kaepernick was 14 of 25 for 221 yards and four touchdowns.
Hype Meter: 5 out of 5
The pregame hype, the expectations and the outcome will match, as this one could be better than the first meeting.
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
A game between these two teams is largely about the Falcons proving they aren't anyone's little sister, especially New England's.
On their way to a No. 1 seed in playoffs, the Falcons never stopped being doubted. The Patriots, however, entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed and have been one of the best bets to make the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have been there seven times, winning three. The Falcons made it to the Super Bowl once and lost.
Even worse for Atlanta, the last three teams they lost to, the New York Giants, the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals, have all gone to Super Bowls.
But it gets deeper.
Quarterback Tom Brady is a regular in the postseason, having amassed a 16-6 record. Matt Ryan? Not so much. His record after finally winning the first playoff game of his career in 2013 is now 1-4.
The teams are actually quite similar though.
Both have quality quarterbacks, though Brady has obviously proven to be better than Ryan, high-powered offenses and equally mediocre defenses. The Falcons allow the 8th most yards per game. the Patriots are 7th in this category.
Since drafting Ryan, Atlanta is 56-24 (h/t: Ashley Fox, ESPN). It's a wonderful number, but it's only second best.
The best record since then? You guessed it: the New England Patriots (60-20).
This one isn't necessarily a "changing of the guard" scenario. It's more about the experience of Brady who's been there and done that versus Matty Ice finally getting over the hump.
Hype Meter: 3 out of 5
On paper, this one might evoke a feeling of indifference from many. If it turns out one-sided, those that scoffed were right.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens
The battle of game-changing, living legends.
On one side of the football, there is Tony Gonzalez, a surefire Hall of Famer. The tight end redefined the position and opened doors for guys like Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski. But, after 16 years, 14,269 yards and 103 touchdowns, he's ready to retire.
Hoping to stop him from getting his first Ring will be Ray Lewis, a man with over 2,000 tackles, 42 sacks and 31 interceptions. He too is prepared to pursue new things off the field.
Gonzalez has never won a Super Bowl Ring. Lewis only has one.
In case this is your Super Bowl matchup, two legends will step aside, one with a 2013 Ring.
Hype Meter: 3.5 out of 5
This might be the least exciting looking matchup, but Atlanta's offense against Baltimore's defense could be really fun. Count on this game to well outplay the hype surrounding it.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!