The proverbial Road to New Orleans will get a lot shorter for two teams Sunday.
Finally, nearly six months after NFL training camps opened and after 256 regular-season games and 10 postseason contests, we’ll get to find out who will play in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
While there’s been wall-to-wall playoffs for the past two weekends, it all comes down to just two games and four teams fighting for AFC and NFC supremacy and an opportunity to play for everything in two weeks.
After 11 years since its last Super Bowl, New Orleans can’t wait.
The only question that remains is who will be here.
While there has been only one real surprise so far this postseason — the Baltimore Ravens’ overtime shocker over the top-seeded Denver Broncos in the divisional round last Saturday — it’s still been an interesting two weeks.
While we don’t have the top two seeds meeting in both the NFC and AFC championship games like in 2009 when the Saints and Indianapolis Colts survived to reach Super Bowl XLIV, Sunday’s games will be interesting even though it looks a lot like last year’s final four with three teams returning for another shot.
There’s no need to start anyplace else but the NFC game where the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers — two teams some local fans detest because of long histories with the Saints — will collide for a chance to claim a championship on the Saints’ home field.
After squeezing by the Seahawks in the divisional round last week on a last-seconds field goal, as they did a couple of times during the regular season, the Falcons might seem a little vulnerable to many — particularly on defense.
But getting the opportunity to play at home for a chance to reach the Super Bowl for only the second time could be all the impetus they need to get their high-powered offense in gear against the 49ers’ tough defense.
For the Niners, who haven’t been to the Super Bowl in 18 years, the goal is to get over the hump on the road after coming up short in the NFC title game a year ago against the New York Giants — who went on to win Super Bowl XLVI.
In the AFC, the storyline is even better.
The New England Patriots will be trying to get to their eighth Super Bowl, which would tie them for most appearances with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, when they meet the emotionally charged Ravens.
For the Patriots, who won the last time the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans after the 2001 season, the motivation to get back to the title game is fueled by their second straight loss to the Giants in February — and win for the first time since taking three of four titles between 2001 and 2004.
The Ravens, of course, will be playing Sunday to keep the career of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis going for one final game and to avenge a bitter three-point loss to the Patriots in last year’s AFC title game.
Two compelling games for two spots in Super Bowl XLVII. It says here the Patriots prevail 27-17 after the 49ers clip the Falcons, 23-21.