Well, football fans: the 2016 NFL post-season has officially wrapped up with conference championship games having been decided on Sunday. With the dust now clearing, both championship teams have their sights set on Super Bowl LI.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons steamrolled the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship game, while Tom Brady and the New England Patriots showed similar dominance in their 36-17 AFC Championship victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Going forward, NFL fans everywhere are sure to see an explosive game when both teams -- and their elite offenses -- meet on February 5, 2017 in Super Bowl LI.
After eight seasons of just falling short of the big game, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan confirmed that he hasn't taken his eye off the prize. "We'll enjoy it because it's hard to get to this point. I know that from experience," Ryan told NPR, "But our ultimate goal is still in front of us." Ryan threw for 392 yards and put up four touchdown passes against the Packers on Sunday and even managed a 14-yard rushing TD at one point, his first since 2012.
Several other members of the Atlanta franchise stepped up in a big way in Sunday's game as well, including star receiver Julio Jones, who managed nine catches for 180 yards and two TDs before game's end. "He's a beast," Matt Ryan said of his teammate Jones. "I've been lucky to play with him as long as I have."
On the other hand, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots appear equally ready to give their all in America's game. Brady is eyeing redemption in the wake of the infamous "Deflategate" scandal, which saw the Pats' QB suspended for four games at the start of the 2016 regular season.
In their public dismantling of the Steelers on Sunday night in Foxborough, Brady threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns, a franchise playoff-best. At 39 years of age, Tom Brady enjoyed one of the best seasons of his legendary career. "We won a lot of different ways under a lot of different circumstances," Brady said. "Mental toughness is what it is all about and this team has got it. We'll see if we can write the perfect ending."
Throughout the AFC title game, Brady turned to star wide-outs Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman to deliver the win, as well as tie Joe Montana's record of nine playoff games with at least three passing touchdowns.
Hogan, a former NFL afterthought, had little trouble getting open against the questionable Steelers secondary. Hogan was able to haul in nine passes for 180 yards and two TDs before he was done. The young receiver from Monmouth College is understandably excited to play in his first Super Bowl. "It's been a long journey, but I've worked really hard to get to this point," Hogan told NPR. "I couldn't be happier to get to be a part of this thing, this team -- this whole thing." In addition to Hogan, fellow receiver Julian Edelman played a great championship game as well, making eight receptions for 118 yards and scoring a touchdown.
Regardless of your pick to win football's most prestigious game, NFL fans everywhere are definitely in for a phenomenal show when Super Bowl LI airs live from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on February 5, 2017.