- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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This has been the most eye-opening, heart-skipping, voice-draining, palm-drenching, La-Z-Boy-leaping season I've seen in 35 years covering the NFL.
So, as we head toward the last three delicious games, we hold these truths -- and lies -- to be self-evident.
1. All men are created equal. LIE.
Not while Colin Kaepernick walks the earth. 49ers fans should not just kiss his biceps, they should kiss his feet, his eyes and his brain. Can you believe this man spent a year cuddled up to a clipboard? Of all the stunning quarterback gifts 2012 put under our tree -- RG III, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck -- the greatest could turn out to be the kid with four parents, a hundred tattoos and a thousand skills. He already has the record for most yards run by a QB in a playoff game. His Total QBR is almost 10 points higher than anybody else's. He has already beaten Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Drew Brees in shootouts. Count on him to put a Kaep in Matt Ryan, too. This kid has a chance to be better than Steve Young, and I don't say that just to annoy Steve Young, though it's fun.
2. There were 129 no-shows in the minus 2 wind chill at Mile High Sunday in Denver: LIE.
One hundred and thirty if you count Champ Bailey.
3. The sister of Jim and John Harbaugh will double down on the Tums this weekend: TRUTH.
When last year's championship games were over, and both of her brothers had lost in the cruelest ways, Joani Harbaugh Crean flipped off the TV, looked at her husband and said, "Oh my god. I never want to go through that again."
This Sunday, she has to go through it again.
Both of her brothers are in title games again. John's Ravens must beat the Patriots in Foxborough. And Jim's 49ers must beat the Falcons in Atlanta.
"My stomach is already raw," she says.
"Last year was completely draining," says Crean, who's married to Indiana men's basketball coach Tom Crean. "We came home, put John's game on, it comes down to a field goal, and they lost. Then you've got 30 minutes to just completely be heartbroken for your brother and his family and the next game starts. And then THAT one comes down to a field goal. And they lost. And it's crushing AGAIN. And you think, 'This truly just wasn't meant to be.' "
Wait. There's good news and bad news on all that, Joani.
The good news: Remember Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, the guy who ripped up John's ticket to last year's Super Bowl by missing a bunny 32-yarder at the end? He won't do that again. John cut him.
The bad news: Now he's on Jim's team.
This is Joe Flacco's team, down to the last chinstrap. They win or lose on his catapult arm. That Denver game was won by Flacco and his bag of leaping and whirring gadgets known as Boldin, Jones and Smith. His spirals are tighter than Tiger Woods' wallet. In Spanish, flaco means "skinny" but he's quietly become the bully of the AFC. This is his third conference championship game in the past five. He lost the previous one only when someone named Lee Evans (out of the league now) dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass. Pay the man already.
5. Matt Ryan gets more stuff done in the final minute than MacGyver. TRUTH.
Maybe it's because he's allergic to compliments, but that surgical 31-second Matty Ice comeback against the Seahawks Sunday was just how he rolls. In 2008, against Chicago, the Bears grabbed the lead with 11 seconds left. Ryan won the game. Against Oakland this season, the Raiders tied it with 40 seconds left. Ryan won the game. He's either the calmest customer in the NFL, or his uncle runs the clock.
Moore -- against all of the good sense man has accumulated over centuries -- let Ravens WR Jacoby Jones get behind him with 31 seconds left to catch a 70-yard touchdown pass, allowing the Ravens to tie the game. What is the ONE and ONLY way the Broncos could lose the game with the Ravens on their own 30 and 31 seconds left? For Rahim DumbleMoore to let Jacoby Jones get behind him and catch a 70-yard touchdown pass. "I guess I got too happy," Moore said. It was the dumbest thing seen on a football field since Up With People. Rahim Moore, may you never be happy again.
7. Tony Gonzalez should retire: LIE.
Are you watching this guy? He's never been sharper. He's still cut like Michelangelo's David. He still has pogo-stick calves like he did at Cal. He was just named first-string All-Pro for 2012, just made his 13th Pro Bowl, and just had his best year since 2008. After the cliff-hanging win over Seattle, Gonzalez wept with joy. Please don't retire, Tony. Nothing you do out here will come within a time zone of what you can do in there.
8. Ray Lewis seems to be wearing a face mask fashioned from the grill of a 1987 Buick LeSabre: TRUTH.
And that thing on his arm once supported a buttress on the Oakland Bay Bridge. But, hey, do you have anything for his hideously mangled finger?
9. Broncos coach John Fox is the Salvador Dali of clock management. TRUTH.
Against the Ravens, Fox had 31 seconds left in regulation, two timeouts, and the ball on his own 20. That's when he ordered Peyton Manning -- Peyton Manning! -- to take a knee. The game eventually went to double overtime and they lost. Conversely, when Atlanta coach Mike Smith had the ball on his own 25 with those same 31 seconds left, he ordered Matt Ryan to fling it. Two completions later, the Falcons were set up for the winning 49-yard field goal. May Fox's bedside alarm flash 00.00.31 all winter.
10. The blacktop in front of Tom Brady just got very smooth. TRUTH.
There is Tebowing (one-knee praying), Griffining (signaling TD while on your butt), and Kaepernicking (kissing the biceps.) On Feb. 3 in New Orleans at the Super Bowl, we'll get to see Bradying (holding up the Lombardi Trophy).
3hDianna Russini and Adam Schefter
4dFantasy Football Insiders
5dDavid M. Hale