ATLANTA (AP) — It's championship Sunday in the NFL. The AFC and NFC Conference champions will be crowned today and on their way to Super Bowl 47 in two weeks.
First up it's San Francisco traveling to Atlanta to play the Falcons in the NFC championship (3 p.m. Eastern). The Falcons have won the last four games in this series and are trying to take the next step after winning their first postseason game in four years under coach Mike Smith last week against Seattle.
The Falcons have some favorable history in this playoff rivalry. The Super Bowl-bound Falcons beat 49ers 20-18 on Jan. 9, 1999 in divisional playoffs as Jamal Anderson rushed for 113 yards and two TDs back when Dan Reeves was their coach.
The Niners are favored by three points largely on the strength of their defense and second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick (KAP'-ur-nihk), who has posted a 6-2 record since replacing Alex Smith in mid-season. Kaepernick has passed for 12 TDs with four INTs and rushed for four TDs as a starter. In his first career playoff start last week, Kaepernick had 263 yards passing with two TDs. He set an NFL record for a quarterback in any game with 181 yards rushing with two TDs.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — There will be no need for introductions when the Baltimore Ravens travel to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots in the AFC title game (6:30 p.m. Eastern). They're quite familiar with each other. These teams have played each other each of the last four years with three of those games decided by a field goal or less. That includes the Pats' 23-20 victory over Baltimore last year that sent New England to the Super Bowl.
Oddsmakers are making the Patriots about a nine-point favorite. A victory sends the Patriots to their eighth Super Bowl, tying Dallas and Pittsburgh for most all-time. The Patriots are 14-3 at home in postseason. Tom Brady's 17th postseason win last Sunday broke a tie with Joe Montana for most by an NFL quarterback. Brady is 7-6 in the postseason after starting his career 10-0 in playoff games.
But New England is without one of its top offensive weapons for this game. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is out for the postseason after breaking his left arm on the Patriots' seventh offensive play in a lopsided 41-28 win over the Texans last week. Gronk had missed five games with a broken left forearm before returning for regular-season finale.
If Baltimore is going to pull off the upset, the Ravens are going to have to slow down a Patriots offense that led the NFL with 427.9 yards and 34.8 points a game.
Hoosiers on the road
UNDATED (AP) — There are only two Top-25 college basketball games on today's schedule. The second-ranked Indiana Hoosiers hit the road when they play at Northwestern (1 p.m. Eastern).
Later in the ACC (6 p.m. Eastern), the 14th-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack try to get back on track when they host Clemson. Maryland nipped N.C. State 51-50 in the Wolfpack's last game.
Lakers try to right ship
UNDATED (AP) — The L.A. Lakers, sporting a very-un-Laker-like 17-22 record, try to find some rhythm to their game when they travel north of the border to take on the 14-26 Toronto Raptors, who are coming off a 108-101 overtime loss to Philadelphia Friday night. This one has a 1 p.m. (Eastern) tip at Air Canada Centre.
The rest of the four-game NBA schedule is this evening. Dallas at Orlando is a matchup of two struggling under-.500 teams. Later, it's Detroit hosting Boston, and the Oklahoma City Thunder take their six-game winning streak to the Mile High City to play a Denver team that has dropped two straight.
Suns pick Hunter as interim coach
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns picked player development director Lindsey Hunter as interim coach, two days after the team parted ways with Alvin Gentry. This is the first head coaching job for the 40-year-old Hunter.
Hunter, who played for 17 seasons in the NBA, joined the Suns in the scouting department last year and this season took over the team's new player development department.
6 games on Day 2
UNDATED (AP) —On the second day of the NHL's abbreviated 48-game regular season, there are six hockey games on ice. The Philadelphia Flyers, who opened with a 3-1 loss to over Pittsburgh yesterday, are on the road to open the Buffalo Sabres' season in the lone matinee today.
Tonight, the New York Rangers are home against Pittsburgh in a back-to-back game for both teams. The rest of the schedule has Calgary hosting San Jose, Dallas at Minnesota, Vancouver hosting Edmonton and Chicago visiting Phoenix.
Hockey fans tuning back in
NEW YORK (AP) — NHL fans have tuned in to hockey's return to television.
NBC's broadcast Saturday earned the highest preliminary rating for a non-Winter Classic regular-season game since 2002. The network says its regional coverage of Blackhawks-Kings and Penguins-Flyers averaged a 2.0 overnight rating. That's up 67 percent from the average for regular-season games on NBC last year.
The abbreviated NHL season opened Saturday after a lockout wiped out the first three months.
Djokovic endures 5-hour marathon
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic (NOH'-vak YOH'-koh-vihch) held off a valiant Swiss player for a 5-hour, five-set victory to extend his winning streak to 18 matches at the Australian Open and then ripping off his shirt to celebrate.
The big surprise: It was a fourth-round match against Stanislas Wawrinka (vah-VINK'-ah) of Switzerland, not a final against Roger Federer.
Djokovic edged the 15th-seeded Wawrinka 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 12-10 in a momentum-swinging marathon, cashing in on his third match point to reach the quarterfinals for a 15th consecutive major tournament.
On Sunday night (Eastern time), women's top seed Victoria Azarenka and third-seed Serena Williams are in action. Williams plays 14th-seed Maria Kirlenko of Russia.
On the men's side, two seeded players meet when seventh-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (SAHNG'-guh) of France plays ninth-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet (ree-SHARD' gas-KAY').
Rookie Stallings up by 5
LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP)— Steve Stallings is threatening to run away with the Humana Challenge, the third event on the Tour season. Stallings has recorded rounds of 66, 65 and 63 the first three days in the California desert. Stallings is trying for his third career title.
John Rollins is tied for second with Stewart Cink, Roberto Castro, Charles Howell III and Charley Hoffman.
KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — David Frost starts the day with a two-stroke lead over John Cook entering the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the Champions Tour.
WINTER SPORTS ROUNDUP
A fifth for Geisenberger...Vonn loses lead in super-G
WINTERBERG, Germany (AP) — Natalie Geisenberger won her fifth luge World Cup event of the season Sunday, leading a German sweep of the top four places.
Geisenberger beat Anke Wischnewski by .020 seconds to stretch her overall lead in the World Cup standings two weeks before the world championships in Whistler, British Columbia. Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner was third and Corinna Martini fourth.
American Olympian Julia Clukey finished seventh.
CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany won a shortened World Cup super-G amid heavy snow Sunday, while Lindsey Vonn struggled with the difficult conditions and lost her lead in the super-G standings to Tina Maze (MAH'-zeh).
SEEFELD, Austria (AP) — Germany's Eric Frenzel won his second Nordic combined World Cup event of the weekend Sunday. Taylor Fletcher of the United States was third.
WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) — Felix Neureuther of Germany won a World Cup slalom Sunday, defeating overall leader and training partner Marcel Hirscher of Austria.
SAPPORO, Japan (AP) — Jan Matura of the Czech Republic won a large hill event Sunday for his second straight victory in World Cup ski jumping.