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Five intriguing story lines to follow in NFL Playoffs

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NFL Playoffs: Five intriguing story lines to follow


After one of the craziest divisional-round weekends in recent memory, only four NFL teams are left standing in their quest for a Super Bowl ring.

Now here we are, heading into what should be yet another drama-filled weekend of this year’s NFL Playoffs, where this time, the final four teams will be playing for their conference crowns and the right to advance to the biggest match-up of all--Super Bowl XLVII.

This weekend, the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons will battle it out for the NFC crown and the New England Patriots take on the Baltimore Ravens in a battle for the AFC.

But for those unlucky fans whose teams have already been eliminated, it isn’t always easy to know which players and teams they should cheer for.

One thing that makes the post-season so great is that fans have the chance to hear fascinating stories and interesting backgrounds of players and teams that they don’t normally follow very closely. Often times, it’s these stories that give these fans reasons to cheer on new favorite players and different teams.

It’s been a wild round of games so far this post-season, and as we draw closer and closer to the ultimate match-up, even more story lines have begun to emerge.

So what story lines are the most exciting this year among the four teams left? Which players should we watch more closely?

As we head into the conference championship games and beyond, here are five of the most intriguing story lines to keep an eye on as you watch these final two weekends of the 2012-2013 NFL season.

(Click “next” above the image to advance each slide.)

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Tony Gonzalez: Will this be his final chance at a Super Bowl ring?

Kevin Liles: USA TODAY Sports

It couldn't have been more fitting that Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez caught the reception that would lead to the winning field goal vs. the Seattle Seahawks.

Prior to that victory, the future Hall of Famer and one of the best tight ends to ever set foot on a football field had never in his sixteen seasons won a playoff game. Afterwards, Gonzalez fell to the ground, emotion overtaking him. He later said, "I've never, ever cried like that. I was down on the ground, crying — I was literally shivering. It's 16 years of frustration coming out, so much relief and so much happiness. That's the most emotional I've ever been."

But will this be the end of the road for Gonzalez, who is "95 percent sure" he is going to retire after this season, or will he end his storied career as a Super Bowl champion?

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Colin Kaepernick: Will his quick rise to stardom end in a title?

Robert Hanashiro: USA TODAY Sports

A month ago, not many people knew much about then back-up quarterback Colin Kapernick, but thanks to the NFL Playoffs, he's become a household name. After the 2nd year quarterback took over the starting job for the San Francisco 49ers, he has proven that he was indeed the right man for the job and that his future looks incredibly bright.

In his first playoff performance vs. the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and added a record-breaking 181 on the ground, scoring a total of four touchdowns in the win.

With each passing week, his popularity skyrockets, but will this young, rising star's breakout season end with a Super Bowl ring?

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Ray Lewis: Will he capture another ring in his final season?

Chris Humphries: USA TODAY Sports

There is little doubt that Ray Lewis is one of the best linebackers to ever play the game. A Raven for his entire career, Lewis is the only player remaining on the Baltimore Ravens roster that was around when the expansion team started in 1996. He helped lead them to the Super Bowl title in 2000, during which he became the only linebacker to ever win the Super Bowl MVP on the winning team.

Though his career was scarred early on by his part in an incident which left a man dead, many fans seem to have moved past these allegation years later. Whether one falls into that category of forgiveness or not, no one can deny that he has had an outstanding career on the field.

Lewis missed most of this year with a torn triceps but returned, probably too early, to announce his retirement following the season's end.

Will Lewis' swan song culminate in another Super Bowl victory or will the conference championship game mark the end of his career?

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Tom Brady: Will this be the year he captures his fourth Super Bowl title?

Robert Deutsch: USA TODAY Sports

Few NFL players are as polarizing as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Whether you love him or hate him, however, there is no denying that he is one of the top quarterbacks to ever play the game.

This year, Brady is once again going for that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring. If he can win two more games, he will become just the third quarterback (along with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw) to ever win four Super Bowl titles.

Will this finally be the year he gets it done?

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John and Jim Harbaugh: Will these two brothers meet in the Super Bowl?

Brian Spurlock: USA TODAY Sports

In 2011, Jim and John Harbaugh became the first two brothers to ever head coach against each other in NFL history with older brother John defeating his younger sibling. This weekend, if the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens both advance, the two brothers would find themselves on opposing sidelines during the Super Bowl, coaching against one another for the ultimate prize. There's nothing like a little sibling rivalry to add to the drama of the Super Bowl, but will it happen?