The Harbaugh Bowl. Tom Brady vs. his hometown team. A rematch of one of the worst Super Bowls (XXXV) or one of the best (XLII). Those are the potential pairings for the NFL’s big game now that the playoffs are down to the final four.
A surprise match-up in one conference title game and an expected faceoff in the other comprise Championship Sunday, January 22. The respective winners of the AFC and NFC Championships will go on to meet February 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
The Niners’ return to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1998 has the Bay Area buzzing. Ticket prices on the secondary market soared to an average of nearly $800 immediately after San Francisco’s dramatic 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints last weekend, according to several ticket search sites.
Prices have since stabilized and will likely continue to drop this week. Still, the NFC game could become one of most expensive, non-Super Bowl NFL tickets.
After pulling the plug on Tebowmania, the Patriots are back in the AFC Championship Game for the first time in four years. New England’s potent offense faces one of the league’s premier defenses in the Ravens.
Prices aren’t running as high for the AFC game. The match-up’s average ticket resale price — as high as $650 after the match-up was set — has been dropping, as well.
Here’s a closer look at the two championship games (times are EST):
AFC Championship Game
Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at New England Patriots (14-3), January 22, 3 p.m.
The Pats look primed for a return to the Super Bowl if their 45-10 thrashing of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos on January 14 is any indication. Quarterback Tom Brady tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes, and the defense didn’t resemble the shaky unit ranked next-to-last in the NFL during the regular season.
Still, if any team knows how to stop the top seed Pats, it’s the second seed Ravens. The defensive-minded team two years ago knocked New England out of the playoffs with a 33-14 victory, also at Gillette Stadium. In that game, Brady was intercepted three times and sacked three times. The stars of that Ravens defense — linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, and safety Ed Reed — will be back in Foxborough this Sunday.
A Pats victory could send Brady and coach Bill Belichick seeking their fourth championship in a potential rematch of the Giants’ classic 17-14 Super Bowl XLII victory that ruined New England’s perfect season in 2008. Or the Bay Area-raised Brady could face the 49ers, the team he rooted for as a kid.
A Ravens win could mean another Super Bowl rematch. This one would revisit Baltimore’s 38-9 rout of the Giants in 2000, the Ravens’ only championship. Or it might see Baltimore coach John Harbaugh squaring off against his brother, Jim, who has turned around the 49ers in his first year as coach.
After an initial average resale price of $552.89 on TiqIQ.com and $653 on FanSnap.com, those numbers were down by mid-week to $480 (TiqIQ) and $450 (FanSnap) with get-in prices around $175-$180.
“I think there are some deals to be had,” Jim Holzman, owner of Ace Ticket in Boston, told Ticket News. “I think demand is going to go up as the week goes on. It looks like the weather is going to be great for mid-January. People who don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on the Super Bowl and want to see a great game for $200 to $300 are going to be buying.”
Ravens fans apparently are willing to travel, too. StubHub.com spokesperson Joellen Ferrer pointed out at mid-week that the site had more buyers from Maryland (29 percent) than Massachusetts (26 percent).
NFC Championship Game
New York Giants (11-7) at San Francisco 49ers (14-3), January 22, 6:30 p.m.
The Giants’ playoff run this season is drawing plenty of comparisons to New York’s march to its last Super Bowl title in 2008. Like that year, the Giants — again led by quarterback Eli Manning and a revitalized defense — peaked at the right time, went into Lambeau Field, and derailed the Green Bay Packers’ season.
Standing in the way of the Giants now are the 49ers, whose turnaround season was made more memorable with their thrilling January 14 victory over the Saints. In that game, quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis hooked up for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left, capping a back-and-forth contest that saw four TDs scored in the final four minutes.
Ticket sellers are seeing a greater demand and higher prices for the NFC title game than the AFC.
Ferrer said there were twice as many searches on StubHub for Giants-49ers tickets than for Pats-Ravens. The final public ticket sale by the teams is today, January 18. That likely will add tickets to the secondary market and drop prices a little more.
Still, search site SeatGeek.com’s data shows the NFC game in line to become one of the most expensive, non-Super Bowl NFL games in the past three years. So far, the only games exceeding it are the past two NFC title games: 2011 Packers-Bears at an average $688, and 2010 Vikings-Saints at an average $554.
As of mid-week, SeatGeek’s average for Giants-49ers dropped to $478. TiqIQ’s and FanSnap’s averages were each around $600. Get-in prices ranged from $282 (FanSnap) to $336 (SeatGeek).
Bay Area sports fans haven’t seen prices like this since the San Francisco Giants’ breakthrough season, which ended in a World Series championship in 2010.
FanSnap general manager Mike Janes said the profit motive vs. the allure of being there can be a tough decision for ticket holders. The weather could be a factor, too. A soggy forecast for this week in San Francisco could turn Candlestick Park field into a quagmire.
“As game time nears, we’ll see which season ticket holders are serious about getting these prices, optimistically hoping to help fund their Super Bowl trip,” Janes told TicketNews. “If ticket buyers don’t bite, some sellers may lower their prices, or frankly, they may be perfectly happy going to the game.”