The Empire State Building supports the 49ers. Wait, what?

Yes, it seems even the guys who mix the Gatorade are taking extra care during this afternoon that determines which two teams we’ll pick apart in anticipation for the next two weeks, and which players will be chased by women in wedding dresses on Super Bowl week Media Day.

The Patriots’ Gatorade caretaker is included among the injuries, inactives, oddities, and other game day nonsense below. So settle into that couch groove one more time, because two weeks from now you’ll be forced to host a party, and actively maintain the proper levels of both dip and chips.

Today there is no spectacle, just football.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (3 p.m. ET)

  • In August when the Patriots acquired Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, both players were widely viewed as the latest Bill Belichick restoration projects. Five months later Haynesworth is long gone, and Ochocinco is inactive during the AFC Championship game after having zero receptions over his last two games.
  • Stevan Ridley is also inactive for New England, which is mildly surprising since he’s been an effective backup and change-of-pace runner out of the Patriots’ backfield, averaging nearly 60 yards per game since Week 15. But in a game that determines the AFC’s Super Bowl participant, ball security takes on even greater importance, and Ridley has fumbled in two straight games.
  • The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote an open letter to Joe Flacco in which he wonders why the world doesn’t understand that “fantasy football stats” don’t determine the true value and worth of a player. Kevin, one of those stats is rather simple, and it measures a quarterback’s most fundamental job: to complete a forward pass. It’s called completion percentage, and Flacco completed only 51.9 percent of his passes last week, the same week that he mused about being overlooked if and when the Ravens beat Houston. Flacco was nearly irrelevant in that win, which is why the Flacco bashing has been so strong.
  • Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will undoubtedly stay focused on today’s game and the goal of winning another Super Bowl despite his new job as the head coach at Penn State when this season ends. That’s what championship-caliber coaches do, but O’Brien is still human, and this day became significantly more difficult when the legend who he’s replacing at Penn State passed away late last night. O’Brien issued a statement on Joe Paterno’s death just a few hours before today’s kickoff.
  • The Patriots in the Belichick era have often been driven by an unhealthy obsession over minutiae. Today thanks to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports we discovered the depth of that obsession as he documented in detail the intense Gatorade mixing process on the New England sideline. Scroll through Freeman’s Twitter timeline to learn more about the adventures of Gatorade Brady.

New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (6:30 p.m. ET)

  • Pictured above, the Empire State Building has been awash in red and gold this weekend because the Chinese New Year had disappointing and awkward timing.
  • As expected, the weather really sucks at candlestick. Rain began to fall last night in San Francisco, and it fell on a tarp protecting the field. That tarp will be removed several hours before game time, while the rain is expected to intensify throughout the afternoon, and it’ll be accompanied by 18 mph winds.
  • Earlier this week New York Daily News columnist Filip Bondy listed 10 reasons why 49ers fans are the most overrated fans in the NFL. They all generally revolved around the notion that there are far more productive ways to occupy the mind and body in San Fran than focusing solely on football during the winter months. That’s probably true, but the entire column is still so absurdly ridiculous that it’s good for a cheap laugh.
  • Bondy is countered by another story in his own paper featuring a New York sports radio host who’s moved his show to the Bay Area for the week, and he praised the energy and general insanity of Niners fans. There are some similarities between this 49ers team and the San Francisco Giants who won the World Series in 2010. Expectations were minimal for both teams, but the feverish energy in the city grew with each meaningful late season and playoff win.
  • A perceived east coast bias by the mainstream media has always made west coast sports fans paranoid. But fans throughout the country have escaped the media pressure, and in several polls they’ve stated their desire to have a Baltimore-San Francisco Super Bowl instead of a Patriots-Giants rematch, a preference powered by the potential Harbowl, and partly by the prospect of seeing two elite defenses tear each other to pieces.