It's a rematch of one of the best games of the regular season. The Niners held on for an exciting 41-34 win at Gillette Stadium, and we'll see the rematch on February 3.
Neither team has an easy road to New Orleans, but here's how I see each of them arriving at the Super Bowl.
The Niners' Path
Beating the Packers
The Niners have a tough game on their hands Saturday night when they host the Green Bay Packers, but I'm obviously picking the Niners to come out on top, much like they did in the season-opener against the Pack.
In that game, the Niners won 30-22 behind a dominant run game, and a defensive line that sacked Aaron Rodgers three times. The Niners racked up 186 yards on the ground, but it was Alex Smith that led the team, not Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick's arm strength and athletic ability gives the Packers even more to consider on defense. Meanwhile, the Packers' offensive line hasn't improved. Rodgers was sacked 51 times during the season, and three more times by the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card matchup.
There is no reason to believe the Niners won't win again.
Winning the Rubber Game Against the Seahawks
I hate to disrespect the Atlanta Falcons, but I don't see them beating the Seahawks. The Falcons don't generate a strong pass rush, and if there is a secondary that can contend with the Falcons' trio of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, it's the Seahawks'.
The Seahawks' win will set up a third meeting with the Niners.
The Niners took the first game 13-6 in Week 7, but the final regular season meeting was a 42-13 blowout win in the Seahawks' favor. The major difference here is the location.
The Seahawks have proven that they are solid team on the road, but they are on another level at home. The Niners walked into that buzz saw in Week 16.
In the rubber game, the Niners will be ready and at home. It will be up to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to draw up different schemes to make things more difficult for the Seahawks this time.
Marshawn Lynch ran for 111 yards and Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes in the last meeting. After falling behind 21-0, the Niners abandoned the run game, and that isn't how this team is built to function.
Expect a fast start from the Niners in this game, and a commitment to the run game. It will be tightly contested and physical game, but the Niners will win and advance to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots' Path
Finishing off the Texans
New England holds a huge psychological edge over the Houston Texans. Similar to the way the Seahawks blew out the Niners, the Pats dismantled the Texans 42-14 in Week 14.
The major difference here is that the Texans don't own a win over the Pats in the regular season, and the site of Sunday's Divisional Playoff game is Foxboro Stadium, the same place the Pats blasted the Texans by four touchdowns.
Houston doesn't have much to look to for inspiration.
It's bad enough they couldn't stop Tom Brady from throwing for four touchdowns, or stop the Pats' rushing offense from topping the 100-yard mark. New England's defense also held the Texans' offense to just 222 yards of total offense.
Even if the Texans play better offensively, there is no reason to think their defense will make a better showing. New England has too many weapons for them to contain.
The Patriots will win easily again.
Brady Will Best Manning Again
From a sentimental standpoint, I'd like to pick the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Denver Broncos to extend Ray Lewis' last run. But the fact is, the Ravens still can't stop the run well enough to contain a balanced offense like the Broncos.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens still allowed 152 yards on the ground. This is the type of run defense they have displayed all season. It is the reason they were ranked just 20th in the NFL against the run.
The Broncos already smashed the Ravens 34-17 in Week 15, and they will defeat them again.
That sets up yet another Brady versus Peyton Manning playoff matchup. It will be the fourth time the two future Hall of Famers have met in the postseason. Manning was obviously with the Colts for the first three, but Brady holds a 2-1 record over him in playoff encounters.
Brady and the Patriots also handed the Broncos one of their three losses this season. It was only Week 5, and it was also at Foxboro, but it is our only point of reference from this season.
This game would take place in Denver, and that changes things a little.
Still, the same Pats' bruising running game that pounded the Broncos in their 31-21 win will be a factor. New England ran the ball for 251 yards in that game, and it was one of only three times the Broncos' defense gave up 100 yards or more.
Why were the Pats able to gash them on the ground this way?
Because of the Broncos' respect for Brady and the aerial assault.
Denver's defense is fast, but they aren't terribly physical up the middle. The combination of the Patriots' bruising O-line and the Brady-led passing game will create the same dilemma for the Broncos.
Brady may not beat Manning in the MVP race, but he'll defeat him again in the playoffs.
There you have it, a Niners-Patriots Super Bowl matchup. It isn't the Robert Griffin III versus Andrew Luck matchup I was hoping for, but it'll do.
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