After yet another wild weekend of 2014 NFL postseason action, the focus has shifted to the conference championships and which teams that have made it this far in the playoff bracket will advance to the Super Bowl.
Four of the most dangerous franchises in the NFL—Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and New England—have deservedly earned a spot in their respective NFC and AFC title games, and the two battles should satisfy even the most fickle football fans.
FanSided provided an excellent visual representation of the remaining playoff bracket:
Here is the full schedule for the remainder of the 2014 playoffs and a preview of each conference championship:
|Conference Championship and Super Bowl Schedule|
|Round||Date (Time)||Time (ET)||Visitor||Home||TV Info|
|AFC Championship||Sunday, Jan. 19||3 p.m.||New England Patriots||Denver Broncos||CBS|
|NFC Championship||Sunday, Jan. 19||6:30 p.m.||San Francisco 49ers||Seattle Seahawks||Fox|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Sunday, Feb. 2||6:30 p.m.||TBA||TBA||Fox|
New England Patriots (12-4) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
While the tickets will say the New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos for the AFC Championship, the main storyline heading into this matchup will be the meeting between legendary quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Brady and Manning are familiar with each other, to say the least. Dec. 19’s game will the 15th meeting between the QBs, with three of the four postseason battles now being for the AFC Championship.
Each player has amassed one conference championship in the two previous games, and the 2014 edition of Brady vs. Manning will be the proverbial rubber match. As ESPN’s Twitter points out, though, these matchups always produce winners:
The difference this year will be the lack of offensive firepower for Brady and the Patriots. Manning runs the league’s most efficient offense and threw for an astounding 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013.
While New England’s defense was able to step up against Andrew Luck and the inexperienced Indianapolis Colts to earn its spot in the AFC Championship, Manning has a great cast of characters around him and will rack up big points on the Patriots.
Brady may have the better overall record against Manning, but the Broncos have the better team in every facet of the game and will prove that by cashing their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Predicted Final Score: Denver 28, New England 24
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
The battle for NFC West supremacy was one of the biggest highlights of the 2013 regular season, but the fierce rivalry between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers has carried over into the postseason.
Add in the fact that a spot in the Super Bowl hangs in the balance, and this game will be a physical showdown with plenty of bad blood.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin is satisfied with the matchup:
49ers safety Donte Whitner spoke with CSN Bay Area after the team’s victory over the Carolina Panthers about traveling to Seattle:
We don’t want it to end for us. We understand that we have to go up there in a hostile environment with a really good football team and do what a lot of people probably aren’t going to pick us to do. That’s OK with us. We understand what we have to do.
The two franchises split their regular-season meetings, with each taking a win at home. Seattle has looked dominant against the lackluster defensive competition it has faced leading to the conference championship, but San Francisco is playing inspired football.
As hard as Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch pounds into defenders, linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are just as vicious and brutal at the point of attack. The lack of intimidation will be something Seattle’s offensive and defensive units are not accustomed to contending against.
With RB Frank Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick providing the dual-threat rushing attack needed to keep drives alive and control the clock, the 49ers will hold on for a hard-fought victory over their division foes.
Predicted Final Score: San Francisco 17, Seattle 13
*All stats via NFL.com.