With championship weekend upon us, we are just two games away from knowing who will be booking their flights to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII.
The AFC Championship Game will feature a battle between prolific offenses, while the NFC features the two best defenses in the NFL.
With everything on the line, here are the keys for success for each team.
New England Patriots: Take Advantage of the Denver Broncos Secondary
The big story from the Patriots' victory over the Indianapolis Colts was that most of their damage was done on the ground (the Patriots rushed 46 times for 234 yards and six touchdowns).
In what should be a high-scoring affair, the Patriots will likely hand the keys back to quarterback Tom Brady. Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots' Week 12 comeback victory over the Broncos.
Broncos CB Chris Harris, one of Denver's top defensive players, tore his ACL and is out for season, via me and @Jeff_Legwold.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 13, 2014
This time around, the Broncos will be without cornerback Chris Harris who tore the ACL in his left knee against the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos secondary—already minus Rahim Moore—will be vulnerable to the Patriots passing attack as they turn to declining veterans Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer.
Denver Broncos: Run on the Patriots
While the Patriots may have run all over the Colts, it does not mask the fact that they ranked 30th in rush defense themselves—allowing 134.1 yards per game on the ground.
Knowshon Moreno gashed the Patriots for 224 yards last time around. Rookie running back Montee Ball has become more involved, averaging 6.6 yards per carry in his last five regular season games.
Brandon Spikes hobbled with knee but being late to Friday's bye week practice was final straw for Belichick. Mutually, to IR, per sources— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 11, 2014
The Patriots are missing key run stoppers in Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. Losing Spikes is a tough blow, as he had the highest run defense grade of all inside linebackers at plus-11.6 (per Peter Damilatis of Pro Football Focus).
Seattle Seahawks: Can Russell Wilson Rebound?
Everyone knows that the Seahawks will attempt to establish Marshawn Lynch early and often. But it's Russell Wilson who is the real key for Seattle.
Wilson was just 9-of-18 for 108 yards (0 TDs) in the Hawks’ victory over the New Orleans Saints. Over his last 5 games, Wilson has eclipsed 200 yards just once to go along with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers: Limit the Ground Game
Stopping Marshawn Lynch will be key for the 49ers to defeat the Seahawks.
“We don’t want to give up anything,” inside linebacker Patrick Willis said. “We don’t want to give up 100 yards rushing. We don’t want to give up 20 yards rushing. Our biggest thing is to make a team one-dimensional and that starts with stopping the run.”
In two regular-season meetings, Lynch was responsible for 207 total yards and four scores—roughly 52 percent of the Seahawks' points.
With Russell Wilson looking very pedestrian in the divisional round, forcing him to be the focal point of the offense would work to the 49ers' favor if Wilson is unable to rebound.