Don’t let the No. 5 seed status of the San Francisco 49ers fool you—there will be no Cinderella story in this year’s Super Bowl.
The four remaining teams are stocked with arguably more talent than any other squad in the NFL, and each feature different strong points. As the Seattle Seahawks prepare to host the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos welcome in the New England Patriots, let’s dig into a projected winner for each conference title clash as well as the big game at the end.
Even if you did live under a rock, you probably would have heard by now that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are facing off with the Super Bowl at stake.
This generation’s defining superstars will play against each other for the 15th time in their illustrious careers, with Brady owning a 10-4 mark. If there has been one thing that has held Manning’s career arch back even in the slightest, it is the fact that Brady has one-upped him so many times, including multiple times in the postseason.
The narrative surrounding Manning has forever been that he is a regular-season wizard who comes up short far too often in the playoffs considering his immense talent and frequent home-field advantage. On the other hand, Brady is known as Mr. Clutch, who always comes through when the Super Bowl is on the line.
While neither narrative is entirely true, Manning can rewrite many of his personal storylines by knocking off Brady and the Patriots and winning a second Lombardi Trophy. Fortunately for No. 18, he has far more weapons at his disposal than Brady does.
Between Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Knowshon Moreno and even Montee Ball, the Broncos will exploit a New England defense that ranks 30th in the league against the rush and 18th against the pass.
Brady and company will certainly put up some points, but they won’t be able to keep pace without superstar Rob Gronkowski. A critical injury will finally catch up with the Patriots, as Welker will pull home the game-winning touchdown in a cruel twist of fate for New England fans.
Prediction: Denver 41, New England 34
There may be longer-lasting rivalries in the NFL, but there isn’t a better one in the league in 2013 than the Seahawks and 49ers.
This game would get the blood flowing if it was Week 3 of the preseason, but with a spot at the Super Bowl on the line, the always raucous 12th man in CenturyLink Field will create an incredibly intimidating environment for Colin Kaepernick and company. Let Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated set the scene:
The best division in football now has the last two teams standing in the NFC playoffs. ... And here we are: with the two heated rivals set for what might be a battle for the ages next Sunday in Seattle. The 49ers had to claw their way into the playoffs a little harder than did the top-seeded Seahawks. Now that they’re here, they look capable of finishing the job they started last season before falling just short against the Ravens.
Statistically, the 49ers rank 30th in the league in passing yards per game, but that doesn’t tell the whole story because many of their weapons missed significant time this year. With Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree in tow, Kaepernick will have the horses to move the ball against the crowd noise.
The problem is, Seattle has by far the best secondary in the league. The only chance San Francisco will have against the Seahawks' stellar defense is by pounding the ball with Frank Gore. Even then, Seattle brings a top-10 rush defense to the table.
The Seahawks will force an early turnover (much like they did against New Orleans in the divisional round) and ride Marshawn Lynch, excellent field position and its tenacious defense to victory the rest of the way.
Prediction: Seattle 21, San Francisco 10
Super Bowl XLVIII
If you think the Manning versus Brady storylines are already getting old, just wait until we have two straight weeks of “the best offense versus the best defense, something has to give” coverage when Seattle and Denver clash for the title.
The tiresome cliché is that defense wins championships, but this year’s Broncos team is unlike any we have ever seen offensively. There is a reason they scored more points during the season than any squad in history and Manning threw for more touchdowns in a year than any quarterback to ever play.
A Denver and Seattle showdown would be an absolute treat for NFL fans. While the pregame focus will be on Manning against Richard Sherman and the Seahawks secondary, the difference in this one will be Moreno and the Broncos rushing attack.
As mentioned in the NFC Championship Game breakdown, the best chance to move the ball against Seattle is on the ground. Moreno and Ball combined for 134 rushing yards and a touchdown against San Diego in the divisional round and will help the Broncos control the clock and tempo of the Super Bowl.
Eventually, Manning will hit Thomas over the top on a play-action pass after enough successful runs for the critical touchdown.
Prediction: Denver 24, Seattle 17
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.