NFL fans are certainly in for a treat with what could be one of the best set of conference title games in recent memory.
ESPN's Adam Schefter was one of many discussing how great things will be for fans:
Talk about a great Final Four next weekend: Patriots at Broncos, 49ers at Seahawks. Who's got it better than us?— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 13, 2014
As Darren Rovell of ESPN notes, these were the four teams with the highest odds of winning the Super Bowl:
Preseason odds to win Super Bowl: Broncos 5/1, Seahawks 6/1, 49ers 6/1, Patriots 10/1.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 13, 2014
So what will happen in these exciting battles? You will have to watch to find out, but here is an early look at a guide for each game set to take place on Sunday.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Spread (via Vegas Insider): DEN -4.5
You might have heard by now that this will be quite a quarterback matchup. Here is a breakdown of how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have fared against each other in their careers:
Of course, there are 22 players on the field on every snap, and many other guys with fewer Pro Bowl appearances will make an impact.
One of those players is LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Indianapolis Colts in the last round. While this was by far his best performance of the year, it was no fluke. He had four touchdowns in the last two games of the regular season, and he is ready to keep pounding his way to a big day against the Broncos.
As Charles P. Pierce of Grantland explains, "Blount is bigger than anyone faster than he is, and faster than anyone bigger." Pierce also quotes head coach Bill Belichick in describing the running back: "He’s got that combination of size, power, and quickness and speed. He’s not a fullback; he’s more than that. He’s not a scatback, either. He’s got power. He can run hard. He can make guys miss and he can go the distance … He’s an explosive player."
While Blount has been there all season, his recent emergence has made the Patriots tough to stop, especially in the red zone. He will be able to keep New England's offense on the field longer and help secure touchdowns instead of field goals.
Meanwhile, this puts more pressure on Peyton Manning to perform well in less time on the field. He could end up struggling against a defensive secondary that could be very aggressive.
The Patriots finished fourth in the league in opposing completion percentage and had the 12th-most interceptions because the cornerbacks and safeties are not afraid to make a play on the ball.
If New England can stop Knowshon Moreno this time around, they can limit the best offense in the NFL and come away with a road win.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Broncos 28
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Spread (via Vegas Insider): SEA -3.5
There might not be a current rivalry in the NFL better than the one between the Seahawks and 49ers. Although there is not a rich history behind it, these two have been among the best in football over the past few years, and battles between them on and off the field have been a thrill to watch.
Even the front offices have gotten involved by taking each other's players, but the men on the field are the ones with the real hatred, as noted by ESPN:
While the rivalry will be a big story, the deciding factor in this game will be the home-field advantage of the Seahawks and how the 49ers will deal with it. In the last two games at CenturyLink Field, Seattle has beaten San Francisco by a combined 71-16.
On 49ers.com, head coach Jim Harbaugh discussed what his team must be able to go through to handle the overwhelming crowd noise:
Other teams may approach it differently. You’ve got to be able to communicate without being able to hear very well. You can simulate that somewhat in practice. Signals, hand signals, verbal signals, body language, reading lips, different ways. But, we’ll practice that. We’ve been in some of those environments, as you know.
However, scoring will still be a challenge for the road team. Colin Kaepernick has proved the ability to make plays with his legs, but he will struggle to throw the ball. In three starts against Seattle, he is averaging only 182 passing yards and completing only 50.5 percent of his passes.
Richard Sherman and the rest of the secondary can match the physicality of the 49ers receivers and shut them down, leading to very little offense.
This will be a low-scoring battle, but Seattle should get the edge at home.
Prediction: Seahawks 16, 49ers 9
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