Four teams remain alive in the journey to coronate a Super Bowl XLVIII champion.
On Sunday, Jan. 19, the field will be cut in half as AFC and NFC champions are crowned in Denver and Seattle, respectively. The top-seeded Broncos and Seahawks will be favorites at home on Championship Sunday, but New England and San Francisco can't be counted out, as both boast undeniable championship pedigrees.
With kickoff fast approaching, here we'll get you set with everything you need to know to make sure you don't miss a minute of the action this weekend.
|2014 NFL Conference Championship Schedule|
|Sun, Jan. 19||3 p.m.||(2) New England vs. (1) Denver||CBS|
|Sun, Jan. 19||6:30 p.m.||(5) San Francisco vs. (1) Seattle||Fox|
AFC Championship: Manning, Brady Look to Outduel One Another at Mile High
While Sunday's AFC Championship showdown is about the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, the focus will be on the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks on display in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
The two accomplished superstars have been absolutely critical to their teams' stellar play this season, and they have a dramatic postseason history that makes their fourth playoff meeting that much more interesting. Although Brady lacks Manning's gaudy regular-season numbers and weapons, his experience (eighth AFC Championship Game appearance) and ability to make the right call in key situations make him a serious threat on Sunday.
According to Covers.com, the Broncos will be 5.5-point favorites playing on their home field. But remember, Denver wasn't able to keep a 24-point halftime lead safe the last time out against New England, losing 34-31 in overtime at Foxborough back on Nov. 24.
Although both defenses played well in their AFC divisional-round victories, the stars will be on offense in this game, as the two decorated passers look to capitalize on their intense preparation and experience to power their respective teams to a Super Bowl berth.
While Brady has struggled in Denver throughout his career, Manning is just 1-2 against New England in the playoffs, setting the stage for a marquee matchup that truly could go either way.
NFC Championship: Two Fierce Rivals Square Off in a High-Stakes Rubber Match
With the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers both having missed the playoffs this season, Seahawks-49ers has become the best rivalry in football.
And adding to the intrigue of an already bitter rivalry are the massive stakes in Sunday's rubber match.
The two teams split their regular-season meetings, but the Seahawks will be 3.5-point home favorites when the two teams take the field on Sunday evening. Meanwhile, the Niners are already 2-0 on the road this postseason and beat the Seahawks by two points in San Francisco in their most recent matchup back on Dec. 8.
However, Seattle's top-ranked defense is like nothing San Francisco has faced through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Seahawks ranked first in the league in fewest yards and points allowed during the regular season and shutout the New Orleans Saints through the first three quarters in their NFC Divisional Round win last weekend. If the defense can turn in a similar effort on Sunday night, the Niners will need yet another lights-out performance from their defensive unit on the road to keep things close.
While Seattle's defense will be focused on slowing Colin Kaepernick and the Niners' bruising rushing attack, San Francisco's defense will zero-in on Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the Seahawks' win over the Saints.
Unsurprisingly, head coach Pete Carroll has total confidence in his powerful playmaker, per Seahawks.com's Clare Farnsworth: "He still looks fast and quick and ready to go again. Marshawn battles every week and when you give him chances, he makes plays. He just continues to crank it out for us."
Although Lynch was a beast in his most recent outing, keep in mind that the Niners held him to just 72 yards rushing and one touchdown in the Week 14 matchup between these two at Candlestick Park.
If the shrinking spread is any indication, Sunday's NFC Championship matchup will be a defensive struggle poised to go down to the wire.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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