NFL Playoff Picks 2014: Projecting AFC and NFC Champions

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2014

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) receives the hand off from quarterback Russell Wilson (3) against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NFL playoffs will continue Sunday, Jan. 19 with two monumental conference championships.

The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks have been the class of the league all season, but each needs one more win at home to secure a berth in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Will the favorites cash in on home-field advantage on championship weekend, or will underdogs New England and San Francisco survive and advance?

Let's take a closer look at my conference championship picks.


Broncos' Well-Rounded Offense Will Prevail at Mile High

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) points and signals prior to the snap against the San Diego Chargers during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Although the New England Patriots are a dangerous team led by a brilliant football mind in Bill Belichick and one of the most decorated quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady, the short-handed contenders are poised to run out of steam Sunday afternoon in Denver.

In addition to the lack of offensive weapons at his disposal in this matchup, Brady has always struggled at Mile High, posting a dismal 2-4 record there over the course of his career. 

Not to mention, the Broncos have an impressive rushing attack of their own capable of outshining New England's. As former NFL coach Tony Dungy points out, the respective ground attacks could determine the outcome of this game:

There's no question that the Broncos run defense has been more stout than New England's throughout the season. Denver held San Diego to just 65 rushing yards on 18 carries in the AFC Divisional Round and held the Patriots to just 3.7 yards per carry in the two teams' Week 12 meeting in Foxborough.  

Meanwhile, the Broncos rushed for 280 yards in that game, averaging nearly six yards per carry against the Patriots' undermanned defense.

Although New England came back to win that game in overtime, Sunday's showdown in Denver will be a completely different game, according to Patriots safety Steve Gregory, per The Boston Globe's Michael Whitmer:

"Obviously it’s going to be a different game. Different situations, different things will come up in the game. It’s a completely different game."

Prediction: Broncos 27, Patriots 21


Seahawks Will Survive in Rubber Match

The Seahawks and the 49ers split their regular-season series in 2013, but expect Sunday's NFC Championship Game to unfold similarly to their second matchup in San Francisco, a game that was decided by just two points. 

However, this time it'll be the Seahawks prevailing on their home turf.

With defense poised to steal the show in this matchup, Seattle gets the slight edge. The Seahawks ranked tops in the league in fewest yards and points allowed during the regular season and were awfully impressive through the first three quarters of their NFC Divisional Round win over the New Orleans Saints.

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on as Richard Sherman #25 and D'Anthony Smith #94 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrate a saftey during their game at Qwest Field on September 15, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Although Seattle is sure to surrender more than 15 points to the reigning NFC champions, don't expect San Francisco to reach the 23-point mark it has hit in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs. 

After all, the last time Colin Kaepernick and the Niners were in Seattle, they turned the ball over five times and accounted for just 207 yards in a 26-point loss. Jim Harbaugh's squad will be much improved this time around but not quite good enough to pick up a fourth consecutive postseason road win.

Prediction: Seahawks 23, 49ers 20


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