All four remaining playoff teams had excellent odds to win the Super Bowl in 2014 when the season began, and they're just one game away from reaching that goal.
Championship weekend features two stellar matchups.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, while the San Francisco 49ers will be in Seattle for a date with the Seahawks in a classic NFC West rivalry for the NFC Championship Game.
Here's a quick look at how all four teams got to this point, courtesy of FanSided, followed by updated odds to win Super Bowl XLVIII, via VegasInsider.com:
|San Francisco 49ers||13/5|
|New England Patriots||24/5|
It's not surprising that Seattle leads the way.
The Seahawks have only lost one game at CenturyLink Field since Dec. of 2011, back when the 49ers won by a close margin, 19-17.
The two teams have faced off in Seattle twice since that point. The results have been markedly different in favor of the home team, as the Seahawks beat the 49ers by a combined score of 71-16.
Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse, who predicts a 27-17 win for the Seahawks, provides some insight into why the home team will once again triumph:
In the last two games in Seattle, the Seahawks averaged 174 rushing yards to San Francisco's 91, and Marshawn Lynch out-rushed Frank Gore 209 to 44. The Seahawks are allowing just 93.8 rushing yards at home the last two seasons. Seattle advances to the Super Bowl using the same formula in the conference title game.
Coming in a close second is Denver, which has been riding the hot hand of quarterback Peyton Manning all year long. The Broncos led the league in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense—all three by a long shot—and Manning smashed records in the process.
However, it may not sit well with some that Manning's Broncos are being favored so much more heavily than Tom Brady's Patriots considering the huge 10-4 advantage Brady has in head-to-head matchups.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman points out a couple of key reasons:
The advantage Manning has now that he's never had before is perhaps the best combination of running game and defense. Moreno is running as well an any back, and that Denver defense is also performing. The Chargers were the third straight team, and fourth in the past five, the Broncos have held under 260 total yards of offense.
Manning plus running game plus steady defense equals trouble for the Patriots.
The 49ers come in a close third in this race, and it's easy to see why unless you believe San Francisco deserves better.
This team is as hot as molten lava, having won eight games in a row. Even better, considering the hostile environment they're about to face, the 49ers have won five of those on the road, including three against teams that won at least 10 games.
Since Michael Crabtree's return, San Francisco's offense has finally achieved balance, and third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is playing his best ball of the year. In particular, he's been much more efficient on third downs the past five games, as ESPN's Mike Sando details:
Colin @Kaepernick7 on 3rd down, last 5 games: 9.2 yds per pass att, 101.6 passer rating, 11 rushes for 71 yards and 6 FD, 79.2 Total QBR— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) January 13, 2014
If Kaepernick can finally exorcise his CenturyLink Field demons, then the 49ers could pull off an upset to advance to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
Rounding out the quartet is New England, which has exceeded everyone's expectations all year long. Not surprisingly, Brady seems to revel in the role of underdog.
"I know when we played Baltimore, nobody picked us to win," Brady said during his weekly appearance on a radio station, as noted by Howard Ulman of the Associated Press, via the Denver Post. "I'm sure no one's going to pick us to win this week. We've had our backs against the wall for a while. Really, the whole season we've lost players, and teams have really counted us out."
There's no way Manning is going to count out the Patriots, but Brady's feisty demeanor will keep him and his teammates motivated. Nobody should be surprised if the Patriots pull off the upset in Denver.
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