We are on the brink of knowing the Super Bowl matchup, but the conference title games are good enough that NFL fans should not mind waiting.
The Denver Broncos have had the best team in the regular season in each of the past two years, but it will not matter if they once again lose before winning a title. The New England Patriots stand in their way and will be quite a challenge after beating Denver in Week 12.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are two teams that genuinely dislike each other and have been planning on this matchup since the end of last season. Those that like a physical football game might never get a better chance to see one.
All four of these squads would be deserving Super Bowl champions, but they must first get past each other in this exciting set of playoff games.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Who will win?
Spread (via Vegas Insider): DEN -5
This game is billed as a battle between two of the best quarterbacks of all time. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are not only playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, but also their legacies.
In reality, it is the running game that will decide this matchup.
When these two teams played back in Week 12, Knowshon Moreno bullied his way to 224 rushing yards against a battered Patriots defense. Not only was this easily a season high, but he did not top 100 yards in any other game this season.
Meanwhile, New England has a weapon of its own on the ground in LeGarrette Blount. Field Yates of ESPN points out how good the running back has been in recent weeks:
Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount has 8 rushing TD's over his past 3 games. That's more than 5 teams had all regular season.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 15, 2014
Running the ball allows the offense to control the clock and keep the opposing quarterback off the field. Both sides will certainly want to employ this strategy in the AFC title game, and stopping it will be a big key to victory.
Sealver Siliga has helped improve the Patriots' run defense in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan explained that defending the run will be vital. According to Patriots.com, he described Blount by saying:
That is a big, physical runner. He plays his game well. He knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses, but he plays to his strengths a lot. We are going to try to keep him contained. They are going to come in here and try to run and do all that, but we are going to be prepared for whatever. It’s game time.
Of course, the quarterbacks will still play a role, especially near the end of the game. When that happens, Manning has been the better of the two this year and has by far the better weapons around him.
This will be enough to help secure a win and a trip to the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Patriots 28
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Who will win?
Spread (via Vegas Insider): SEA -3.5
There are rivalries that have deeper history that goes back generations, but there are few better current rivalries in all of sports than the Seattle Seahawks against the San Francisco 49ers.
Not only have these divisional opponents split their last four games (each winning two at home), but these have been two of the best teams in football over the past two years. Add this to the genuine hate from both sides, and we are in line for an excellent showdown in the NFC Championship Game.
After finding out he would be facing the 49ers, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said it best:
Wouldn't want it any other way...— Doug Baldwin Jr (@DougBaldwinJr) January 12, 2014
The big storyline during the game will be how well San Francisco can handle playing at CenturyLink Field. As Fox Sports points out, the team has not fared well in the past two seasons:
The 49ers have lost only 5 road games in the last 2 seasons. Two of those losses have been to the Seahawks, by a combined score of 71-16.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 18, 2014
Seattle has forced Colin Kaepernick into the worst games of his career, but he is apparently not worried about the noise. According to Taylor Price of 49ers.com, he explained, "We only have 11 on the field just like them."
While confidence is a good thing, actual performance is another. The quarterback has only one touchdown and four interceptions in his two starts in Seattle and he has struggled to generate consistent offense.
This will once again be a problem as the Seahawks keep the 49ers out of the end zone. Marshawn Lynch will then help the home team do just enough to grab the lead and hold onto it in a classic battle.
Prediction: Seahawks 16, 49ers 9
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