A rarity occurred during this year's divisional round of the NFL postseason. All four home teams protected their turf and moved on to the conference championship games for the first time in over a decade.
NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano alluded to the possibility before the Denver Broncos knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-16, to conclude the divisional round Sunday:
Andrew Siciliano @AndrewSiciliano
Home team is 3-0 this weekend. Last time the home teams swept @NFL Divisional Weekend? 2005.2016-1-17 21:15:08
ESPN Stats & Info revealed the last time the top two seeds of their respective conferences played each other on championship weekend:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
This will be 1st time the top 2 seeds in each conference made the conference championships since 2004 season. https://t.co/GjZlfsC9N82016-1-18 14:30:12
The New England Patriots, who defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-20, on Saturday, will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos for AFC bragging rights next Sunday, when legendary quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will vie for further glory.
On the strength of Sunday's 31-24 triumph over the Seattle Seahawks, the Carolina Panthers will host another NFC West foe, the Arizona Cardinals, for the right to suit up for Super Bowl 50.
Arizona survived a Hail Mary touchdown pass and subsequent overtime to advance through the divisional round with a 26-20 win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.
The duel between Manning and Brady will have the usual accompanying modesty between the two signal-callers, who will insist the game is about their teams and not them as individuals.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Next Week. (via @nbaayy) https://t.co/EJVgq0jGVn2016-1-18 00:53:26
Of course, no one will listen. Comparisons are inevitable as two of the most visible stars of their era take center stage in their pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy.
Uproxx Sports' Dave Rappoccio highlighted how steady the AFC has been in terms of which teams have gone deep in the postseason—with an elite QB being the common variable:
Dave Rappoccio @DrawPlayDave
AFC SB QBs since 2001 Brady Gannon Brady Brady Big Ben Manning Brady Big Ben Manning Big Ben Brady Flacco Brady Brady/Manning The AFC Sucks2016-1-18 00:59:15
While many fans may be tiring of Brady-Manning showdowns, the NFC represents a welcome reprieve.
Carolina and Arizona represent new blood. The Seahawks played in the last two Super Bowls but will not participate in Super Bowl 50 thanks to the now-16-1 Panthers.
Oh, and the matchup of QBs isn't bad, either. Cam Newton may win the league MVP award for his efforts this season, while Cardinals star Carson Palmer has enjoyed a career renaissance in the desert.
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Head coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera is keen on taking risks, making Carolina a wilder card of a No. 1 seed than most presume. Arizona coach Bruce Arians is known for his aggressive style as well and won't be afraid to challenge the Panthers' formidable secondary with a vertical passing game.
The old guard and an epic rivalry will likely garner a ton of attention for the AFC. However, the Panthers and Cardinals were the first- and second-highest-scoring teams, respectively, in the NFL this season.
Regardless of whoever emerges next weekend as the Super Bowl 50 participants, an epic clash is bound to be in store for the finale. The four best teams in football haven't been upended by a hot wild-card upstart this time around, which gives credence to the long 16-game hauls they went through to get to this point.