Conference Championship Sunday is the final home game of the season for two teams. Two teams will advance to Super Bowl XLVIII while two teams will have to wait until next season for a shot at glory.
Speaking of glory, I finished last week with a perfect 4-0 record to run my playoff record to 6-2. Ms. Roberts is currently 5-3 while Mr. Blake is 4-4.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT DENVER BRONCOS, CBS 2 PM (CT)
Brady or Manning? Take your pick.
Both will go into the Hall of Fame. Peyton Manning will most likely own every single major passing record when his career is done. Tom Brady will get in based on winning 3 Super Bowls in a 4 year period in the 2000s and having padded his stats in the latter part of his career. If one of these quarterbacks win another Super Bowl, it will certainly solidify their enshrinement in Canton, OH. You might as well get them fitted for their jacket, sculpt their bust, and write their Hall of Fame speech.
For Peyton Manning another Super Bowl win would certainly improve his resume. Before the game against the Chargers, the Sports Section of the Denver Post ran this picture on their front page:
Peyton Manning is now 10-11 in playoff games including a 1-1 record in the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile Tom Brady has been chasing that 4th Super Bowl ring. In the 2006 AFC Title Game New England had a 21-3 lead over the Colts, but Peyton Manning led a comeback that put Indianapolis up 38-34 with one minute to play. Marlin Jackson's interception sent the Colts to the Super Bowl which they won over the Bears. The next season the Patriots completed the NFL's first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The Patriots surpassed the Dolphins' win total of 17 wins and headed into Super Bowl XLII with an 18-0 record.
For the second season in a row, Brady's quest for a 4th ring was dashed by Manning.
Eli Manning that is.
The same thing happened again 4 years later, this time in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. New England might have been the better team overall, but Eli Manning and the Giants were the better team that day.
Winning a 4th Super Bowl ring would put Tom Brady in with other 4-time Super Bowl champion quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and a player he grew up idolizing, Joe Montana. Both Bradshaw and Montana share 4-0 records in Super Bowls. Bill Belichick would also be the second coach to win four Super Bowls. The first being Steelers coach Chuck Knoll.
It is worth noting: Legacies are on the line heading into this game.
Denver comes into this game having defeated the Chargers but it was not easy. Denver led San Diego the entire game and at one point was up 17 points. It was 24-7 before the Chargers scored the game's final 10 points to make the final score closer than what the game really was. While Phillip Rivers has a well documented history of spoiling Peyton Manning led teams, the Broncos cannot let that happen with a Tom Brady led team.
The Patriots last week discovered they have a running game. Patriots running backs gained 234 yards and scored 6 touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns including a 73 yard touchdown that made any chances of a repeat comeback by the Colts very improbable.
Denver is 4-1 in home AFC Title Games. Their only loss was against the 6th seeded Steelers in the 2005 game who went on to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are 3-1 in road AFC Title Games. Their only loss was in the 2006 playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts who as mentioned before went on to win the Super Bowl.
Since the start of the millennium this is the 9th AFC Title Game to involve either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
In Brady-Manning matchups, Tom Brady has held a 10-4 edge including a 2-1 record in playoff games. The Sporting News has chronicled the last 14 matchups between these quarterbacks. The most recent matchup between these two quarterbacks happened in Week 12 of this season. Denver jumped out to a 24-0 second quarter lead due to early New England turnovers. In the second half, Tom Brady threw 3 touchdowns as part of a 31 point run to put the Patriots up by 7. Manning responded with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to send the game into overtime.
In the overtime session, New England chose to let Denver have the ball first. The strategy played off as the Broncos were unable to move the ball into the wind. On a Patriot punt, Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker was unable to field a punt and it touched a Broncos player resulting in the Patriots recovering the ball. Steven Gostkowski kicked a 31 yard field goal with 2 minutes left in overtime to give the Patriots the 34-31 win.
I picked Denver to win it all at the start of the season. I picked Denver to win it all at the start of the playoffs. I don't see any reason why I should change my pick. Denver will be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl on 2 February 2014.
I expect this one to be another classic.
BRONCOS 38, PATRIOTS 33
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS, FOX 5:30 PM (CT)
I might have mentioned this, but I probably didn't. I visited San Francisco twice during my childhood. Once in March 1990 and then again in June 2000. It was part of a trip visiting northern California. I was also stationed in the Seattle area over in Bremerton. I met my ship in the Pacific Northwest. I did a little sightseeing of the area on my off duty time. Then in January 2005 I rode my ship from the west coast all the way west until I ended up in Virginia in August 2005. So I have a personal history with these two areas.
San Francisco and Seattle split the season series. Seattle defeated the 49ers at home 29-3 in Week 2 while the 49ers returned the favor in San Francisco in Week 14 to tighten the NFC West race.
Seattle survived a furious comeback attempt by the Saints in the divisional round. Though Russell Wilson was less than stellar against New Orleans, it was running back Marshawn Lynch who provided the offense Seattle needed to advance to the franchise's third conference championship game. Lynch rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns including a run from 31 yards that put Seattle up 23-8 with 2:40 to go in the game. New Orleans was able to respond with a touchdown and recovered an onside kick for a chance to tie the game. Saints receiver Marques Colton caught a pass along the sideline and attempted to lateral it to another player, but the pass went forward resulting in a ten-second runoff penalty and ending the game with the Seahawks winning 23-15.
The 49ers have been the road warriors in the playoffs. The last 49ers home game was against the Falcons in Week 16 in their closeout of Candlestick Park. Since then they traveled to Arizona for the regular season finale, then to frigid Green Bay, and recently to Carolina.
In Charlotte last Sunday, the 49ers avenged their regular season loss to the Panthers with a playoff victory. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was able to find wide receiver Anquan Boldin for 8 catches and 136 yards and run and pass for a touchdown. Running back Frank Gore was the leading rusher for the game gaining 84 yards on 17 carries including a run for 39 yards. San Francisco's defense forced Cam Newton to throw 2 interceptions.
Speaking of being a road team, San Francisco's road record since Jim Harbaugh became the coach in 2011 is 20-7 including the playoffs. Over the last two seasons, San Francisco has been unable to win at Seattle. The last time San Francisco won at Seattle: Week 16 in 2011.
Kaepernick is 4-1 in playoff games and has more road playoff wins than Joe Montana and Steve Young. It should be worth pointing out that Montana and Young played on 49er teams that dominated in the regular season so that when they made the playoffs the only traveling the team did was to their home stadium and to the Super Bowl in 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, and 1994.
One thing that Montana and Young have are Super Bowl rings. Kaepernick hopes that he will get another chance to earn one if the 49ers upset the Seahawks in Seattle. He will have his work cut out for him. Since being named the 49ers starting quarterback in 2012, Kaepernick is undefeated in road playoff games but is 0-2 at Seattle while completing 50% of his passes for 371 yards with one touchdown pass vs. four interceptions. Kaepernick's running game in the 2 games in the PACNORWEST resulted in 16 carries for 118 yards but hasn't yet reached the end zone.
The 49ers have a lot of history heading into this game. The 49ers are playing in their 15th conference championship game, tying them with the Steelers. This is the third time the 49ers have played in 3 or more conference championship game. San Francisco did it from 1988 to 1990. All three of their NFC Championship Games from 1992 to 1994 featured the same opponent: the Dallas Cowboys. This recent streak from 2011 to today has had them playing in epic matchups against the Giants and Falcons. Will this game against the Seahawks be added to the history of this decorated franchise?
Seattle is making their third conference championship game appearance. They made their first appearance as a member of the AFC with a deep playoff run in 1983 where they lost to eventual Super Bowl champion, the
Oakland Los Angeles
Raiders. In 2005, they defeated the Carolina Panthers at home en route to their
only Super Bowl appearance so far.
At the start of the playoffs last season, I predicted the 49ers would play the Seahawks for the NFC Title. At the start of this season's playoffs I went with the same matchup: 49ers and Seahawks.
I cannot see this game being a repeat of the Seahawk Stomping that happened in Week 2. It will probably be more like their matchup in Week 14. The 49ers are road tested this season, but home-field advantage is key. If this game was being played in San Francisco, I would probably go with the 49ers. Seattle over the last two seasons is 16-1 at home. Their only loss in this time period was a 2013 Week 16 loss to the Cardinals. As pointed out, in this time period Seattle has soundly defeated the 49ers by a combined score of 71-17. In part it is due to the Seahawks defense forcing turnovers which they led the NFL in this season and led the NFL in passes intercepted with 28.
Seattle will reign supreme over the NFC and the Seahawks will take flight to their second Super Bowl appearance.
SEAHAWKS 23, 49ERS 19