After 5 months of NFL action, we have finally arrived to Conference Championship weekend. This is where legends are born and 2 teams separate themselves from everyone. This year, something happened that doesn’t happen very often. The 4 teams remaining were arguably the 4 best teams in the league all season. No underdogs, no Cinderella stories, just the 4 best, and most consistent teams over the past 5 months. There are so many interesting sub-plots to these Conference Championship games, let’s dive right in shall we?
Brady vs. Manning Patriots @ Broncos 3 pm
In the first game of the Sunday slate, we have Tom Brady and his banged up Patriots traveling to Denver to take on the high octane offense guided by Peyton Manning. This will be the 14th time these 2 legendary quarterbacks have met, including 3 in the playoffs. The record between the two is in favor of Brady, with Brady leading the series 9-4, including winning 2 of the 3 playoffs meetings. A lot of things have changed since the last time these legends met in the post season. Manning has had 4 neck surgeries and changed teams, while Brady has had a revolving door of offensive weapons. One thing that hasn’t changed, they still are playing like the best two quarterbacks of this generation. Since neither of them rely on their athleticism, they have been able to sustain their high level of play as they near the end of their careers.
But, as it turns out, there are 104 other players involved in this game. So let’s take a look at the cases for both teams.
Case for Denver:
- Peyton Manning had the best statistical regular season of all time. This Denver team has been one of the top 2 teams in the league all year.
- Peyton has a plethora of weapons. Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, and Julius Thomas to name a few. This isn’t including Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball out of the backfield. Manning couldn’t have thrown 55 touchdowns this season without the help of this outstanding stable of receivers.
- New England’s defense is full of people you have never heard of. With Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, and Jerod Mayo out, it’s going to be a lot easier to run the ball against this defense. In the regular season when these teams met, Moreno ran for 224 yards. I expect Denver to run the ball early and often.
- You have to factor in the fact the Denver is playing at home. They have the altitude in their favor, and have a home crowd that hasn’t seen a Conference Championship game since John Elway in 1997. They are going to be rowdy from kickoff till the clock reads 00:00.
Case for New England:
- Bill Belichick is easily one of the top-3 coaches of all-time. The term “next man up” is great in theory, but nobody has been able to really embrace that idea like Belichick. Even with the number of injuries and the distraction of one of your main offensive weapons allegedly murdering 3 people in the past 2 years, this Patriots team is still banging out wins. If anyone can go into Denver with a cast of nobody’s and beat the Broncos, its Belichick and the Patriots.
- Even though Belichick is a coaching genius, none of it would work without an all-time great quarterback in Tom Brady. Brady is the Charlie Babbitt to Belichick’s Rain Man. The only other quarterback that could make Julian Edelman look like an all-pro receiver happens to be playing for the other team. Nobody has done more with less than Tom Brady. Don’t believe me? Off the top of your head, name 3 wide receivers from the 2004 Patriots (the last time they won the Super Bowl). I’ll give you a minute. The 3 leading receivers that year were Troy Brown, Dion Branch and David Patten. Not exactly Hall of Famers.
- LeGarrette Blount suddenly becoming an actual threat running the ball. In New England’s past 4 games, Blount has been lights out. Blount has rushed for 100 yards in 4 straight games. He also is the biggest kick returner I can ever remember seeing, weighing in at 250 pounds. With Denver playing without Von Miller, look for Blount to have another big outing.
I don’t see New England being able to overcome the odds in this one. I think the Bradychick magic can only go so far. I think this one is going to be a shootout with Denver winning 42-38. Regardless of how this game ends, enjoy it. This could be the last time we see these two legendary quarterbacks square off with the Super Bowl on the line. Not very often do we get the chance to see two all-time greats playing in the same era. This could be the last chapter of this great rivalry.
49ers @ Seahawks 6:30 pm
This may be the last chapter of the Brady vs Manning rivalry, but it’s just the beginning of what looks to be another great rivalry: Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. These two are divisional opponents, so we have the luxury of seeing these two teams play twice a year. In 2013, the series is even at 1-1, with this week’s rubber match sending one of them to the Super Bowl. These teams are built almost exactly the same: power running, physical defense, mobile quarterbacks, crazy head coaches, and a hatred towards one another.
Case for San Francisco:
- Colin Kaepernick has been playing better as the seasons progressed. If you remember back to the beginning of the year, there were questions of whether or not Kaepernick was going to be able to lead the 49ers to another Super Bowl. Kaepernick responded by ripping off 8 wins in a row, including 2 road playoff wins. In the NFL, it’s all about peaking at the right time and getting momentum going into the playoffs. This 49ers team has done just that, all behind their young quarterback.
- The 12th man won’t be that big of a factor. This teams plays in Seattle every year. They know how loud and rowdy the crowd gets, and know how to adjust to it. Granted, they haven’t won their since Russell Wilson became their quarterback, but this team knows what to expect when they play in Seattle.
- Michael Crabtree is back. In the 2 meetings between these two teams, Crabtree was still sidelined with his Achilles injury. Since he has returned, he’s given Kaepernick another reliable target in the passing game.
- No Percy Harvin for the Seahawks. In the few games Harvin has played for Seattle, he has proved to be their biggest weapon. Seattle lines him up all over the field. Without him, Seattle has had a tougher time throwing the ball. Not having him out there allows the San Fran front-7 to solely focus on Marshawn Lynch in the running game. One thing that you can’t do: run the ball on this 49er defense.
Case for Seattle:
- They know how to beat this 49er team. As I mentioned above, Russell Wilson has not lost to the 49ers at home since he’s been the quarterback.
- They are playing at home. Regardless of whether or not the 49ers know what to expect from the 12th man, it’s still going to be a factor. Russell Wilson has only lost 1 time at home in his 2 years. This team is tough to beat up in the Pacific Northwest.
- Marshawn Lynch is a beast. It doesn’t matter how tough the opposing defense is, Lynch can switch it into “Beast Mode” and run through would-be-tacklers for big chunks of yards. After a few quarters of Lynch pounding the ball, even this stout 49ers defense is going to get tired.
- The Legion of Boom. This Seattle defensive front is probably the best in the NFL. They are going to hit you in the mouth all game. I expect to see Kaepernick running for his life for the majority of the game. When Kap does get the ball out of his hands, you have defensive back Richard Sherman and company waiting to intercept the ball. This Seattle defense lead the league in interceptions. Even though Colin Kaepernick has been here before, he is still a young quarterback. If Seattle forces a few early turnovers, it could shake Colin’s confidence.
This game is going to be a slugfest. The NFL Concussion Committee may have a heart attack. There will be plenty of trash-talking and activity after the whistle. This game is going to come down to which team is the toughest. Even though Seattle has home field advantage, I don’t see San Francisco getting intimidated. It’s going to be a defense battle and I predict that the 49ers win 20-13. These two young teams are the future of the NFL and I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be the last time these teams meet in the NFC Playoffs.
So there you have it. You have the old style of football in the AFC Championship game and the new wave of football in the NFC. Regardless of the winner, these two styles will clash in New Jersey in two weeks for the Lombardi Trophy. Sit back and enjoy the show everyone.