It's yet another Football Friday, but this time it's championship week in the NFL. Two games. The winners go to the Super Bowl. What an exciting week and what a Sunday it will be. Time to get to some previews and predictions so let's get right to "the stack" for today, Friday, January 17:
AFC Championship Game
New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos 3:00 PM ET CBS
Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning. I feel like we've seen this one before. We have of course. Multiple times. We saw it earlier this season when the Patriots came back from 24 points down at halftime to beat the Broncos 34-31. That was in Gillette Stadium however. This time, the game takes place at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Brady has had more playoff wins versus Manning in the playoffs. Manning won the last won however in the 2006 AFC championship game. That was the year Manning and the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl. Last week, the Patriots ran all over the Colts led by LaGarrette Blunt who had 166 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He was sensational, as was the entire Patriots team. You would think that they would have a pretty decent matchup against the Broncos defense. However, the Broncos heard this all last week. Oh the San Diego Chargers will run all over you and control the clock plus their defense will slow down Manning. The Broncos defense was certainly up to the challenge, having none of it against Ryan Matthews who was banged up with a bum ankle and Danny Woodhead. They put pressure on Philip Rivers, but had to hold off a late and furious Chargers rally.
There is certainly a lot of pressure on Manning while virtually no pressure on Brady. The Patriots, given all they lost in the offseason and during the season with injuries and their overall roster talent are just an amazing story to even be here. It is a testament to head coach Bill Belichick and to Brady for leading this squad to yet another AFC East title and here to the AFC championship game. They will certainly have their hands full though against this loaded Broncos squad though. Think of all the weapons the Broncos have the Patriots have to defend against: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno. Just because they did it once up in Foxboro doesn't mean they can do it again, this time on the road. That is a tall order. With Manning's career drawing near to an end, perhaps after this season depending on how the offseason neck exam goes, Denver knows how important it is to get the job done. We absolutely need to remember what a great rivalry Manning-Brady is and how this could be one of the last times we ever see it. In what should be a classic, I'm going with the pick I had at the beginning of the year, as far back as February right after the Super Bowl concluded. I said that this team would be in it next year.
Prediction: Broncos 30 Patriots 27
NFC championship game
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks 6:30 PM ET FOX
The rubber match. This game has slightly more at stake in what has quickly become one of if not thee best rivalry in the NFL today. The 49ers and Seahawks split the regular season series between them, each holding serve at home. The Seahawks haven't just beaten the 49ers at home the last two time though. They've destroyed them, outscoring the 49ers 71-16. Both teams have great defenses so don't expect a lot of points in this one. Seattle's "Legion of Boom" will be bringing it for sure on Sunday. San Francisco may be getting cornerback Carlos Rogers back to help bolster a unit that is already playing at a very high standard.
The 49ers are on a roll. They've won eight straight games, their last loss on the road at New Orleans in week 11. Since then, they've gone back to their roots with a strong rushing attack and playing tremendous defense. Colin Kaepernick has played much better in that stretch as well. The 49ers have won both playoff games on the road this year and this will be their third consecutive year in the NFC championship game. This is not unchartered territory to them.
As for Seattle, their offense the last month dating back to the end of the regular season concerns me. They just haven't been playing up to the level they were earlier in the year. Granted they've played against some pretty good defenses (Arizona, St. Louis, San Francsico (all coincidentally NFC West teams)), but when you only throw for 103 yards in an entire game against the New Orleans Saints, that concerns me. I know the conditions were tough, but Russell Wilson and company have struggled a bit. You can't just ride Marshawn Lynch to victory. The 49ers will do a pretty good job of bottling him up. And Percy Harvin hasn't done squat since he came to Seattle in that March trade with Minnesota. Last week he suffers a concussion. Might not play this week. That could be the difference maker in the game, whether or not he plays. With him, the Seahawks have another dynamic playmaker in their offense. Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate? They don't concern me if they are your primary guys, at least not if I'm a 49ers fan and my defense is playing the way it is. At the beginning of the season and like with the Broncos pick dating back to February, I had Seattle in the Super Bowl. It is foolish to go against them, especially when they are playing at home in the loudest stadium in the NFL. I may end up regretting this.
Prediction: 49ers 16 Seahawks 13
We are in for a treat with these championship games. Enjoy a great Sunday of football everyone.
Coming up Monday: Reaction to AFC and NFC championship games