NFL Conference Championships: Preview And Predictions


Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

We have reached the much anticipated final four of the NFL Playoffs.  It is not surprising to find that this Sunday’s match-ups involve two huge rivalries.  First, we will see two of the greatest quarterbacks in history square off as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots travel to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the potent Broncos offense.  Then, two of the league’s most tenacious defenses and two of the NFL’s most exciting up and coming QB’s Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick will meet for the third time this season.  In the AFC Championship, it is a battle of the (relatively) old, and in the NFC, it could be a game of what to expect from the QB position in the future.  Here is my breakdown for both conference championship games.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos, 3:00 PM ET, CBS:

Peyton Manning will be on a mission for two reasons.  First, he will try to prove the critics wrong and do what he has rarely done and beat Tom Brady in the postseason.  Secondly, he will prove that he is indeed a “cold weather quarterback.”  Tom Brady will look to continue what has been an incredibly impressive journey thus far into the playoffs despite losing so many weapons due to injuries.  I think Tom Brady’s best move is to get the ball into his explosive running backs’ hands, especiallyRB Legarrette Blount.  Blount is coming off a franchise best 4 TD performance against the Indianapolis Colts.  The Pats must feed this guy the ball in order to open up the passing lanes for Brady.  As for the Broncos, I expect them to attack a weak Patriots secondary.  Aqib Talib will most likely be tasked with covering WR Demaryius Thomas.  That should not restrict Manning, who has more offensive weapons than most teams have had this decade.  I see Manning throwing the ball upwards of 30 times for over 300 yards and 3 TD’s.  It will be a game of time management, field position, and possession.

Prediction: Peyton Manning has never had so much to prove in one game.  What makes both of these QB’s elite and fun to watch is there ability to play their best when the pressure is on.  I think Manning and this star-studded Broncos offense (at home) has the edge.  Broncos win in a close contest, 30-27.

Match-up to watch: New England’s CB Aqib Talib vs. Denver’s WR Demaryius Thomas.  Two of the games best at their respective positions.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks, 6:30 PM ET, FOX:

Could their be two more opposite match-ups in football?  While the AFC Championship features two veteran QB’s and two highly potent offenses, the NFC Championship will surely be a defensive battle featuring two young and exciting new QB’s in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.  Whichever team’s running game is most successful will win this game.  Running the ball successfully will take the pressure off of these young QB’s and will give the defense time to rest.  I think the key statistic in this game will be time of possession.  Whichever team can stop the other team and then produce a long, time-consuming drive will end up on top.

Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction: San Francisco was in this same position last year.  I think their offense is slightly more explosive and has more play makers than Seattle’s.  I think that small advantage will end up being the difference maker, and I think the 49ers’ defense will shutdown Marshawn Lynch.  San Fran wins on the road (despite the 12th man) 21-16.

Match-up to watch: San Fran’s LB Patrick Willis vs. Seattle’s RB Marshawn Lynch.  Willis is one of the league’s best tackler, and Lynch can’t seem to be tackled.  I think Willis is essential to stopping Lynch, the heart and soul of Seattle’s offense.

We have reached the closing stages of yet another NFL season.  It is weird to think about how teams like our Miami Dolphins are already completely focused on next season, while teams like the Broncos and Patriots are preparing for the most important game of their seasons.  It is both refreshing and frustrating to see teams still playing this late in the year.  I will be watching these games closely to see what it takes and what matters most to win the big games.