Even without the New Orleans Saints, the 2014 NFL Playoffs march on. The NFL's final four take the stage to determine who moves on to Super Bowl XLVIII. The AFC title matchup features the league's two biggest household names at quarterback, along with two highly underrated rushing attacks. The NFC title matchup features two of the league's most heralded young quarterbacks, along with two of the best running games and defenses in the NFL. This should make for a pair of entertaining games this Sunday.
Last week I went 3-1, Playoff record 6-2
I told you so: 49ers over Panthers!
What do I know: Saints over Seahawks?
#2 New England Patriots at #1 Denver Broncos
Sunday, January 19th, 2:00pm CT, CBS
Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, for the third (and possibly last) time for the AFC Championship. Both QB's have won one and lost one in the previous two AFC title games against each other. This QB matchup has been the narrative of the game, but it should be Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno and Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount that command more attention in. When the QB's are this even, it stands to reason that the running game that is most dominant will lead their team to victory. Although Brady/Manning gets far too much attention, they usually put on a great show and I don't expect this one to be much different.
This was just about the most difficult game for me to pick this season, but ultimately I believe homefield advantage will be pivotal for Denver in this game. This moment is exactly what John Elway and Pat Bowlen brought Peyton to Denver for, and they've surrounded him with a deep and talented roster. This game should be phenomenal and Denver will pull out a late victory for the AFC title.
Final Score: 31-27
#5 San Francisco 49ers at #1 Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, January 19th, 5:30pm CT, FOX
In 7 of the past 6 postseasons, one conference championship game has been a one score game while the other has been a skull-dragging. I've already picked the close one, I guess you know what that makes this game. The Niners are the hottest team in the league, with the NFL's most feared defense and "the future of the quarterback position" under center. Even with all of that, you can't convince me that this supposedly great team is going to walk into CenturyLink Field and win this game.
The Seahawks may want this game, but the city of Seattle is desperate for it. That crowd will be a serious factor that the Niners will have to contend with, and over the last two seasons they haven't done that very well, losing by a combined 71-16 in the last two games in Seattle. San Francisco has tons of excuses, but no answers for their losses to Seattle away from Candlestick Park. This will be a tough and physical game but Seattle will make the big plays on both sides of the ball necessary to win the NFC title, and they will be carried by the emotion and energy of an electric home crowd.
At some point in this game, this thing is going to get away from San Francisco and the Seattle pressure will carry the Seahawks home. With the Super Bowl on the line, I'll take the focused and stoic QB over the self-indulgent one who's been a liability for long stretches this season. Marshawn Lynch will be the key and I expect him to be the difference maker. Seattle wins the NFC title going away.
Final Score: 34-13
Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen, your potential conference champions. Before this season started, I made a number of predictions for SBNation.com on behalf of Canal Street Chronicles. For their Super Bowl XLVIII prediction, I chose Broncos vs Seahawks. With both teams this close, I see no reason to change that now. The Saints may be done for the season, but football goes on and there's still plenty to root against with this lot. Here's to an entertaining conference championship weekend!