And then there were four. Out of the 32 teams who started the season with the goal of winning Super Bowl XLVIII, four are still in contention for a trip to North Jersey on Feb. 2. All of these teams are real contenders and I think it is safe to say this year the four best are the teams left standing on championship weekend. Not only that, but both matchups feature fierce rivalries. The AFC has Denver hosting New England a matchup which features longtime rival quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The two greatest quarterbacks of their generation will square off for the 15th time, with Brady having an overall edge of 10-4. While Manning and Brady have a rivalry with mutual respect in the AFC, there will be no love lost in the NFC as hated rivals Seattle and San Francisco face off. These teams know each other well and there has been little to separate them as the season series was split. Each of these teams has reasons to believe they will punch their ticket to North Jersey, which should make for an intriguing and exciting Sunday.
Why Denver will win:
The Broncos boast the greatest offense in the history of the NFL. They have rewritten the offensive record book with Manning at the helm. They are never out of any game and most opponents haven’t been able to keep up with Denver. While the offense gets all the headlines, the defense is underrated and played its best game last week against San Diego. The Broncos are healthier than last time they played the Patriots and New England is missing star tight end Rob Gronkowski. Denver is of course playing at home and in the three previous Manning-Brady playoff meetings, the home team has won all three.
Why New England will win:
The Patriots are making their third straight appearance in the AFC Championship game, meaning they are an experienced group and won’t be fazed by the pressure or bright lights. With Brady as the quarterback and Bill Belichick as the head coach the Patriots have won 17 playoff games and have been dominate in the postseason for over a decade, and there is no reason to count them out of winning number 18. New England has a defense that can frustrate Manning as they did when they dominated the Broncos in the second half of their regular season meeting and won in overtime.
Why San Francisco will win:
The last three Super Bowl champions were wild card teams and San Francisco is the only wild card team left. This is not a coincidence as recently the formula for winning a Super Bowl is to get hot in the playoffs and ride it all the way to a title. The Niners fit the bill perfectly as they are on a roll and are the hottest team right now. They are not intimidated at all by their rival Seattle and they have a clutch young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. Like the Patriots, San Francisco is making their third straight trip to the championship game. The value of that playoff experience cannot be understated in a game of this magnitude.
Why Seattle will win:
If defense is truly what wins championships, then the Seahawks should be feeling good right now. Seattle has a punishing defense and plays extremely well at home. The crowd in Seattle is relentless and the noise can easily throw off an opponent’s rhythm. When San Francisco came to Seattle earlier in the year the Seahawks blew out the Niners as they fed off the emotion from the crowd. Russell Wilson is young and dynamic at quarterback like his counterpart Kaepernick, and the Seahawks have running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch who uses a physical running style to run over opponents.