By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) And then there were four.
There’s no doubt that the remaining teams are the four best in the NFL. There’s also a stark contrast among the AFC and NFC finalists, in terms of play style and roster composition. In the AFC, two future first-ballot hall-of-fame quarterbacks lead offensive juggernauts. In the NFC, two uniquely-skilled, progressive quarterbacks orchestrate run-oriented offenses for teams that play stifling defense.
Here’s my take on how Championship Sunday will play out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
Patriots 34, BRONCOS 31 – 2 PM
For the 15th times in their storied careers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off. Obviously, it takes a team effort to win a game and reach the Super Bowl, but if Brady wins, he will lead the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2001. If Manning wins, he will become just the third quarterback in NFL history to reach a Super Bowl with two different teams.
The Patriots standard of excellence is based on their willingness and ability to reinvent themselves on a weekly basis. Last week, they bullied the Colts defensive front with inside and outside-zone plays, racking up 234 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in a 43-22 victory. The Broncos, on the other hand, suffered a bit of a scare last week against the Chargers, conjuring memories of their fourth-quarter collapse against the Ravens a season ago. Alas, they were able to endure a late-game rally and salt the game away.
Look for the Patriots to deploy a run-heavy game plan to control the clock and mix in their controlled hi-lo and mesh passing concepts this weekend against a beat-up Broncos secondary. The dynamic duo of Brady and Bill Belichick will notch their league-record 19th combined playoff win and hoist the Lamar Hunt trophy.
49ers 23, SEAHAWKS 20 – 5:30 PM
The NFL’s best rivalry will determine who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks and 49ers split the season series, with the home team holding serve in both contests. In Week 2, the Seahawks dominated the 49ers, holding them to 207 total yards in a 29-3 victory. The 49ers are a much different team since that meeting, as demonstrated by their 13-3 record since, with eight straight wins.
Both organizations struck gold in the draft at quarterback, unearthing unique talents that present run-pass options to keep a defense in conflict. Speaking of defense, getting premium production out of cheap quarterback labor has enabled both teams to keep and add even more physical and dominant talent. Both teams will impose their will on each other with the run, but the Seahawks limited weapons in the passing game will be their undoing. The raucous CenturyLink faithful will be silenced as they watch the 49ers hoist the George Halas trophy.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin
Season Record: 173-90-1