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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Only Two For The Show

The NFL has filed down its Lombardi Trophy suitors to four teams. Three teams are parts of an elite NFL fraternity of multiple Super Bowl winners. Two of the quarterbacks facing each other already have their tickets punched to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The other two quarterbacks squaring off are (functionally) sophomores on the fast track to NFL stardom. The football gods have delivered a gem to us as football fans.

2013 AFC Championship Game
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

How They Match Up

Offense: This is a "push" at the quarterback position. Peyton Manning Manning is having a career year. Tom Brady (4,343 yds, 25 TD, 11 INT 61% comp.) made something out of nothing for much of the year without three of his favorite targets from 2012: wide receiver Wes Welker (73 rec., 778 yds., 10 TD, free agency), tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee injury) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (jail). Brady is finally getting a little help from his mates in the backfield. Running back Shane Vereen appears to be 100% healthy after being injured in the opening week of the season. He will be valuable to Brady in third down situations out of the backfield. And the Pats have gotten some help from a nearly forgotten battering ram in running back Legarrette Blount (166 yds, 4 TD 6.9 avg. vs Colts last week).

The Broncos, on the other hand, appear to be in complete control every time their offense takes the field. This should come as no surprise with Peyton Manning (5,477, 55 TD, 10 INT, 68.3%) under center. Making the Broncos nearly "unstoppable" (as opposed to "excellent") is the presence of running back Knowshon Moreno (1,038 yds., 10 TD, 4.3 avg.). He is the component that allows a Broncos offense that can score at any time also control the tempo of the game if need be. The Patriots could have 12 men on the field on defense and it may not be enough to bottle up the Denver offense.

Advantage: Broncos

Brady has succeeded in spite of offseason setbacks, like the loss of Aaron Hernandez. 1
Defense: Neither team is a world beater on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots have a real problem on their hands however, as teams have run on them at will this year. The Broncos have a credible run defense, but it was dealt a blow a few weeks ago with the loss of star linebacker Von Miller (34 tak., 5 sacks, 3 FF) for the season with a knee injury. Their secondary was dealt a devastating blow when cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. (65 tak., 5 TFL, 3 INT, 13 PD) tore his ACL, ending his season. The Patriots aren't dealing with the major setbacks to which the Broncos are just now adjusting, giving them the slimmest edge on defense.

Advantage: Patriots

It's been a tough year for Von Miller. 3
X-factor:  Quarterback play.... Tom Brady has owned Peyton Manning, head-to-head, throughout their careers, especially in the playoffs. The ray of hope for Broncos fans: Brady has not played in a post season game outside of the friendly confines of Foxboro, Massachusetts in seven years. That game? The 2006 AFC Championship Game. The winner? Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts. Still, the Patriots look like a well oiled machine that just keeps on running with interchangeable parts. The Broncos have, at times, had trouble recovering after taking a punch this year.

Advantage: Patriots

Game advantage: Patriots

Brady has a moat around his house and he's planning on feeding horse meat to his alligators. 2

2013 NFC Championship Game
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

I'm sure you are as tired as I am about hearing that there will be no love lost between these two teams. We get it. They're division rivals. They're physical. They stand in the way of one another. I won't beat that dead horse.

How They Match Up

Offense: Power, power, and more power. This game has been hyped up as Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3,357 yds., 26 TD, 10 INT, 64% comp., 101.2 QB rat, 539 rush yds.) vs 49ers signal caller Colin Kaepernick (3,197 yds., 21 TD, 8 INT, 58% comp., 524 rush yds.). The real deciders in this game will be the running backs. Out of Seahawks running back Marshawn "The Beast" Lynch (1,257 yds., 12 TD, 4.2 avg.) and 49ers veteran running back Frank Gore (1,128, 9 TD, 4.1 avg.), the player who does a better job of helping his team control the ball will give his team the better chance to win this game. The Beast has been in beast mode all year long, especially in big games (140 yds., 2 TD, 5.0 avg. vs Saints last week).

However, Coach Jim Harbaugh appears to have cut the safety cord off of Colin Kaepernick (113 postseason rushing yards) in the playoffs and let him run the option and run if he sees fit. Russell Wilson (103 pass. yds., 16 rush yds. last week) has been contained in his downfield passing attack and did not run wild in the Divisional Playoff Game against the New Orleans Saints. This tips the scales toward the 49ers.

Advantage: 49ers

Notice how Gore is still on his feet with two men wrapped around him. 4
Defense: Both of these defenses are incredibly talented. The 49ers have the best linebacking corps in the NFL in Aldon Smith (8.5 sacks, 4 TFL), Ahmad Brooks (8.5 sacks, 6 TFL), Navarro Bowman (145 tak., 5 sacks, 2 INT) and Patrick Willis (104 tak., 3 sacks, 7 TFL). The Seahawks have arguably the best cornerback in the league in Richard Sherman (8 INT, 1 TD, 16 PD) and their enforcer, free safety Earl Thomas (105 tak., 5 INT, 8 PD, 2 FF).

These teams are solid from top-to-bottom on defense, including their depth. However, linebacker play can dictate the flow of the game and the 49ers' foursome has been doing it all season long. I think San Francisco has the slightest edge on the defensive side of the ball.

Advantage: 49ers

Richard Sherman dancing with one of the Sea Gals after an interception against the 49ers on Sunday Night Football. The Niners do not want to see...this...again.
X-Factor: The 12th Man.... Several 49ers players said they were tired of hearing about The 12th Man - the Seattle Seahawks crowd of 67,000 at CenturyLink Field, capable of producing world record noise. If they're tired of hearing about the 12th man, they are going really tired of hearing the 12th man. They have forced more mistakes by visiting offenses than any other crowd in the NFL. Their ability to fire up their team is elite among NFL fan bases (if a fan base can be "elite"). The 49ers had better be prepared for the Seattle faithful or they will find themselves hitting a lot of speed bumps tomorrow.

Advantage: Seahawks

The 12th man is real. The 49ers would be fooling themselves to ignore it. 3
Game advantage: 49ers

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