AFC Championship: New England 34, Denver 31
It doesn’t get much better than this. This is the game I’m most looking forward to this weekend, and I expect plenty of points to be put up on the board. I think it could be a case of the last team with the ball comes away with the win. I expect Peyton Manning to play well. He’s tired of hearing all the talk about not being clutch in the playoffs and how his legacy is in question. He will have the Broncos offense in high gear, and I don’t expect many mistakes from him. But I also think Tom Brady will play well, and the Patriots could shorten the game by relying on their newfound power running game. In the end, I expect the Patriots to come away with the upset by leaning on their running game and then getting a late scoring drive from Brady for the win. Manning and Brady are both nearing the end of their historic careers, so who knows how many of these matchups we have left. Sit back and enjoy this one, it should be a classic.
NFC Championship: San Francisco 20, Seattle 17
I like this game because it’s a matchup of two teams with very similar resumes. Both teams have great defenses and dynamic quarterbacks. They are both led by former Pac 12 coaches who have a rivalry that dates back many years. If the AFC championship is a matchup of two teams predicated on offense, this one is the opposite. I think it will be a low scoring affair, and the first team to 20 could come away with the victory. The Seahawks have the benefit of playing in front of their raucous home crowd, where they are nearly unbeatable. In their last two meetings with the 49ers in Seattle, the Seahawks have won both contests by a combined score of 71-16. But I think there is something to be said for a team that knows how to win, and the 49ers have already been down this road. They have been hungry to get back to the Super Bowl since last year’s loss to the Ravens, and I think Jim Harbaugh’s team will return to championship with a gritty 20-17 win over Seattle.
AFC Championship: Denver 38, New England 31
Is there a greater rivalry between two players in the NFL than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? Watching them duke it out once more will be a treat. As you can tell by my score prediction, I have a lot more confidence in each team’s offense than defense. Denver has scored at least 30 points in five of its last seven games (two games against San Diego are the exception). New England’s offense has done the same. The Patriots will try to limit Manning’s possessions by running the ball behind rejuvenated LeGarrette Blount and using long, methodical drives. The Broncos have more potential for the big play, however, and I think that makes the difference in an offensive slugfest.
NFC Championship: Seattle 24, San Francisco 23
I know the 49ers have been road warriors throughout the playoffs so far, but I just don’t see them going into Seattle and coming out with a win. The Seahawks beat the 49ers, 29-3, in Seattle in mid-September. Their defense is quick and athletic enough to contain San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. These teams are so similar, however, that I think it’s going to be a back-and-forth kind of game. They both have strong running backs, good defenses and elusive quarterbacks. It’s tough betting against Harbaugh and Anquan Boldin at this time of the year, but I think Seattle is just too good right now, especially at home.
AFC Championship: Denver 34 , New England 27
What Bill Belichick and Tom Brady accomplished with the 2013 New England Patriots deserves high praise. Advancing to the AFC championship after Brady lost his top five targets from last season is just ridiculous. That’s 3,984 yards and 29 touchdowns out the door. New England defied the odds all season with the help of an emerging rushing attack, but their run is about to come to an end. Brady vs. Peyton Manning is a matchup of two future Hall of Famers, but it’s also a wash. What breaks the tie is Manning’s targets: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker. Brady has … Julian Edelman … aaaaaand … like I said, the Pats’ time is up.
NFC Championship: San Francisco 20, Seattle 17
I’ve been mulling this one over for a while, going back and forth with my pick. This will be a low-scoring defensive slugfest in one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL, featuring head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. Their bad blood goes back to their USC-Stanford days. (What’s YOUR deal?) You have two young quarterbacks on the rise, two dominant defenses and two top-four running games. Seattle has the home-field advantage, but I ultimately have to give it to the 49ers because I know what Anquan Boldin can do in big games and I like their experience and success in the postseason.