There’s a sharp contrast between the AFC and NFC Championship games, with the former featuring the league’s hallmark quarterbacks and the latter featuring the game’s up-and-coming stars.
It’s hard not to notice when considering the juxtaposition that will arise in the Super Bowl, whoever the contestants are. It’s also hard to ignore that given the talent of each team, and the rivalries between each opponent, Sunday’s conference championships are much harder to pick than usual. One could, with a simple coin flip, make an argument for either and have some pretty good numbers to back them up.
But when you look at the line, there’s a clear divide between the AFC Championship and the NFC Championship. And that helps guide my conference championship picks.
49ers (-3) at the Seahawks (+3) — The Seattle Seahawks have won four of their last five games against the San Francisco 49ers at home, including this season’s matchup. In those five games, they’ve outscored the 49ers 139-58. Seattle is 16-1 at home in the past two seasons. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick not only has troubles at Seattle’s noisy CenturyLink Field, but every time he’s faced Seattle’s sterling No. 1 defense. He’s 2-2 against the Seahawks, completing 50.54 percent of his passes while throwing two touchdowns and five interceptions. Every time he sees these guys, he just doesn’t do well. The 49ers need him to play at his best, which I just don’t think is possible given the opponent and the location.
My pick: Seahawks
Patriots (+4) at the Broncos (-4) —After the Patriots stormed back to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime in Week 12, helped in part by conservative play-calling in 22-degree weather and Rob Gronkowski (7 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown), they’re facing a different climate and mindset in Denver going into Sunday’s game. Peyton Manning, who is 4-10 against Tom Brady, aggressively attacked the San Diego Chargers last week, throwing the ball down the stretch despite having the lead. That’s a huge change from what the Patriots previously saw and could affect the dynamics of the game should the Broncos procure another lead. But Denver has been notorious for allowing opponents an opportunity to steal the game away, much like they did for the Chargers, who had the Broncos stuck at 3rd and 17. The Patriots can certainly steal a win against the AFC’s No. 1 seed if Brady and the passing game gets going against a diminished Broncos secondary. The injury to Denver cornerback Chris Harris certainly opens things up. I expect it to go down to the final possession. Maybe even a field goal.
My pick: Patriots