NFL’s Final Four- We have reached the second biggest date on the NFL calendar, that would be Championship Sunday. The NFL’s version of “The Final Four” sets up very nicely with game between rivals who have met many times before with teams that though they may have respect for one another don’t have much love loss for one another. This Sunday in the AFC Championship it is once again Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning as the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. In the NFC Championship bitter arch rivals meet in Seattle as the San Francisco 49ers take on the Seattle Seahawks with the Super Bowl at stake. All four of the remaining teams are truly the four best teams in the NFL and have fought very hard to get to this point of the season. With Denver and New England, you have two franchises that are clearly the class of the AFC and are no strangers to post season play or post season pressure. With San Francisco and Seattle, you have the 49ers who have one of the richest legacies in the NFL against the Seahawks who are looking to make Sunday a show to the nation as to how dominant of a football program they have become. With championships on the line the rule of thumb for these types of games is that they are very tight contest throughout. In both games you have teams that are evenly matched which makes it difficult to pick one team over the other. The teams that are not picked, and the teams that don’t win Sunday for that matter are still very good teams and strong football programs. There is a case for each of the final four teams as to why they will win the Super Bowl in just over two weeks. However in the end there can only be one who does stand over the other three. Two of those three teams will see their seasons end this Sunday. In the post season the Kingshark Line has gone 7-1 and is looking to pick up two more wins of it’s own this Sunday. Here is a look at the AFC Championship...
AFC Championship: New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (CBS, 12Noon PT/1pm MT/3pm ET) ...
Story Line-This game will mark the 15th time overall that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced each other. Both quarterbacks are mortal locks for the Hall of Fame on their first ballot once their playing careers are over and are amongst the best team leaders in league history. Brady has won three Super Bowls having participated in five. Manning has made the big game twice in his career as a member of the Indianapolis Colts having won it all once. This game however is more that just the two quarterbacks involved.
Mile High Hopes- The Broncos feature one of the best offensive teams in the NFL as no team put more points on the scoreboard this season than did Denver with 606 total. It’s no surprise that the Broncos led the NFL in three major offensive categories this season. Manning has a wealth of players he can get the ball to starting with former Patriot Wes Welker. Throughout his entire career when with New England Welker was one of the best “go-to” options in the game, and has continued that in his first season with the Broncos. Demaryius Thomas is one of the top receivers in the game today having led Denver in receptions (92), yards gained (1,430), and touchdowns (14). Eric Decker has also given the Broncos another solid option for Manning with 87 receptions this season for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. Out of the backfield Knowshon Moreno can do it all as he rushed for over 1,000 yards while also catching 60 of Manning’s passes for over 500 more yards. Overall Moreno has scored 13 touchdowns, just one behind Thomas. Meanwhile Montee Ball has also been an effective option in both running and catching the football. Ball has picked up over 700 overall yards this season and has found the end zone four times. The Broncos feature a fairly solid offensive line which generally does a pretty good job protecting Manning giving him the time he needs to distribute the ball. Field goal and extra point duties are handled by Matt Prater while Britton Colquitt handles the punting duties.
On defense the Broncos tend to be a little more suspect as they rank 22nd in points allowed, 27th in passing yards allowed and 19th in rushing yards allowed. If you are going to stop a quarterback such as Brady, the Broncos on defense are going to have to be a lot better. However Denver’s defense was very impressive last week in shutting down a high powered offense in the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos to be successful must contain Brady in the same way they contained Phillip Rivers last weekend. If Brady is flushed from the pocket he can be vulnerable. With defensive leader Von Miller out Denver must be in “next man up” mode. Danny Trevathan has been the Broncos statistical leader with over 120 tackles. Former Charger Shaun Phillips has led the Broncos in quarterback sacks with 10 this season. Phillips, along with Trevathan, Malik Jackson, Robert Ayers, and Wesley Woodyard lead a hard charging defensive front line for the men in orange.
Patriot Games- The Patriots are all about games of this magnitude. They may not win them every single season however their resolve as a team and as a franchise is unmatched in the NFL over the last decade. Brady has gone from a 199th pick in the NFL draft to one of the best quarterbacks in the game bar none in his generation. He is a proven leader and has the respect of not only his teammates but also of his peers. Though the cast has changed over the years New England is still a bonafide powerhouse and likely will be at least as long as Brady is still standing. Offensively the Patriots like the Broncos rate in the top ten in most if not all major offensive categories. Former Oregon Duck LeGarrette Blount has been the Patriots hottest option out of the backfield as he is physically very difficult to bring down while at the same time having some serious speed. Stevan Ridley despite a bad mid season slump where just about everything that could have gone wrong for him did still finished the year as one of the top backs for the Patriots. Shane Vereen has also emerged as a two pronged threat as he can both run and catch the ball with high efficiency. The receiving corps for New England is fairly solid as Julian Edelman came out of almost nowhere to become one of the top players in the NFL. Edelman on the season caught 105 of Brady’s passes and gained over 1,000 yards while scoring six touchdowns. Former Ram Danny Amendola has also been a dependable option for Brady as has Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, as well as both Blount and Vereen out of the backfield. Just as is the case with the Broncos and Manning, the Patriots offensive line makes it a point to protect Brady. Stephen Gostkowski handles the field goal and extra point duties while Ryan Allen takes care of the punting duties.
On defense Donta Hightower, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, and Kyle Arrington are amongst the team leaders in tackles, quarterback sacks, hurries and tend to always be able to sniff out the football. In the Patriots secondary Logan Ryan is the team leader with five interception while Aqib Talib has four. What could be troubling here for the Patriots though is that statistically they are just below the middle of the pack in the NFL in several defensive categories (much like the Broncos are) and against a quarterback like Manning this could ultimately be problematical. The Patriots need to be creative in defense and effectively be able to limit Manning’s options down field especially with his propensity to sling the football around the yard.
Kingshark Line- This should be a very fun game to watch all things considered. Two very good offenses going against suspect defenses in a game for all of the marbles in the AFC. With Brady and Manning, this could easily come down to which quarterback has the ball last. Manning is more of a fast break leader where Brady tends to be more methodical. The Patriots are also the more adaptable team as they showed last week in their victory over the Colts as they can effectively run the ball. The Broncos can run too and as an edge have more tricks up their sleeve and know when and how to play them. When the two teams last met in Week 12 the Broncos in Foxboro let one get away and have a long memory of that game. The Broncos obviously want to erase that in this rematch. Just on the bases of more weapons at their disposal (not too many more), we’ve got to go with the home team here if only by the slightest of margins. This should be a good quality football game no matter the outcome. Broncos 31 Patriots 27.
For the NFC Championship between the 49ers and Seahawks, please click on this link: http://goldengatereport.com/articles/49ers-vs-seahawks-the-third-and-final-round
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