Let's make a few predictions:
New England at Denver (-5): This is Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady XV for the right to go to Super Bowl XLVIII. Manning is an all-time great but he needs to win this one because at age 37 there are no guarantees he'll get back to this spot. This may be his last great chance to advance to the ultimate contest.
Two keys to the game will be if the Patriots can put enough pressure on Manning to disrupt him and can New England continue to pound the ball with their rushing game as effectively as they have recently? If Manning gets time to throw, he will carve up the Pats with passes to Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas. LeGarrette Blount has been a wonder for the Patriots lately, rushing for four touchdowns last week against the Colts. Brady also seems to make the big play at the right time. Another Brady-Manning classic is in the offing. Patriots 27, Broncos 24.
San Francisco at Seattle (-3 1/2): These two NFC West rivals do not like each other and know each other so well. They split their two games this season, both winning at home. The 49ers are playing in their third straight conference championship game. CenturyLink Field should be as loud as ever. How the Niners handle the incredible noise will be a key factor. It's the loudest stadium in the NFL.
These squads are very even – they both have excellent defenses and fine rushing attacks. The 49ers are peaking at the right time, having won eight straight, and have a few more weapons than the Seahawks. WR Michael Crabtree is back and playing well and Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are real threats. Seattle's Russell Wilson has slumped recently and running back Marshawn Lynch has to carry most of the load by himself. That's just too much pressure for the home team to handle. 49ers 17, Seahawks 16.
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