And then there were four.
The biggest worry for the neutral as Conference Championship Sunday approaches is that it will somehow let fans down. Some out there are suggesting that this and not Super Bowl Sunday could be the best weekend of the NFL season.
One game will feature two living legends facing off in the postseason for what could be the final time. Later that day, two young quarterbacks who represent the future of the league will battle it out. A pair of tickets to football's biggest stage are on the line.
AFC Championship: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
The big news of the week regarding the match-up of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning is that Brady has apparently been under the weather. Brady was sick leading up to last weekend's game against the Indianapolis Colts, and he missed practice on Wednesday because of an illness.
Call me the eternal optimist, but I have all the confidence in the world that Brady will be healthy enough to give it a go with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
Outside of Manning and his meeting up with his old nemesis once more, it's been Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase who has been mentioned in headlines throughout the week. The first-year coordinator continues to be linked with the Cleveland Browns, but Gase, unlike former San Diego Chargers coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, is not looking to speak with other clubs until his business with Denver has been concluded.
New England was able to move the ball on the ground at will against Indy, going for over 230 rushing yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The Patriots shouldn't expect the same results this time around, as Denver possesses a top-ten run defense.
That said, it's supposed to be mostly sunny with zero chance of precipitation at kickoff. It's the perfect conditions for a shootout.
It's that reason why I like Manning and the Broncos. The numbers put up by the offense engineered by Gase and Manning this season were historic, and Manning made every big throw he had to make last weekend against the San Diego Chargers. I believe there is more than a little truth to the whispers that Manning could be eying the sunset of his career.
He's on the white horse, and he's ready to ride out a winner.
NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Nobody is beating the Seahawks in Seattle in January. Nobody is beating the Seahawks in Seattle in January. It's the mantra that was repeated over and over again in December, and the reason why groups of Seattle fans are contacting local NYC/NJ hotels to check for availability even before this coming Sunday rolls around.
Much is going to be made about Seattle's “12th Man” and the fact that the Seahawks have rolled San Fran at home in recent history. Don't look now, but the Niners have twice gone into unfriendly confines and notched wins in January. They silenced the Lambeau Field crowd and did so in below-freezing conditions. San Francisco then went into the Carolina and humbled the Panthers.
There's also the fact that the 49ers could be the best overall team left in the playoffs.
Both defenses in this contest attack the ball and both hit hard. Both offenses can move the ball on the ground and control the tempo of a game. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is playing better than is Seattle QB Russell Wilson, and I was also put off by how the Seahawks let the New Orleans Saints back in the game last week. A champion doesn't do that, especially not at home.
San Francisco earns another chance to win it all.