NFL conference games feature juicy matchups


Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.

Familiar foes. Rivalry showdowns.

Talk about a couple of juicy title-game tussles.

It's Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady — Round 15 — in the AFC championship game Sunday, while the San Francisco 49ers square off against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title bout.

Yep, here we go again. With a Super Bowl trip on the line.

"It's the Broncos versus the Patriots and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot," Manning said, "but when you get to the AFC championship, it's about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there."

Manning helped lead Denver past the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday, setting up another meeting with Brady and New England. The Broncos (14-3) opened as 6-point favorites for the game at Denver.

"That's two of the greats," Denver wide receiver Eric Decker said. "It's going to be talked about a lot throughout the week."

Manning and Brady have squared off 14 times throughout their careers, with the Patriots quarterback holding a 10-4 edge in the head-to-head matchup, including a 34-31 overtime victory in November.

Both the Broncos and Patriots have been winning with balanced offenses, relying not only on the strong arms of their record-breaking quarterbacks but also on their running games.

Manning was 25 of 36 for 230 yards and two TDs, but the Broncos controlled the clock on the ground. After gaining just 18 yards against San Diego last month, the Broncos ran for 133 yards, including 82 by Knowshon Moreno, whose 3-yard TD run put them ahead 24-7 with 8:12 left.

The Chargers rallied to get within a score late, but Manning completed a pair of key third-down passes in the final minutes to prevent San Diego from getting a final chance.

"They're a great team, they had a big win (Saturday) night," Manning said of the Patriots. "We're going to enjoy this one tonight, start to work on them tomorrow and I know it'll be a heck of a game."

At Foxborough, Mass., LeGarrette Blount carried the Patriots (13-4) to their third straight AFC title game with four touchdown runs against the Colts. Stevan Ridley added two rushing scores, giving New England six TDs — and none by Brady.

In the NFC, the 49ers and Seahawks are all set to play in the latest chapter in one of the NFL's budding — and bitter — rivalries.

The Seahawks (14-3) opened as 3-point favorites for the game at Seattle against 49ers (14-4), who defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 on Sunday.

On Saturday, Marshawn Lynch ran for a franchise playoff-record 140 yards and two touchdowns and Seattle's defense flustered Drew Brees and New Orleans in a 23-15 victory. The top-seeded Seahawks advanced to the NFC title game for the second time, and first since the 2005 playoffs.

"We haven't done anything yet," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "That's our goal."

San Francisco, which lost last year to Baltimore, is looking for a return trip to the Super Bowl.

"I think we're the two teams everyone was looking at from the beginning," 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "It's going to be a knockdown, drag-out game."

Count on it.

The previous few games between the NFC West rivals have been full of contempt, with shoving, pushing and arguing spicing things up. Even the coaches don't care for each other.

"We're healthy, we're a great team and we're willing to do whatever it takes to get that ring," 49ers running back Frank Gore said. "We're playing great ball."

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