And so it comes down to this, 3 (proper) games left guys!!!
Luckily though, whatever happens today, we have been left with the 4 best teams in the NFL and therefore in theory, the remaining 3 games to determine this years champs should be very special indeed. What's more, these two games today should be really thrilling purely because they couldn't be more different; today we will see more or less all the aspects of what makes this tremendous sport of ours so great. Let's do this (both Sky Sports).
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos, Sunday, 8:00 p.m, CBS
So first, we have the offensive power struggle between Brady & Manning. Two seasoned rivals entering their 15th chapter, the two indisputably most distinguished Quarterbacks of the decade. This may well be the final chapter too, as Manning has hinted at a possible retirement soon, and though they meet again it's feasible this will be the last time a match between them has meant so much.
Back in Week 12, these two met in a thrilling match-of-the-season contender, and tonight promises to be much of the same. Brady was the victor that time, and he (and Bellichek) reached their 10th victory out of 14 over Manning. What has been truly impressive about these Patriots has been their ability to adapt. In a year that saw their offensive weapons get injured, go to Denver or go to Jail, they have refused to be beaten into submission by these limitations, and their current run-heavy offence has made them into a viable championship potential team.
Denver however win heavy when they're supposed to (like against San Diego last week) but struggle when faced with a real challenge. Yes, Peyton Manning has thrown his way to the greatest Quarterback season ever this year, but they still have issues, and loving Von Miller this year could make the difference to a parting title for Peyton or not.
Really with all the options available, this match should be nothing short of an offensive masterclass, and it's up to each team's Defences to make a stand. If either can maintain the other, we will find our winner. LaGarrette Blount's current form is unheralded, and could be the deciding factor in this match, as a Von Miller-less Denver D has struggled against the run. It should be a really thrilling match, but I can just see this going Brady & Bellichek's way once again, stealing a (possible OT) win by 3.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 11:30 p.m, FOX
And once we're done feasting on as many offensive yards as it's possible to maintain, for dessert, we get the complete opposite, a defensive slug-fest. We get two more fierce rivals, this time more for clubs than individuals (well other than the Coaches of course), in a West Coast battle. Remember, every time it's been Wilson vs Kaepernick, the home team has won. And in Seattle's case, healthily.
Though it seems a stretch to think this will be another blow out, San Francisco are a much more complete and in-form team than the one that was so thoroughly beaten in Seattle the last two attempts, one cannot ignore just how badly they perform while in the Emerald City. We all know Seattle fans are LOUD, but they seem to turn it up and extra few notches when their heated rivals from down the coast come to visit.
The big problem for Seattle in recent weeks has been their Quarterback. Russell Wilson is a great, great player, but he is in a bit of a slump at the worst possible time at the moment, and one only needs to look at the time between last week's steady-as-she-goes victory over the Saints compared to their absolute dismantling of them back in Week 13. Seattle have so far survived this, largely by having the best D in the league, but they cannot rely on them solely tonight against the 3rd best D (and climbing, now Carolina are gone) in the league. It is essential Wilson works out his kinks tonight, or a rare home loss could befall him.
The Niners however are on an 8 win streak, largely thanks to the return of Michael Crabtree, and are easily the league's hottest team after overcoming tough visits to Carolina and Green Bay respectively. This will be their 3rd NFC Championship game in as many years, so they have a lot of experience in this position, albeit previously they were played in Candlestick, not kryptonite inducing Seattle. So it will be fascinating to see if the Niners can overcome their perennial bogeymen, having impressively closed them out at home earlier this year. They will not find it easy however as this fun stat shows: Seattle's defense is just the fourth in NFL history to rank No. 1 in both interceptions and pass yards allowed. The other three wound up in the Super Bowl.
Overall this should be an equally thrilling game as the first, but for much different reasons. This will come down to turnovers ultimately, which both teams will try and reduce by running the ball a helluva lot. It should be an incredibly close and inciting game, but I can't help but go back to that home team stat, this IS Seattle's year (by 3).
Dunno about you guys but I am VERY excited for tonight. LEGION OF BOOOOOOOM!