Conference Championship PredictionsGG: I’m going to let KJ take the reigns of the introduction to our predictions column. He’s fired up. I’ll add my comments to his work and you’ll be able to see it in italics.

Before I begin let me just say three things:

1. Darn you Patriots for consistently crushing my dreams in odd ways. This time by rushing the ball 46 times for 234 yards and six touchdowns. I loathe you AND that darn Ramsey!

2. What is it with people feeling they need to immediately update their Facebook status with a comment about what we all just watched? For example, five hours after Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch nearly put the New Orleans Saints out of their offensive misery (I say nearly because they were still a boneheaded Marques Colston play from possibly taking this game down to a game-ending two-point conversion) I scroll down my News Feed to find numerous one word updates about Lynch’s touchdown run (I can only imagine how many others posted, psst … I hid a few of my “friends” after the Seahawks first win of the season and their posts of “#GoHawks! Super Bowl Bound Baby!” drove me crazy).

How many Hawks fans can name the three teams they lost to this year? I’ll wait while they Bing it!

GG: Bandwagon Seahawks fans are the worst, but we’ll get to that later.

So I ask … are you all just sitting there with your thumbs on your phones, waiting for the next big thing to happen, hoping your Facebook Status of “Boom!” is going to end up on Deadspin? Maybe you feel like you’re breaking news? Do you feel like you may have a problem because you can’t sit and relax without sharing with your “friends” what they probably just witnessed also? I don’t understand. I guess that’s the elder in me, after all it was just two years ago that I was doing the same thing. We all grow out of it … hopefully.

GG: Not me. I run a 49ers Facebook Page. It’s my job to keep that page updated. Shoutout to RF!

Phew … I feel better now.

3. Earlier this week GG sent me condolences for the Colts loss. It hurt. But on Sunday I woke up feeling better. This is a Colts team that exceeded expectations. Was I worried about Luck and his postseason turnovers? Not that much. Out of the eight teams that remained, he had the least amount to work with (OK … other than Tom Brady, who continues to win with little. Even this non-Patriot fan is becoming amazed at the “Patriot Way”. How do they do it?). Give him Lynch or Gore and it’s a different story. Give him the Niners or Hawks defense (though I do love me some Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea) and he’s not pressing his passes. Give him the receiving core of the Broncos and his turnovers are cut in half. When you’re down you have to force stuff. They were down a lot in the postseason, and he forced a lot.

GG: Agree with KJ. Though, Luck has more Brett Favre in him than I thought. Is that a good or a bad thing?

I’m a Peyton Manning fan, so my Team 1B (the Broncos) is still alive. Even if I only had one rooting interest in a team (Team 1A being the Colts) and that team were eliminated, I’m still excited about this weekend’s games.

You have unquestionably the top four teams playing this year. You have two elder, benchmark quarterbacks who have played each other 15 times in their lifetime, playing for another shot at a Super Bowl. On the other side you have the two teams that were everyone’s preseason favorites for the Super Bowl – the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. You have two young QBs, with veteran, tough running backs and defenses that hit hard all the time. If you’re a football fan you’re pumped for this weekend, even if you live in New Orleans, Indianapolis, San Diego or Carolina.

GG: Maybe not New Orleans. I think they’re a bit disappointed in how badly their team played down the stretch in a winnable game against Seattle.

Brady-Manning: XV – No. 2 New England Patriots (13-4) at No. 1 Denver Broncos (14-3)

KJ’s take:
I have written consistently about the constant destruction of dreams that the Patriots continue to hand to me. Last week I talked about the distaste they leave in my mouth. And after Brady-Manning XIV, I broke the news to Sports that it was time we took a break (and it lasted a whole week). I was actually going to plead with GG about taking the lead on the AFC breakdown, just because I’m tired of writing predictions about the Patriots crushing the hopes of the ones I love (the Colts and Manning and fans of Gisele). So …

My reasons the Patriots are going to win (Yes, you read me right … the Patriots are going to win.):

A) We’ve heard about the “Genius” that is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. I’ve thought it was dumb for so long, until they continued to win this year with nothing … NOTHING! Last week they destroyed the Colts with LeGarrette Blount, a 250-pound castoff from the Tampa Bay Bucs, who also returns kicks. Who wants a 250-pound running back returning kicks?! The Patriots! Brady didn’t even get his arm warmed up!

B) I heart Peyton Manning and have not been bashful in saying he’s easily my Man Crush, but there is something about the pressure-filled games that doesn’t do him and his own genius well (yes, I’m mentioning his 10-11 postseason record). The Broncos lost three games this year. Their first loss came at the hands of Manning’s ex-team in an emotinal game in Indianapolis. The second to these New England Patriots, and after the Patriots mounted an improbable comeback. Games that were pressure-filled. The other loss was to the Chargers, who ran and ran and ran the ball up the Broncos butt. Think New England might do the same?

C) I’m a loser. But not in the sense that I always lose, but in a sense that I’m good enough to do well, until I get close to winning and then … not so much. And that’s all throughout life. The only thing I’ve won in is my decision to marry my wife. But we’re just in Year 10 of our life together, which could be the first quarter, so plenty of time for me to screw that up.

GG’s take:
Tom Brady is 5-2 in AFC Championship games. Peyton Manning is 2-1. Playing against each other in the AFC title game, they have split the two games. It’s really the dream scenario for the NFL, save for one of them being in the NFC and the two greats being able to meet up in the Super Bowl.

Based on all the things I know to be true about football in 2014, the Patriots should win this game. Even though we are in an era of offensive gaudiness, the game has shifted back to who can win in the trenches. Some will say it’s always been that way. But it’s the reason the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last year and the New York Giants the year before.

And which team of the two best resembles that? It’s the Patriots. More so because of necessity than choice it seems, the Patriots have become a power-running team led by a beefy offensive line. The same Tom Brady who in 2007 threw for 4800 yards and 50 touchdowns can still throw the ball with the best of them, but these days, is more apt to hand the ball off to Blount, as KJ said earlier.

Something tells me Belichick comes throwing like crazy out of the gate and then uses his power running game in the second half. But the fact that they are willing to grind it out says a lot about their mind set as a team. Maybe they can’t air it out with the best of them anymore and you can’t really blame them based on their recent losses to injury, free agency, (and murder).

The question that needs to be answered is if Denver can match them up front. Without Von Miller, who wasn’t really Von Miller this season anyway, they don’t seem to have that player defensively who is going to change the game or take it over. They remind me of the 90s San Francisco 49ers teams who lost to the Dallas Cowboys before they revamped their defense specifically to defend the Cowboys. While Peyton Manning had maybe the single greatest season in the history of quarterbacking, I think he gets outgunned again.

The one thing to note that I think was interesting is that Brady was sacked a good amount of times this year. But that was before Belichick changed up the offense to take advantage of a more smash mouth type of game. If the Broncos get ahead early and the Patriots have to throw a lot in the second half, this can be the Broncos’ game. But that was the same blueprint that happened in the regular season and the Pats were still able to come back.

KJ’s prediction: Patriots 38, Broncos 35
GG’s prediction: Patriots 31, Broncos 27

No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (14-4) at No. 1 Seattle Seahawks (14-3)

KJ’s take:
This No. 6 seed is silly. They should’ve come in as the No. 3 seed, had to battle back-to-back weeks playing in the frigid and frozen ground at Lambeau Field and then flew cross-country and dismantled the Carolina Panthers, who frustrated them weeks earlier at Candlestick. Thank goodness, because as a football fan you want to see Seattle and San Francisco battle it out for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. These are the two best teams in football. Evenly matched, well-rounded, well-coached, incredibly tough defenses, young and talented quarterbacks, and durable running backs that don’t drop at the first hint of contact. However, the Seahawks have one difference in this ballgame and that leads me to …

My three reasons the Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl:

1) The 12th Man! I am from the Seattle area and at least once a year my buddy hooks us up, courtesy of his marketing rep, with seats 15 rows up from the field. We never sit. When the Hawks are on defense we don’t stop yelling … not even when they are moving the chains. We go home deaf and without a voice. It’s an incredible atmosphere. Teams get rattled here, and it’s only going to get worse with the hated Niners in town and a chance to go to a Super Bowl the fans have been planning for since before training camp started.

Seahawks fan tattoo

2) Russell Wilson. There are very few quarterbacks I’ve seen who can extend a play like Wilson does. He may scramble, but often it’s not to pick up yards but to buy time for his receivers to get a little bit of space. It’s demoralizing for a defense when Wilson does that. He’s calm, collected and it may come down to him making a play.

3) Hawks fans are annoying. They’re everywhere! And the worst part, most of them were hatched either late last season or right before this season started. I like the Hawks, but unfortunately watching the bandwagon fill up has left me on the outside looking in. I need to get excited and maybe if my predictions come through I’ll be the last one on the monorail for the trip to the Super Bowl. I’ve always liked the Hawks. Love attending the games and being in that atmosphere. This is a city starved for sports success, so it’s a valid reason why so many are excited about this year’s team. But as an NFL fan, it’s hard to chat with people about football, when they see everything through blue and green glasses.

Like Macklemore.

Macklemore Seahawks

My one reason the Niners may come into CenturyLink Field and take out the Seahawks:

1) Experience. They’ve been to Seattle earlier this year and know how crazy it can get (the 12th Man broke their first World Record in the Week 2 matchup). They’ve won eight in a row and have had to win back-to-back weeks on the road. They’ve been to the NFC title game three years in a row. They know the pressure of losing (see: Kyle Williams) and winning this game (see: Last year’s NFC title game in which they went to Atlanta and won). As mentioned, the Seahawks and their fans have been planning this Super Bowl trip since spring. Have they been a little too confident?

I picked the Seahawks (over the Texans) in the preseason. I’ll stick with the Seahawks.

GG’s take:

I think this game comes down to two main things.

1. Who wins the turnover battle?

2. Who can effectively run the football?

There’s already a lot of talk about how playing in Seattle skews this game toward the Seahawks and seeing how the 49ers have played of late in Seattle, it’s completely understandable. The 49ers have played terribly there. But then again, so has everyone else. Well, except for the Arizona Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals Twitter

If the 49ers have any chance whatsoever, they can’t waste timeouts, play in a hurry, or allow the crowd to get out of hand. If any of those things happen, we may see a blowout again.

But, the 49ers have been here before. This is their third straight NFC Championship game (like KJ mentioned) and that experience should be helpful.

Here are two stats that will be working against each other:

– The Seahawks defense had 28 interceptions, 5 more than any other defense in the NFL.

– Including the playoffs, when Colin Kaepernick throws zero interceptions, the 49ers are 10-0.

So which stat wins out? I think it’s easy to predict that if the Seahawks are able to take the ball away through the air, they are more than likely to win this game than if they don’t.

When it comes to running the ball, these teams are nearly dead even. For the season, Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.2 yards per carry while Russell Wilson averaged 5.6 yards per scamper. Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick were 4.1 and 5.7 respectively. In the two games played this season, Lynch was the more consistent of the two, averaging 3.7 yards a carry, but broke 70 yards in both games. Gore averaged over 5 yards per carry against the Seahawks, but most of those yards came in San Francisco. In Seattle, he was held to 16 yards. So far, the running back who had the better game is also the running back whose team won.

Some want to focus on the quarterbacks, but I’m not sure the QB that plays best will necessarily win this game. Russ Wilson has actually regressed of late. I don’t really think it’s his fault as much as he just doesn’t have the weapons. I think that after his fast start, teams have been focusing on doing a better job keeping him in the pocket. He’s great at extending plays and getting guys open, but the 49ers have an athletic defensive line. As for Kaepernick, he’s shown that early in the game he struggles, but as the game goes (and Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh are able to adjust), he plays much better. By the 4th quarter, he’s playing his best football. Take all of that for what you think it’s worth. I think it matters, but not as much as who keeps the football and who runs best.

It’s going to be a super close game, but the 49ers win on their final drive, and Phil Dawson kicks his way into the Super Bowl.

P.S. I don’t really think all the Seahawks fans are over the top. Those who know who Jim Zorn is are great fans. It’s the ones who just started caring about the team two years ago that annoy the heck out of the rest of the football world.

KJ’s prediction: Seahawks 24, 49ers 22
GG’s prediction: 49ers 21, Seahawks 20

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