NFL Conference Championship Round Preview and Predictions

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NFL Conference Championship Round Preview and Predictions

NFL Conference Championship Round Preview and Predictions
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NFL conference championship games delivered the best possible matchup for both the AFC and NFC; perhaps even better for FOX and CBS.

While 3 p.m. ET does seem a little early to schedule a Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning clash for the ages, the NFL still does hit jackpot with the 6:30 Sunday slot thanks to Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers, or as I like to call them, Ravens-Steelers 2.0.

This stuff is catnip for the casual fan but what makes this an all-time great slate is how evenly matched and familiar the pairings turned out for both Denver Broncos-New England Patriots and Seahawks-Niners. Pregame.com's RJ Bell noted in this morning's newsletter that Southpoint is projecting the potential Super Bowl lines as follows: Denver pick’em vs. Seattle, Denver pick’em vs. San Francisco, San Francisco -1.5 vs. New England, and Seattle -2.5 vs. New England.

We're talking near-pick'em across the board and I can't imagine this Sunday will feature any staggering blowouts to move the Super Bowl point spread up near a touchdown. Obviously you have injuries to account for and hopefully that will not factor in.

Regardless of the various key personnel these teams have lost in recent weeks or return just in time, both contests should come down in large part to a battle of great minds. Pats Coach Bill Belichick has made an art of befuddling the best offenses of the past decade in big games while Manning remains the worst nightmare for any defensive gameplan or signal-caller. Ditto for Niners Coach Jim Harbaugh vs. Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.

Read on for my preview and predictions.

Thomas Emerick is a Senior Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEmerick, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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Why the Seattle Seahawks Would Win

Why the Seattle Seahawks Would Win
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

1) Russell Wilson is 16-1 at home, and yes that includes games where the Seahawks pass offense hits rough patches without Percy Harvin, as it did in the divisional round.

2) Kaepernick continues to struggle when the first read is taken away, and that's something Coach Carroll, Richard Sherman and the "Legion of Boom" do quite well. The return of linebacker KJ Wright, who left the previous San Francisco game, just adds to the great coverage assets for Seattle.

3) Interesting Vegas trend from Pregame.com's RJ Bell: The Seahawks are 17-4 against the spread at home following a home game. Homefield advantage is more crucial to Seattle than the rest of the league.

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Why the San Francisco 49ers Would Win

Why the San Francisco 49ers Would Win
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

1) Anquan Boldin has continued his run as the NFL's most prolific playoff receiver of the past two years, adding another eight catches for 136 yards in the divisional round. Even when he's covered he's not, and Colin Kaepernick has the arm to take advantage.

2) San Francisco showed in the divisional round that their front-seven can out-physical anyone, which is bad news for a Seahawks run game that has struggle to create push in short yardage situations.

3) Interesting Vegas trend from Pregame.com's RJ Bell: The Niners are 11-1-1 against the spread over their last 12 games facing teams with a win percentage better than .700. Coach Harbaugh typically gets the best out of his squad against top-notch competition.

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Why the New England Patriots Would Win

Why the New England Patriots Would Win
Winslow Townson - USA TODAY Sports

1) The Patriots' running game has transformed into a terrifying beast to complement quaterback Tom Brady just in time for playoff football. Logan Mankins and the offensive line returning to peak form has played a pivotable roll, helping LeGarrette Blount bowling-ball his way to 179.5 yards per game since Week 17.

2) The injured-reserve casualties headlined by Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork have removed two massive cogs from the middle of the New England front-seven, but Bill Belichick is making do with talented young backups yet again. See rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, who received the highest snap total of his career in the divisional round and responded with an interception, two quarterback hits and quarterback hurries, and a sack in his breakout performance.

3) Interesting Vegas trend from Pregame.com's RJ Bell: Patriots are underdogs in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season, after having been favored in 11 straight playoff games. No team has built a reputation off motivation-from-disrepect like New England with Brady and Belichick.

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Why the Denver Broncos Would Win

Why the Denver Broncos Would Win
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

1) Manning just captured nearly every major regular-season passing record and then threw the Denver playoff monkey off his back in the divisional round. His brutal efficiency in the short passing game hasn't exactly been figured out, so that will present a unique challenge for Belichick.

2) Losing CB Chris Harris hurts but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has transformed into arguably the league's best cornerback, based on his play over the past two months. Combine that with this defense's effective holistic approach to run-stopping and Denver may have the advantage on both sides of the ball.

3) Interesting Vegas trend from Pregame.com's RJ Bell: Denver will be favored for the 29th straight time and not only has compiled a 24-4 record in the prior games, but has covered the spread 19 out of the 28 times (nearly 68 percent).

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Picks

Picks
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

AFC championship prediction: Patriots 34, Broncos 27. (Broncos favored by 5.5) New England has more pleasant surprises stepping up huge at the right time, a hallmark of basically any team that reaches the Super Bowl.

NFC championship prediction: Seahawks 20, Niners 9. (Seahawks favored by 3.5) Kaepernick does not have a great track record playing in Seattle, I don't care what headphones he wears on the way in.


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