January 19

NFL Playoff Capsules

 

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

PATRIOTS at BRONCOS

WHEN: 3 p.m.

OUTLOOK: The 15th edition of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning of course is the broad framework for Sunday’s early game, the duel of Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterbacks in some ways seeming even bigger than the game, than Patriots-Broncos. The result is for the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in the Super Bowl, but based on the preamble, you’d think it was mostly about the two quarterbacks and their legacies. Clearly, Brady’s 10-4 edge head-to-head and more pedigreed postseason resume puts the far greater pressure on Manning to win at home and not end his historic season sourly. So does the teams’ wild regular-season meeting, won by the Pats 34-31 in overtime. You’ll recall Denver led 24-0 before collapsing under Brady’s assault, and that Manning (150 yards) had his worst game of the season. Weather should not be a big factor in the rematch; cold but no rain. Besides, a team from outside Boston is supposed to have chattering teeth in Denver? I like New England in what would be a big upset, and I do so with utmost respect for Manning and Denver’s home record. Picking against Peyton at home feels like betting against tomorrow’s sunrise, but the gut feeling here is pretty strong. Saturday-game winners in the previous round are 7-1 since 2010 in this round, a trend favoring New England. Manning is 6-11 all-time against Bill Belichick teams. John Fox is 1-6 against the Patriots. New England finally has a running game and has three very good cornerbacks. And here’s something else that might seem small but isn’t: Denver is missing injured CB Chris Harris, and the Broncos’ opposing passer skyrockets when Harris isn’t on the field. That will clear a path for Brady to victimize 34-year-old replacement Quentin Jammer and to continue his mastery of Manning.

TELEVISION: CBS

PREDICTION: Patriots, 31-27

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

49ERS at SEAHAWKS

WHEN: 6:30 p.m.

OUTLOOK: These teams’ first postseason meeting is a brutally delicious matchup between two coaches who don’t like each other in a bitter division rivalry whose fulcrum will be punishing defense. I know that Seattle is 16-1 at home the past two seasons and has won six consecutive home games in the postseason. And I know — acutely — that San Francisco has lost its past two trips to Seattle by a combined 71-16 score. OK. Deep breath. Now repeat after me: The most likely effect of those past two games in Seattle is to make the 49ers angry and assert themselves to not be embarrassed again. Give me the hotter-than-Hades Niners to win the NFC’s George Halas Trophy and get back to the Super Bowl. San Francisco has won eight straight and is playing its best. The Niners’ defense is as good as Seattle’s or imperceptibly shy of it, and the offense is hitting on more cylinders coming in. If Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch are a running-game push, Colin Kaepernick vs. Russell Wilson is not, at least not lately. Give me Kaepernick.

TELEVISION: FOX

PREDICTION: 49ers, 20-17

– Greg Cote, Miami Herald

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