Often in the NFL's Conference Championship we see a rematch of two of the AFC and NFC's top teams from the regular season and 2014 is no exception. The NFL got exactly what it wanted with two of the more hyped playoff games in recent memory.
In the AFC, we will be getting the always intriguing story line of Peyton Manning going against nemesis Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Meanwhile, the NFC West rivalry between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers will be renewed for a third time this season.
With a lot to look at in terms of correlating the numbers of the original meetings and how they will factor into this weekend, we look at what to keep and what to throw away for these intense rivalry matchups.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (-5.5, 57)
Original meeting: New England 34 Denver 31 (Week 12)
What to keep: Surprisingly, for two teams that have quarterbacks who grab all the headlines, the rushing game is extremely important to both the Broncos and the Patriots. In their first meeting, Denver rushed for 280 yards while the Patriots rushed for 119. Both teams average well over 100 yards per game on the ground and hover near 30 rushing attempts. That success carried over to their wins this weekend with New England scoring on the ground for all six of their TD's and 234 yards rushing while the Broncos rushed for 133 yards against the Chargers. With Manning and Brady getting all of the attention from the media, you can forget that both of these teams will be expected to do a lot of their work on the ground this Sunday.
What to throw away: Both teams had uncharacteristic amounts of turnovers in their first meeting this season. New England turned the ball over four times, losing three fumbles and seeing Brady throw one interception. The Broncos had similar problems putting the football on the carpet, losing three fumbles of their own. In total, the Patriots fumbled six times in the game and the Broncos five times. Eleven forced fumbles in a game is an extremely high number and it would be surprising to see that repeated.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-3.5, 40)
First meeting: Seattle 29, San Francisco 3 (at Seattle, Week 2)
Second meeting: San Francisco 19, Seattle 17 (at San Francisco, Week 14)
What to keep: The team that has ran the ball most effectively has won the game in both 2013 meetings of these intense NFC West rivals. Seattle outrushed San Francisco 172-100 in the first contest which they won 29-3, while the Niners managed to win the rushing battle at Candlestick in December, holding the Seahawks to 86 yards while running for 163. With both teams built around mobile QBs and elite running backs, this game might once again come down to who can run better (or which defense can stop the run) on their way to the Super Bowl.
Both games between the two have also been low scoring and intense affairs, going under the total with just 32 and 36 points combined in the two respective meetings. San Francisco allows just 14.5 points per game in 2013 and the Seahawks allow just 16.8. With both team's defenses already amongst the most intense in the league it is unlikely that this game will feature less of that top-caliber defensive play we have seen in both games.
What to throw away: Seattle's 29-3 thumping of the Niners earlier in the season should be considered an afterthought as the Niners offense is much more well rounded with the presence of Michael Crabtree in the lineup. Crabtree caught eight passes for 125 yards against the Packers in the Wild Card and his presence opened up opportunities for Anquan Boldin against the Panthers when he caught eight passes if his own for 136 yards Sunday. With Brandon Browner also out of the picture after a PED suspension, the Seahawks secondary will likely struggle to hold a Niners team that averages 25.1 points per game to just a field goal for a second time. Expect the Niners team to look more like the team that played a close game in a 19-17 win at Candlestick than the team that was embarrassed by Seattle in hostile territory earlier in the year. Tread lightly however, as the Niners are 1-4 ATS in Seattle in their last five meetings.