In the most shocking twist yet, the NFL got predictable on Divisional Round Weekend. The four favorites all won, mostly in convincing fashion.
The four best teams from the season, with a combined 50-14 record, all made it to conference championship weekend. Before the season started, everyone expected the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos to make it this far. They came through.
We've got two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, starving for another title chance, meeting for the fourth time in the playoffs. We've got two of the most promising young quarterbacks the league has seen in a long time, backed by ferocious defenses and coaches that have a long rivalry.
These are two games that we have been building toward for a long time. It sets up the best looking championship weekend the NFL could possibly hope for.
After a lackluster set of games in the divisional round, San Francisco-Seattle and New England-Denver are the two games that we deserve as football fans. It's almost too perfect to believe. Nothing is more surprising in the NFL than everything going according to plan.
We'll have coverage all week looking ahead to these games, but here are a few quick thoughts to get the week started:
1. Can this game be flexed into prime time? The NFL sets the conference championship schedules years ahead of time, but something just feels wrong about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning being an undercard.
2. Weather should not be a factor in this game. Early forecasts call for a clear, sunny day with highs around 50 degrees. Denver was dry and relatively warm Sunday for Denver's win over San Diego, but it was very windy.
3. Both teams have run the ball well of late, but the Patriots would benefit more from gusty conditions. New England's best matchup advantage will come from its power running game against a Broncos defense that gave up some big rushing performances down the stretch. Then again, Denver's defense was practically flawless for three quarters Sunday against the ball-control Chargers. If the Broncos' defense plays like that two more times, they will be nearly impossible to beat.
4. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris tore his ACL on Sunday and will miss the remainder of the season. Denver's secondary fell apart in the fourth quarter after he was injured and replaced by Quentin Jammer. Harris' absence from the lineup will be a big factor Sunday.
5. As great as Peyton Manning has played all season, there is a reasonable debate over which quarterback played better down the stretch. Brady has been on fire since just before New England's bye, even after Rob Gronkowski's injury. Manning also tested defenses vertically with great success late in the regular season, although he didn't hit as many big plays against San Diego.
6. The Broncos and Patriots run well, but they aren't balanced teams. The offenses carry their defenses. If one of these defenses can give a B- effort, they should prevail. The Patriots' secondary has made a few more big plays, but the Patriots also give up a ton of yards. The Broncos have been a better team overall all season and deserve to be favorites.
1. The Seahawks have outscored the 49ers 71-16 in their last two games in Seattle, but those results don't matter much here. This 49ers team is not the same squad that was blown out back in Week 2. The 49ers know they can beat Seattle because they have done it twice in San Francisco.
2. After a slow start to the year, Colin Kaepernick is the hotter quarterback entering the game. Russell Wilson's pass protection has been poor all season, and he's developed some bad habits of late. He didn't pull the trigger on throws to some open receivers Saturday against New Orleans.
3. The Seahawks have the deeper defense overall. At least five or six of their players can take over a game at any time. This is the game that Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been building toward for four years. They want an ugly game. That's how they thrive.
4. This is such a fascinating matchup because there are no secrets between the teams and because they are so similar. The 49ers have come out throwing in both playoff games, but they are still a relatively conservative offense. The Seahawks' offense plays it closer to the vest than anyone.
5. We'll let Vernon Davis say it for us on what to expect:
"A battle. A brutal battle. It will be sparks, flames, you name it," he told NFL Media's Jeff Darlington. "It's going to be tough, and we know that."
The only tough part for NFL fans will be the wait. Jan. 19 can't get here fast enough.