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Championship Sunday predictions: Broncos, 49ers feeling Super

Championship Sunday.

Don't expect too much snarkiness coming from this quadrant of the football universe. We really have the best possible matchups determining who goes to the Super Bowl. That rarely happens.

Part of what makes these two contests so tantalizing is that they are so different. In the AFC, obviously, you have the Brady vs. Manning angle, but how about the fact that the last Denver quarterback to host a conference championship game was Jake Plummer -- or that his Broncos were facing the sixth-seeded Steelers?

Yes, the AFC title tilt is a true clash of titans -- but then, so is the NFC Championship Game, for that matter. The two best defensive units in the league are part of the story, as are Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, clearly new-breed leaders who represent the NFL of 2020. Throw in the fact that the 49ers and Seahawks are divisional rivals, that Seattle is the toughest place to play and that San Francisco is arguably the premier road team in the league, and ... well, you get the point.

Excellent podcast from the Daver.

Totally agree, man. We all win.

Awesome question. The answer is the '89 49er team, which put up the most dominant performance in Super Bowl history. The '98 Broncos would not be able to cover Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Brent Jones -- not with Joe Montana slinging it.

As for this year's 49ers and Broncos -- or Seahawks and Patriots -- feel free to share your thoughts ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it ...

Elliot Harrison went 4-0 on his predictions for the divisional round, giving him a record of 167-97 this season. How will he fare on Championship Sunday? His picks are below, with home teams listed second. To make your own predictions on this week's games, click here.

People have been hoping and waiting for this Championship Sunday matchup since, oh, last March. Or, if you really think about it, since the Seahawks faltered in the Georgia Dome last January. Seattle fans can give you chapter and verse about the lost opportunities in that loss to the Falcons. The organization as a whole has a grand opportunity in the frontview right now. So what is the best way to approach the task of beating the hottest team in football? Do the same things you've been doing: Don't ask Russell Wilson to do too much, play your NASCAR package (defensive line rotation) so that you always have fresh legs chasing Colin Kaepernick, and use the heck out of Marshawn Lynch.

I spoke with former sack man Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman, and he feels Lynch will be the key to the game. If the 49ers dedicate a safety in the box to stop the running back, Wilson obviously will have some one-on-one matchups to exploit in the secondary. Can the quarterback capitalize? The Seahawks' wide receivers aren't overly scary, especially now that Percy Harvin's been ruled out of this game.

 **In defense of the defense ...** Earlier in the season, you heard grumblings about the 
 49ers' defense not being what it used to be. Well, I think that unit wins this game for San Francisco (along with the Niners' receivers). Vic Fangio's group 
 allowed 10 points to the Panthers, 
 20 to Aaron Rodgers and 
 20 to a hot Cardinals team before that ... all on the road. In fact, San Francisco hasn't given up more than 24 
 since *Week 3*. The 
 Seahawks' offense will have to lean heavily on Wilson's ability to make plays with his feet, which he'll find much tougher to do this week than 
 last week against the 
 Saints. I've been 
 picking the Seahawks to beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII since last spring, but I'm honoring updated football intuition here. 


Everyone seems to think this matchup will involve a ton of points, but that's not the way we're seeing it. The NFL isn't Tecmo Super Bowl (the superior Tecmo); just because the quarterbacks are phenomenal doesn't mean there's going to be a scoring rampage. In fact, if the Patriots throw more than 30 passes or so, I'll be surprised. Expect New England to run the football at least that many times, with a heavy dose of, well, everybody. This day will not belong solely to LeGarrette Blount in the way that last Saturday seemed to. As you might recall, even in that divisional-round contest, in which Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns, Stevan Ridley ran into the end zone twice. Did you know that Ridley hasn't fumbled since Bill Belichick made him a healthy scratch against Houston in Week 13 (for fumbling)? We're also looking for Shane Vereen to catch a lot of balls (10?) as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels tries to combat the Broncos pass rush, i.e., Shaun Phillips.

 **Manning up ...** Don't be surprised if 
 Peyton Manning audibles to a lot of run plays Sunday. (Wouldn't it be cool if he yelled out "Pizza Hut" as a dummy call?) The Pats still have a soft underbelly. Given how 
 Knowshon Moreno runs -- and given that 
 Montee Ball seems ready to be a complementary piece -- the sky is the limit ... although the frequency with which Manning aims toward the skies might be limited. Tuck it in the backs' bellies, Peyton. Denver rushed for 
 ***280*** on New England 
 back in Week 12. Run the ball, then take the 
 Patriots deep as soon as they start keying on Moreno. It will also serve the 
 Broncos well to keep the Pats from getting anywhere near the four takeaways they got 
 against the Colts last week. Denver wins an epic contest. 

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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