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Eleven takeaways from NFL's Championship Sunday

The Denver Broncos have owned this NFL season since the moment quarterback Peyton Manning dropped seven touchdowns on an unsuspecting Baltimore Ravens defense in Week 1. It's only appropriate Manning will dominate the conversation for two more weeks.

This was a season full of power teams. The conference title games featured four 12-win teams for only the third time in history. Perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised that the two No. 1 seeds made it through to the Super Bowl for only the second time since 1993.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Denver Broncos' 26-16 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at midnight ET.

This was a historic season by Manning and he finished it off with a historic beatdown Sunday. The Broncos dropped 507 yards of offense on the Patriots, the most a Bill Belichick-led Patriots squad has given up.

And now Manning faces perhaps the best defense since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. We heard all last offseason that the Seahawks' defense was going to be great. And then the unit backed it up by leading the league in yards allowed, points allowed, turnovers forced and every imaginable stat.

The Seahawks' defense, which closed the 49ers out in such great style Sunday, gave up only 5.8 yards per attempt this season. To put it another way: The Seahawks turn every quarterback they face into Blaine Gabbert. That's the challenge Manning will face in New Jersey in two weeks.

The best of the best made it to the Super Bowl. For once.

Here's what else we learned Sunday:

  1. San Francisco's last four drives Sunday: three-and-out, sack-fumble, interception, interception. Seattle scored the final 13 points of the game, and it could have been worse if it didn't fumble the ball on the goal line. That's an epic way to finish a game, and it's hardly just about Richard Sherman.
  1. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and Bobby Wagner all took turns making big plays. Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant absolutely stuffed the 49ers' run game. This is the best defense the NFL has seen in at least five years, in large part because everyone on the field is dangerous.
  1. Seattle-San Francisco deserved to be the prime-time game. It couldn't have been more even: Both teams gained 308 total yards. Seattle had one more penalty yard. Both young quarterbacks had their share of mistakes, but both players had moments of pure improvisational genius. They are a lot of fun to watch work as they develop.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Seattle Seahawks' 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. ET and again at midnight.

  1. The 49ers had only 17 passing yards in the first half, with no third-down conversions. It was a miracle they were up 10-3 at intermission. This was the microcosm of their season. Colin Kaepernick was brilliant for stretches, but the 49ers didn't have a sustaining offense.
  1. Seattle had 11 drives. Only four of them topped 25 yards. They have won all season without an explosive offense or competent pass protection. Russell Wilson is leaving the pocket early and often.
  1. We gave Doug Baldwin a lot of love in our Sunday night podcast. He should never have to buy a beer again in Seattle. Whenever the Seahawks have needed a big play this season -- and Sunday was no exception -- he has come through.
  1. Aqib Talib's injury was not the reason why the Patriots lost. New England only got one stop in the entire game, with no turnovers. The Patriots didn't get a single quarterback hit on Manning. The Broncos' offensive line dominated. One cornerback wouldn't have changed that.
  1. It was a terrible sign when Austin Collie and Matthew Slater were the targets of Tom Brady's first two third-down throws. It's an even worse sign for Danny Amendola that Collie had four catches for 59 yards in this game, while Amendola didn't catch a pass.
  1. Tom Brady wasn't playing with a full deck, but he missed a surprising amount of throws Sunday. Perhaps it shouldn't be that big a surprise because he missed a lot of throws last week, and for much of the first half of the season. The Patriots' offense had to be nearly flawless Sunday to win and Brady left too many points on the field. The total lack of a running game didn't help.
  1. It's easy to say in retrospect, but the Patriots might kick themselves for not playing up-tempo earlier in the game. The Broncos had trouble when they couldn't substitute.
  1. The Broncos defense, such a big question all season, effectively has given the team big leads in both playoff games. The Seahawks should be a relatively easy matchup compared to San Diego and New England. The Broncos defense, led by Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, only needs to be average for Manning to win his second Super Bowl. In the playoffs, they have been much better than that.
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