Sunday, Jan. 19
Patriots vs. Broncos, 3:00 p.m. ET, CBS
49ers vs. Seahawks, 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Ranking the Playoff Games
Browns' Interest in Adam Gase Could be Heating Up
After the Chargers-Broncos game, the Cleveland Browns will have the ability to interview or hire either team's offensive coordinator -- that would be Ken Whisenhunt on the Chargers or Adam Gase on the Broncos.
1. Patriots vs. Broncos: I'm sure some people are tied of it, but if the NFL can give me Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning every year for the AFC Championship, I'll take it. There is never a dull moment when these two teams battle each other, including their Week 12 encounter. After the Broncos led 24-0 at halftime in Gillette Stadium, Brady led New England to a comeback, ultimately leading to a stunning 34-31 victory.
The big question heading into this game is, "can New England trust their running game against Denver's defense?" In their Week 12 encounter, Steven Ridley and LeGarrette Blount were both benched after fumbling the ball. They finished with a combined 6 carries for 27 yards, and on the day, New England only averaged 3.7 yards per carry.
The Patriots' success to close out the season has been attributed to their commitment to the running game, particularly Blount. Against the Colts on Sunday, the Ridley and Blount combined for 38 carries for 218 yards and 6 touchdowns. Most of that production came from Blount, who has a scary combination of speed and power.
It's not that New England can't run the ball against Denver -- the fumbles in Week 12 forced them to throw the ball to get back in the game. It worked, but the Patriots can't expect to come back from such a large deficit like that again. They will need to match Manning each possession, and Denver will have to avoid the stunning comeback that the Ravens had against them in the 2013 playoffs.
2. 49ers vs. Seahawks: For much of the season, the Seahawks and the 49ers were the NFC's finest teams. For the first time in the Pete Carroll-John Harbaugh era, they will meet in the postseason in what should be a fierce and physical battle. These two teams met twice during the regular season.
Way back in Week 2, the Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 in a game that was contested in Seattle behind the support of the 12th man. In Week 14, though, the 49ers came out on top with a 19-17 win over the Seahawks in Candlestick, thanks to a game-sealing, 6-minute drive that ended with a game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson.
One of the key questions heading into this game should be the status of Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin. He just can't catch a break injury-wise, as he suffered a concussion against the Saints on Saturday. For the few plays he did see, though, you could see the type of electricity he could provide to the offense. Without him, the Seahawks are relying more so on their ground game -- Marshawn Lynch -- which, of course, is not a bad option.
The 49ers feature a stouter run defense that could force Russell Wilson to make more plays. The Seahawks' defense is the best in the NFL. When you combine all of those elements, there's no telling which of these two teams will come out on top, even with Seattle's home-field advantage.
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