Sunday, January 24, 2016

NFL Playoffs: Championship Round

One week after all four home teams won in the Divisional Round, both No. 1 seeds advanced to the Super Bowl for the third straight season.

Brady vs. Manning XVII

The Broncos have been doing a lot of talking ahead of Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Defensive end Antonio Smith said he doesn't disagree that Tom Brady is a crybaby, but conceded "he's not going to rattle just because you hit him hard. I've tried over the years." DE Malik Jackson said Brady is a "whiner" who "definitely throws temper tantrums." Then there's linebacker Brandon Marshall, who has a very simple explanation for why Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is always open: "Because he pushes off" and "he gets away with it about 98 percent of the time."

"I hate everything about them," said DE Derek Wolfe, via the Denver Post. "They're always in my way. They're always in my way to get what I want. I've got a ton of respect for the whole organization. They've got great players -- Tom Brady's a great player. Bill Belichick's a great coach. I've got a ton of respect for them. I just hate them."

Denver outside linebacker Von Miller was informed this week that, on average, Brady got the ball out of his hands in about two seconds during a divisional victory over Kansas City. "You said two seconds?" Miller said. "Sometimes I only need like one."

The matchup between the league leader in touchdown passes and the league's top-ranked passing defense was already an enticing one. Throw in the fact that Peyton Manning might be taking on Brady for one final time and the game is clearly in a position to go down as an all-time classic.

"I have felt very fortunate to play 18 years like I have, and I know how hard I've worked to play this long. When I look across at the New England Patriots and see Tom Brady is their quarterback, I just know how hard he's worked, as well," Manning said.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Cornerback Bradley Roby saved the game by picking off Tom Brady's pass on a 2-point try with 12 seconds left to preserve a 20-18 victory for the Broncos over the Patriots Sunday in the AFC title game. New England had to go for 2 after Brady's 4-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski because Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point in the first quarter, snapping a string of 523 straight makes. Manning threw two touchdowns but the 39-year-old QB's best play may have very well been his 12-yard scramble on third down in the third quarter - his longest playoff run since he was a rookie. Manning will become the first quarterback in NFL history to play in multiple Super Bowls for two different teams. Denver (14-4) will face Carolina for the title on Feb. 7.

More information:
» CBS Sports: Inside the NFL on Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
» Denver Post: Broncos vs. Patriots, By the Numbers
» "2016 AFC championship game could be last dance for two of NFL's greatest QBs"

Carolina was the most dominant team throughout the regular season, earning the No. 1 seed in the final week of the season. They got out to a quick 17-0 first quarter lead on Sunday and the Cardinals never recovered. It was a day-long celebration in Charlotte, a fitting capper to what has felt like a season-long celebration of all things Cam Newton at home this year. The best player on the best team is going to the biggest game. It's up to the Broncos to prevent Super Bowl 50 from feeling like a coronation.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others, and Carolina's big-play defense stifled Arizona's top-ranked offense in a 49-15 romp Sunday for the NFC championship. The NFL's new top man at quarterback - Newton is an All-Pro this season - will lead the Panthers against five-time MVP Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in two weeks. It will be the first Super Bowl for Newton and the second trip to the big game for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver, of course, has made a habit of going to Super Bowls, reaching it for a record-tying eighth time. Carolina's D was destructive. It forced six turnovers by Carson Palmer - special teams got one - as the Cardinals (13-4) allowed their most points this season.

More information:
» Yahoo Sports: Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best postseason receivers ever
» "10 things we learned from Championship Sunday"

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