Could the NFL have asked for a more perfect setup for Championship Sunday?
An argument can be made that the four best teams are left standing heading into the Conference Championship games. Two of the NFL's classic rivalries will be in place with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Here's the updated bracket and how it came to be.
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AFC Championship Game
(1) Denver Broncos vs. (2) New England Patriots
Date: Jan. 19
Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET
The Patriots are here yet again, in their eighth AFC Championship Game in 12 seasons, looking for an opportunity to return to the highest heights of football glory. New England went 12-4 in the regular season, winning the AFC East with ease and entering the playoffs with a first-round bye. The Patriots had no trouble at all in their first playoff game, dispatching the visiting Colts 43-22 on the strength of four LeGarrette Blount rushing touchdowns (a franchise playoff record).
For the first time since 2006, the Patriots will be playing a playoff game on the road. The Broncos took care of business against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. A late comeback by San Diego made the 24-17 win a bit close for comfort in Denver, but the Broncos will advance to the AFC Championship for another showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
NFC Championship Game
(1) Seattle Seahawks vs. (5) San Francisco 49ers
Date: Jan. 19
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET
Seattle is one of the favorites to win it all, and it's easy to see why -- they're essentially unbeatable at home. They'll get another home game here, hoping for just their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history (losing Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season to the Steelers). Seattle went 13-3 in the regular season, and have won eight of nine games played at home (including a 23-15 win over New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs).
The Seahawks' home dominance will be tested by a familiar foe. The San Francisco 49ers continued to role with a convincing, 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. San Francisco will now get its third straight crack at the NFC Championship, having won and reached the Super Bowl last season.