We might be a few months premature and in the wrong sport, but the final four is upon us. The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are the only teams that remain in the NFL playoffs, and there are bound to be some epic finishes this weekend.
The two best quarterbacks of the past decade will meet in the AFC Championship Game, while the two fiercest rivals of the past few seasons will duke it out for NFC honors. With the Super Bowl hanging in the balance, there are bound to be some words exchanged, a few punches thrown and ultimately two teams heading onto New York — err, upstate New Jersey? — to decide one final champion.
The NESN.com NFL picks are back for another go round, and this time we’re talking championships. NESN.com editors John Beattie, Mike Cole, Doug Kyed and Luke Hughes have all made their picks and they’re sticking to them. Take a gander below to see their choices for this weekend’s conference title games.
All lines are from Bovada as of Thursday.
John: What more can be said about this game and this Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning matchup that hasn’t been said all week? All season? Neither team is good against the spread in most relevant scenarios, making the pick that much harder, so I’m going with the Patriots because of Bill Belichick, the depleted Broncos secondary and the steady Pats ground game. I also think Manning is going to force Wes Welker a little too much here to “stick it in Bill’s face.” PATRIOTS
Mike: I certainly don’t think we’ll see a shootout in this rematch of AFC powers. Both teams have displayed the ability to run the ball at different points this season. Knowshon Moreno gashed the Patriots in their Week 12 matchup, while New England has done a nice job of making the running game a viable weapon leading into this game. I think that a lower-scoring game certainly favors the Patriots as they have the coaching edge, the quarterback edge, and they just seem like a mentally tougher team. I certainly think the Broncos could pull out a win, I just don’t see it being by more than a field goal. PATRIOTS
Doug: The Patriots match up well with the Broncos, as they showed in their 34-31 Week 12 win in Gillette Stadium. Had Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brady not started out that game with fumbles in the Patriots’ first three offensive drives, a 24-point comeback wouldn’t have been necessary. The Patriots have a healthy secondary and an improved run defense. The Broncos will suffer after losing cornerback Chris Harris. The Patriots will cover and win in the AFC Championship Game. PATRIOTS
Luke: The Patriots beat the Broncos in pretty dramatic fashion earlier this season, but that incredible 24-point comeback took place inside the comfortable confines at Gillette Stadium. But, the Patriots won’t have the luxury of home-field advantage, where they were 8-0 in 2013, on Sunday. Brady and Co. were just 4-4 on the road this season, although, three of those four road losses were by four points or less, which just so happens to be the spread. Brady should be able to capitalize on Denver’s banged up secondary, and Belichick will find a way to screw with Peyton like he always does. PATRIOTS
John: Last week I thought the Saints weren’t getting enough points and that the Seahawks’ spread should be way higher. It turns out the spread was right on the money (nice work, Vegas), and we all pushed at -8. This week is different, obviously, as a dangerous 49ers team will step into what’s clearly going to be the most anxious Seattle crowd since God knows when. A -3 spread for the home team usually means it’s an even matchup with the home field advantage tilting the spread scale to a field goal. But this is Seattle, where home field advantage means a lot more… right? So what’s going on here? It’s tough to pick against Seattle at home but it’s even tougher to pick against these 49ers when they’re getting points. 49ERS
Mike: This year certainly feels like it’s Russell Wilson‘s and the Seahawks’ time. The fact that they get to go through their divisional rival will only make it better for the Seahawks. Colin Kaepernick is going to need to have the game of his life because the Seattle is going to be able to take away his weapons in the passing game. If Seattle can get to Kaepernick — or at least contain him from springing any big plays — they shouldn’t really have much problem winning this game. It’s just going to be too difficult for the Niners to go into Seattle and win this game. SEAHAWKS
Doug: There’s no way the Seahawks are losing to their bitter rivals in front of the 12th man at Century Link Field in Seattle. The 49ers have improved since getting wide receiver Michael Crabtree back, but that won’t matter going up against Richard Sherman and the “Legion of Boom” Seahawks secondary. As soon as Seattle got the No. 1 seed in the postseason, their Super Bowl ticket was punched. The intrigue in this matchup is seeing what will happen when head coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh meet for their postgame handshake. SEAHAWKS
Luke: These 49ers and Seahawks are an even 2-2 over the past two seasons, with the home team winning each time out. The Seahawks have beaten San Francisco by a combined 55 points in those two meetings in Seattle, which combined with their 16-1 record at home over the last two seasons, including last week’s playoff win, gives the Hawks a distinct advantage on Sunday. However, Kaepernick is on a heater of late, and the 49ers are out for blood against their division rivals. The Seahawks come out with the win, but Jim Harbaugh keeps it tight enough to cover. 49ERS