Championship game predictions

The key factors that will influence Patriots-Broncos and 49ers-Seahawks

Updated: January 15, 2014, 10:42 PM ET
By Herm Edwards | ESPN Insider

Peyton Manning, Tom BradyJim Rogash/Getty ImagesLongtime rivals Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will square off again this weekend.

After another exciting weekend of playoff football, the four best teams in the NFL remain. In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers, coming off two straight postseason road wins, travel to Seattle to take on a Seahawks team they lost to 29-3 in Week 2 and 19-17 in Week 14. In the AFC, the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots, who beat them 34-31 in OT in New England in Week 12.

Will Peyton Manning reach his third Super Bowl or will Tom Brady reach his sixth? Will the 49ers make it back-to-back Super Bowl appearances or will Seattle get back into the big game for the first time since 2006?

Let's preview each game by looking at which team has the advantage on offense, defense and special teams, along with an X factor. I'll also give my pick on each game.


New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Offense: Brady and Bill Belichick are the constants on this team, but I've been very impressed with how this offense has adjusted to fit the personnel at its disposal. Without Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, they've turned into a power running team over the course of this season. Their big plays come off of play-action, and LeGarrette Blount has revitalized his career in New England. This is a guy who has enough speed to take it the distance but the power to run over people, as well.

The Patriots like to bring in Michael Hoomanawanui as a sixth offensive lineman to pair with James Develin at fullback and dictate tempo. New England's offensive line has done a great job of blocking eight-man fronts and getting to the second level of the defense. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they have averaged 5.8 yards per rush and 200.3 yards per game inside the tackles the past three games. And Blount had 146 rush yards before contact, so this O-line is simply moving defenders out of the way. On third downs, Brady has looked for Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen coming out of the backfield (they combined for 20 of his 25 passing targets on Sunday). The Patriots can go no-huddle to change the tempo, but they need to run the ball effectively to win this game.