I have no idea what’s going to happen with these Conference Championship Games. San Francisco hasn’t been able to do anything in Seattle since about December 2011, so that game could become a rout — but SF just won two games on the road to get here, so you assume it might be tight. Denver weather on Sunday should be 28-54, so the ‘cold weather jinx’ on Manning isn’t in play, but then you have the injury to Chris Harris and what happened when the two teams met this year (granted, that game was in New England). If I had to guess, I’d say the AFC game is tighter and more dramatic than the NFC game, but I’m hoping both are fun to watch.
You could make a list of about 10-15 storylines for the AFC Championship, including the Chris Harris thing, but really everything comes back to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. It ’twill be their 15th meeting, and their fourth in the playoffs (it’s actually their third meeting in an AFC Championship Game, which probably brings Brady-Manning to the same level as Bird-Magic, although NBA and NFL rivalries are inherently different). It’s almost kind of perfect that Tom Brady’s first-ever NFL start — September 30, 2001 — was against Manning. It’s also kind of perfect that the Patriots rolled in that game, 44-13 (they’d win the SB that year over the Rams; the Colts would finish 6-10). Manning threw three INTs in that game; Brady threw no TDs and no INTs, but was a workmanlike 13-of-23 for 168 yards.
The 2003 AFC Championship Game was the beginnings of the whole Peyton Manning cold weather narrative.
During the 2003 regular season, the Pats and Colts met and it ended 38-34 New England — the Colts were stopped four times near the goal line at the end of the game. You can see some clips in this fan video, although it’s annoying to watch:
Eight of the Brady-Manning meetings (out of 14 total to date) have ended within one possession (i.e. less than 7 points). The 2006 AFC Championship Game — the only notable W for Manning over Brady in a big spot, truly — was a four-point affair, 38-34. It didn’t seem that way early because the Pats were up 21-3 out of the gate. I remember this game primarily because I got on a plane back from a wedding when it was 21-3 and ultimately, well, it was 38-34. All that happened somewhere between Tucson and Connecticut.
(Music on that clip is tremendous.)
In 2009, the 6-2 Patriots met the 8-0 Colts. It was a thriller; final was 35-34. Manning hit Reggie Wayne with 16 seconds left for a touchdown to win it after Brady threw a short pass to Kevin Faulk on 4th and 2 and didn’t get the first down.
Then, of course, there was this year’s game — Broncos stormed to big lead, Patriots looking like a wreck, people going to bed (it was a Sunday nighter). And then …
There’s also the whole ‘Wes Welker comes back to play his friends’ angle, which I’ve utterly ignored except for this video:
Let’s hope it’s another great one on Sunday; I’m hoping both are, but winning in Seattle is dubious at best, so my greater hope lies in the early game. Number 15 could be the true classic of the bunch, no?