The field for the Feb. 2 Super Bowl will be decided with a pair of NFL conference championship games today.
New England (13-4) visits Denver (14-3) for a 2 p.m. kickoff of the AFC Championship on CBS. San Francisco (14-4) visits Seattle (14-3) for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff on Fox.
The quarterbacks are the big story in the AFC game, while talk about defenses will dominate the NFC matchup.
This will be the 15th meeting between New England QB Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning, and Brady’s Patriots have won 10 of those.
Both these teams have defensive liabilities, as underscored when they played at New England on Nov. 24 – a 34-31 Patriots’ victory in overtime.
A rookie from Southern Miss, Jamie Collins, has been playing well at middle linebacker for New England. His backup is former Mississippi State LB Chris White.
Perhaps the best crew of linebackers in the NFL belong to San Francisco, led by former Ole Miss standout Patrick Willis.
Belhaven product Tramaine Brock sees extensive time at cornerback for the 49ers, who reached the Super Bowl last season. Anthony Dixon (MSU) is on the roster as a running back.
The 49ers have won eight in a row, including three straight on the road.
Seattle has the league’s top-ranked defense, however, and has dominated its last two games at home against San Francisco on one of the league’s noisiest home fields.
Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright, from MSU, is set to return to the lineup today after fracturing a foot in Week 14.