AFC Championship Game
New England (-3) at Denver: Just what you always wanted, another Patsies-Donkeys showdown. It's a testament not only to the consistency of the two quarterbacks, but of the dearth of consistent competition in the rest of the AFC. Whether it's Tom Brady's bland, lifeless diet, or Peyton Manning's tedious fake audibles, there's something in this game for everyone to hate on. This is almost certainly Peyton Manning's final season, unless he has some sort of weird death wish, so this 17th matchup between the two quarterbacks is probably the last.
As for the game itself, the Patriots won their first ten games of the season before losing in Denver on November 29th, 30-24 in overtime. The Patsies' late-season fade, losing four of their final six games, cost them their top playoff seeding, which is why this game is in Denver rather than Foxborough. Denver has a middling offense at best, but their defense is first in total yards and passing yards allowed, third in rush yards, and fourth in points allowed. New England has one of the better offenses (except for their 30th-ranked rushing attack), and a mostly top-10 defense.
Manning is about as rested and healthy as he's going to get, but it's going to be the Donkeys' D that makes the difference in this one. New England's o-line is banged up, and Denver DC Wade Phillips is going to put the pressure on Brady all day. Fun fact #1: Denver is the only team in the league that Brady has a losing record against (6-8). Fun fact #2: Brady is the only one of the four starting QBs this weekend that was not a #1 overall draft pick -- yet he has three more winning Super Bowl rings than the other three QBs combined.
Final Score: Broncos 21, Patriots 20
NFC Championship Game
Arizona (+3) at Carolina: Either of these teams is better than the Broncos or Patriots, which should give you an idea of how the Super Bowl will roll (though I'm not 100% convinced that the Cardinals would beat the Patriots). Both Arizona and Carolina derped their respective ways through last week's divisional home stands, barely holding off clearly inferior opponents.
In the Panthers' case, they had the Seattle Seahawks down 31-0 at halftime before letting up and allowing Seattle to score 24 points in what was almost a legendary comeback. This is a highly disciplined unit that is unlikely to repeat that mistake. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were barely competitive against a wounded Packers team that Arizona had handily throttled just two weeks earlier. Only a fluke deflection touchdown saved them from what would have been an epic collapse.
Bruce Arians is a good coach, and one of the more colorful characters in the league. It would be nice to see Larry Fitzgerald get a ring. But it's a long trip to the East Coast, and the Panthers are also a well-coached team with a brutal defense, and a need to show that they can get a good team down and keep them there. Mark it right now: the Carolina Panthers are going to win Super Bowl 50.
Final Score: Panthers 30, Cardinals 17
[Update 1/28/16 10:00 PST: Almost nailed the Pats-Donks score on the money, and even almost had the Cards' point total. But it's the Carolina Panthers that really showed me something with their dismantling of the hapless Cardinals who, while you wouldn't have known it to watch them against Carolina, had the top offense in the league, and were second in passing yards and points scored. I'll do a Super Bowl preview/prediction with all the specifics next Friday, after the injury rosters for the game are released, but right now the game looks like a mismatch much greater than the average spread (3.5 at the beginning of the week; currently 6.5 in most spreads) would indicate. Denver's defense is very good, no doubt; it got them this far. But the Panthers' D is just as good, maybe better in some respects, and their offense is much better than Denver's.]