The AFC and NFC championship games are next Sunday, and here’s the schedule and picture.
Conference Championships: Sunday, Jan. 19:
AFC: New England Patriots vs the Broncos in Denver, 3 p.m. (CBS).
NFC: Seattle Seahawks playing at home vs the 49ers, 6:30 p.m. (FOX).
Pro Bowl: Saturday, Jan. 26, in Honolulu
Super Bowl: Sunday, Feb. 2, at East Rutherford, N.J.
TBD, 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
AFC champion vs. NFC champion, 6:30 p.m. (FOX)
Divisional Playoffs: Saturday, Jan.11:
Seattle won 25 – 18: New Orleans (12-6) at Seattle (14-3), 4:35 p.m. ET (FOX)
New England won 43-22 – Indianapolis (12-6) at New England (13-4), 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sunday, Jan. 12:
Broncos won 24-17; they’ll play the Patriots in Denver next Sunday – San Diego (10-8) at Denver (14-3), 4:40 p.m. ET (CBS)
San Francisco won 23-10; San Francisco plays the Seahawks in Seattle at home – San Francisco (14-4) at Carolina (12-5), 1:05 p.m. ET (FOX)
Seahawks game forecast: Cloudy, calm, mid-40s
SEATTLE (AP) — The weather is unlikely to figure in the Seahawks-49ers playoff game at CenturyLink Field. Forecasters say it should be dry and not too cold.
The National Weather Service is forecasting cloudy skies, calm winds and temperatures in the mid-40s Sunday in Seattle.
Forecasters say dry weather is likely to continue into Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the rest of next week with more areas of fog across Washington.
Tom Brady back at practice after missing day
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — No sniffles, no coughs, no watery eyes.
Patriots fans can breathe easy now that Tom Brady is back at practice
“Doing very well, thank you,” the quarterback who will lead New England into the AFC championship game said Thursday.
Brady was removed from the injury report one day after being a no-show at practice because of illness. And teammates weren’t concerned that the lost time would affect him Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
“The most important thing is that he’s healthy and that he’s ready to go,” running back Shane Vereen said. “He’s been doing this for a long time, so he’s the last one that I’m really worried about.”
The 14-year veteran has been nursing a cold for a while. He showed signs of it four days before the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 in an AFC divisional-round game last Saturday night.
“A little bit,” he said then, “but I’ll live.”
Special teams captain Matthew Slater, whose locker is next to Brady’s, smiled when asked Thursday if he was worried that Brady might be contagious.
“I didn’t put up a barrier. I think he’s feeling better,” Slater said. “We’ve got to keep everybody healthy. It’s the cold and flu season.”
Brady wouldn’t say what his illness was — “It was nothing. I feel great. Nothing at all.” — and didn’t think his one-day absence would set him back.
“We’ve been at it for a while now,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of football over the whole season.”
Lately, that’s involved handing the ball off more than throwing it. In the last three games, all wins, the Patriots (13-4) have averaged 41 rushes for 214 yards and 25 passes for 153 yards. For the first time in three seasons, Brady has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three consecutive games.
But that’s not how the three-time Super Bowl champion measures success.
“I think it’s just about winning,” Brady said. “If we need to throw for 500 yards, hopefully we can do that. If we need to throw for 50 yards, I’ll throw for 50 yards. As long as we win and whatever it takes for us to score more points than the other team, that’s what we have to do.”
They’ll probably have to score a lot.
The Broncos (14-3) set an NFL record this season with 606 points. That’s 37.9 per game. The Patriots, dealing all season with injuries to key players and a developing passing game, averaged 27.8. But they did beat the Broncos in the 11th game, 34-31 in overtime, after trailing 24-0 at halftime.
The Patriots turned the ball over on their first three possessions in that game but won on Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal after a punt hit Denver’s Tony Carter and New England recovered.
“However the game ebbs and flows, I think we have to be prepared to just play for 60 minutes,” Brady said. “You’re not going to play 30 minutes against this team and then think you have it all figured out. They’re going to change, we’re going to change.”
And if he’s not feeling well? It shouldn’t make a difference.
The day before the AFC championship game in January 2005, Brady had a sore throat and a fever of 103. Then he had the highest passer rating (130.5) in his eight playoff games to that point, all victories. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 win at Pittsburgh, where the temperature was 11 degrees with a wind chill of minus-1.
Two weeks after that win, the Patriots beat Philadelphia for their third Super Bowl championship in four years.
“We had a lot of tough guys,” Willie McGinest, a linebacker on those Patriots, said Thursday, “guys like Tom and some of the other guys we had on those teams, we had to drag them off the field.”
Brady expects to be there to the end on Sunday, expecting a high-scoring game against the Broncos.
“We better be ready to score some points because that’s what they do best. They outscore you and they can score quickly,” he said. “They’ve been playing great since the opening day of the season. We’ve kind of had to find our way a little bit. But none of it really matters. It’s just all about this game.”
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Packers-Bears. Steelers-Browns. Cowboys vs. anybody in the NFC East.
Those are long-standing NFL rivalries.
Add to them 49ers-Seahawks, with a history of nastiness emanating from the college ranks for their coaches, and a hefty animosity built up in annual doubleheaders in their division. Now they meet for a spot in the Super Bowl.
Are those hard feelings for real?
“I think so, but it’ll always be that way when you have two good teams in the same division,” 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin said. “You play each other a couple times a year and if you’re good enough, possibly three times a year. It was the same way when I was in Baltimore playing against Pittsburgh. You respect each other as foes, but there is really a dislike.”
It’s a healthy thing, really, because it makes for even more uncompromising action — on the field and on the sideline.
One of these teams will emerge Sunday from ear-splitting CenturyLink Field headed for New Jersey to play for the sport’s biggest prize. The other will carry into the offseason even more loathing for this opponent.
“There is no love lost; there is no love found,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who will find himself lined up often against Boldin in the NFC championship game. “It’s going to be intense. It’s going to be physical. I don’t know if there are going to be handshakes after this one.”
That almost goes without saying with the coaches. When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was at Stanford — where, incidentally, Sherman played after being recruited by current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll when he was at Southern California — he ran up the score in a 2009 win at Los Angeles that prompted Carroll to ask him at game’s end: “What’s your deal.”
Harbaugh’s deal has always revolved around being a hard-edged player and coach. His teams embody that attitude, and it certainly has worked in San Francisco. The 49ers are 41-13-1 in his three seasons in charge, are in their third straight conference title game, and back down from no one.
That can make for some uncomfortable moments, whether it’s Harbaugh’s overzealous handshakes and back slaps after wins or his team playing up to (and sometimes beyond) the whistle.
Carroll claims the acrimony between them is overblown.
“For whatever reasons, you guys have had a field day with this,” Carroll told reporters Thursday. “We have not been friends over the year, we just know each other through the games. We have a very confined relationship.
“I have great respect for Jim. That’s it — you guys have had a blast with it.”
Carroll’s Seahawks aren’t exactly wallflowers, either. Defensively, at least, these are the NFL’s two most physical and intimidating units.
That, in turn, can lead to ill will.
“I don’t hate anybody,” All-Pro cornerback Sherman said. “So I don’t think (there’s) hate. But passion, definitely. There will be some passion, some dislike — some strong dislike. But there will be some intensity. It’s playoff football.
“So even if we weren’t two teams that are familiar with each other … there’s going to be a lot of intensity, a lot of chippiness, and a hard-fought game.”
Where might this antipathy show most?
Try whenever Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch — his nickname, “Beast Mode,” says it all about his style of play — meets up with All-Pro NaVorro Bowman and his fellow linebackers, the best group in the NFL.
Or when Boldin, among the best clutch receivers in football, uses his physicality against Sherman, safety Earl Thomas, a fellow All-Pro, and the rest of the game’s top secondary.
All of the matchups for Sunday are familiar to both sides, of course. And when division foes meet for the conference title — each team won at home this season — the results hardly are predictable.
Since the 1970 merger, there have been 15 third meetings in conference championships, 10 in the AFC, including the Seahawks losing to Oakland when Seattle was an AFC franchise in 1983. The 49ers beat the Rams in such a meeting in 1989. In 10 of those games, the host won.
What can be forecast for Sunday: hard feelings all around, even if 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis tones it down slightly.
“There’s no question there’s a lot of hostility between us,” Willis said, “but at the end of the day they’re another football team. So, there’s always going to be dislikes. They’re an opponent of ours and we want to win.
“If we weren’t in this race right now there’d be no doubt that if they were playing against someone else, I would wish them well because it’s in our division. But it’s us playing, so there’s not going to be any like at all there.”