Not that the Patriots and Seahawks are likely to mind seeing who has joined them in the NFL’s conference championships. Remember, New England routed Indianapolis 42-20 and Seattle romped over Green Bay 36-16 to open the season.
Rematches at the final step to reaching the Super Bowl have been common recently. In the AFC, from 2009-14, only in 2011 was the conference championship not a repeat meeting. In the NFC, it happened in 2010, 2011, 2013 and this season.
Twice in the NFC, intradivision matchups meant a third game between rivals: 2010 when Green Bay won at Chicago, and 2013, when Seattle beat San Francisco.
Not one of the others has involved teams from the same division. Excluding 2014 — if you know now who is going to win next Sunday, please clue us in — in those rematches, the regular-season winner also won the AFC playoff game only once: Baltimore over New England in 2012.
In the NFC, the Giants lost to the 49ers during the regular schedule, but beat them in overtime in the conference title match.
Rematches are a double-edged sword. The victor in the first meeting has the confidence of already owning a win and the knowledge that more than enough worked during that regular-season game to handle the opponent. The loser has the revenge factor — and maybe a touch more motivation.
“I’d like to think I’m a better quarterback and we’re a better team and more well-equipped to handle the unknown and the unforeseen,” Colts QB Andrew Luck said.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of good football players, and a chance to go up New England and play them and get another crack at it is awesome. We’ll make sure to take full advantage of it and do what we can.”
The Colts did plenty on Sunday in dominating Denver, avenging their opening loss of 2014. They also saw the Patriots struggle, twice falling into 14-point holes before rallying to defeat Baltimore on Saturday.
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted, dryly of course: “I don’t think that’s a formula to win a lot of playoff games. They’re a tough group and they never give up, no matter what the situation is.”
The upcoming situation is simply this: Luck and the Colts have the look of a rising power after two highly impressive postseason performances. New England showed some vulnerability that Luck, who led the NFL with 40 TD passes, and a rapidly improving defense just might be able to take advantage of.
Of course, after vanquishing Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Indy gets Tom Brady, the most accomplished postseason quarterback of his era.
“That’s how it works in the playoffs,” safety Mike Adams says. “Everybody we play is top-tier. Everybody we play is big time. We got to step our game up and be ready.”
Even more intriguing might be the NFC matchup.
Seattle was on a, well, Super high for the season’s traditional kickoff game, and the defending NFL champs dismantled Green Bay. Then the Seahawks went into a funk and, at one point were 3-3.
They are now 13-4 and have that mean, hungry, determined, versatile and, yes, invincible air about them.
“Guys are playing selfless. There aren’t any egos, there aren’t any agendas, and guys just want to do whatever it takes to win,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said.
“If that means making a tackle, then make the tackle; if that means catching the football, we’re going to catch the football. Guys are playing for one another, they don’t care about stats, nor do they care about anything else.”
Sounds a lot like Green Bay, which displayed the resilience of a championship contender in its scintillating comeback victory against Dallas at Lambeau Field. An ailing All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers, still battling an aching calf, got everyone involved, including two rookie targets who scored touchdowns in the second half.
Just like the Seahawks, the Packers are vastly improved from midseason.
And equally as hungry.
“Looking forward to going back up to Seattle,” coach Mike McCarthy says, “and looking forward to winning the NFC championship.”
BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer___
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