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San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) hits Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) during the first half of a divisional playoff NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Kragthorpe: Can NFL’s title games match the buildup?
NFL » Patriots-Broncos for offense lovers, Seahawks-49ers for defense aficionados
First Published Jan 13 2014 09:03 am • Last Updated Jan 21 2014 10:41 pm

For drama, next Sunday’s NFC and AFC championship games will have trouble topping the events of only two years ago. In terms of buildup, there may never have been anything like this doubleheader in NFL history.

Can the games possibly live up to expectations? If so, Sunday’s contests will resemble the January 2012 afternoon when New England held off Baltimore at the end and the New York Giants outlasted San Francisco in overtime.

At a glance

AFC championship

New Englands at Denver

Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 2

NFC championship

San Francisco at Seattle

Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Ch. 13

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I’ll be posting team-by-team overviews each morning from Tuesday through Friday (and in the print editions of Wednesday through Saturday). But here a few thoughts for today, looking ahead to Denver vs. New England and Seattle vs. San Francisco.

• We’ll never know if a College Football Playoff-style committee would have picked San Francisco for the semifinals, as of the end of the regular season, but it’s clear the NFL has the four best teams in what’s left of its playoffs. Starting with their last drive of the first half, the 49ers overwhelmed Carolina.

The other remaining contenders also played at least one dominant half over the weekend, sufficiently establishing themselves — but also leaving just enough doubt, especially in the cases of Seattle and Denver.

• Broadly framed, the AFC game will be for lovers of offense and the NFC game will be for lovers of defense. You’ll be tired of hearing about quarterbacks Peyton Manning of Denver and Tom Brady of New England by Sunday, but the fact is they’re playing highly efficient football, as always. They’re also backed by emerging rushers, judging by the weekend’s results. It actually would be fun if one team got ahead by a couple of touchdowns, forcing the other QB to do something spectacular.

• Seattle-San Francisco is a rare, genuine rivalry in the NFL. These teams are so much alike, starting with emotional coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh — who don’t like each other, just to make it more fun — and continuing with dual-threat quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Then there are the defenses, two of the NFL’s best.

Mix in the high-energy crowds in Denver and Seattle, and everything points to a memorable Sunday. And that’s not to say the Super Bowl will be anticlimactic. Two years ago, the Giants and Patriots produced a dramatic game.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt


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