Sunday marks the highlight of the NFL playoffs | NevadaAppeal.com

Sunday marks the highlight of the NFL playoffs

Forget Super Bowl weekend Sunday will highlight playoffs

Consider the first Sunday in February a holiday, although the calendar does not reflect the importance of this date every year.

Arguably the greatest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl is only two weeks away as four teams battle this weekend to determine who will be only one win away from holding up the Lombardi Trophy. While last year's Super Bowl featured a blackout followed by a ferocious comeback that fell short in the final seconds, this year will be nothing short of amazing.

But instead of thinking of the Super Bowl and whether a blizzard will strike New Jersey and force Bruno Mars to perform the halftime show from the locker room, this weekend's slate of conference championship games could be even greater.

Denver and New England. Seattle and San Francisco. Many storylines, lots of hate but respect and another playoff game that could send a prominent player into a happy retirement. Don't change the channel on Sunday and keep your butt plopped in the chair because you're about to witness one of the greatest championship weekends in football. The only thing missing will be a 60-minute halftime performance and wardrobe malfunction followed by a midweek parade after winning the AFC and NFC championships.

The biggest storyline of the weekend centers in Denver when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning meet for the 15th time. Brady bested Manning during the regular season in each of the last two seasons after Manning was released by the Colts after four neck surgeries. While Brady has had the upper hand in this quarterback rivalry, more is riding on this game. Denver hasn't been to the Super Bowl since John Elway won back-to-back titles and New England has lost its last two appearances after winning the first three when Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe more than 10 years ago.

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This is as good as it gets with two veteran gunslingers battling one more time with a berth to the Super Bowl in sight. Don't expect a defensive battle or weather to play a factor (it's supposed to be sunny and in the 50s). Expect a classic shootout between two old foes that will feature each team scoring in the 30s or even 40s. Expect the game to come down to the last possession.

In the Pacific Northwest, two young quarterbacks meet for the third time this season when San Francisco travels to the pit of despair in Seattle.

The Seahawks rarely lose at home but Arizona showed the country that Pete Carroll's club can be beaten. San Francisco will need everyone to step up if it wants to make another trip to the Super Bowl and if history plays a factor, this game could be over at halftime.

But the 49ers come into the weekend as the hottest team in the NFL, winners of eight-straight, including road wins over Green Bay and Carolina in the postseason. Seattle, though, lost two of its last four regular-season games and is trying to find its identity on offense with Russell Wilson's immortality wearing off.

Sunday will present the 49ers their best opportunity to knock off their divisional rivals on the road. With the defense playing the best it as all season and Colin Kaepernick having a complete arsenal, this game, as well, could come down to the final possession where special teams will be the deciding factor. And don't forget when San Francisco was blown out during Week 2 at Seattle, Kaepernicks' go-to receiver was Kyle Williams – not Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin or Quinton Patton – and Vernon Davis has fit in nicely in his switch back to tight end.

The best football game of the season might not be the Super Bowl as the four best teams will fight to the final whistle on Sunday.

Will the 49ers make it out of Seattle alive in a return trip to the Super Bowl? Will Carroll's Seahawks prove the experts right and advance to the title game for the first time since it lost to Pittsburgh in 2005? Does Brady still have the edge over his rival to give New England its third berth in the last five years? Or will Manning silence his critics once again with another playoff win and possibly a Super Bowl trophy to cap off his legacy?

Keep the drinks coming and don't let that popcorn bowl get empty. Prepare for the wildest ride of your football life.

Thomas Ranson can be contacted at lvnsports@yahoo.com.

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