The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were No. 1 seeds hosting conference title games on Jan. 19. In recent years, the Broncos and Seahawks would have easily lost these games to hot wild card teams, if they hadn't been eliminated already. But this is the rare NFL postseason in the current era where favorites have actually won, which Denver and Seattle finally did to set up a top-seeded showdown in the Super Bowl.
The Broncos and Seahawks won in different fashions, as Denver dominated the New England Patriots by 26-16, while Seattle rallied and held on over the San Francisco 49ers by 23-17. The conference title games played out like their divisional playoff victories, as the Broncos again dominated for three quarters and held on in the fourth, while the Seahawks struggled more but still pulled it out once more.
This is an era where Cinderella, low seeded teams like the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowls while the best regular season squads get upset. By that pattern, the Patriots looked poised to continue one of their more improbable Super Bowl runs, while the red hot, fifth seeded 49ers seemed equipped to knock out the Seahawks.
Yet the 49ers were far more equipped on the road than the Patriots, who couldn't stop Peyton Manning and never got Tom Brady going. Although the Brady-Manning shootout was one-sided, the 49ers-Seahawks bloodbath lived up to the hype, despite how San Francisco could have run Seattle off the field in the early going.
The 49ers jumped to a 10-0 lead, but the Seahawks stayed within 10-3 at halftime, then started to roll when Marshawn Lynch tied the score on a 40-yard run. San Francisco then went back ahead, yet Seattle took the lead for good in the fourth on a fourth-and-seven touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse.
Nevertheless, with the Seahawks ahead by 23-17, Colin Kaepernick marched the 49ers down the field and had half a minute left to break their hearts. But instead of completing a miraculous comeback, Kaepernick's final throw into the end zone was tipped by Richard Sherman, right into Malcolm Smith's hands.
The interception ensured the first Super Bowl between two top seeds since Manning's Indianapolis Colts met the New Orleans Saints four years ago. Unfortunately for Manning and the Broncos, that Super Bowl favored the NFC champion.