Championship Sunday has finally arrived for the NFL on Jan. 19. For the third straight year, the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers will take part in an AFC-NFC title game doubleheader. Yet the Patriots and 49ers have never won a conference title in the same year, and would both need to win in hostile road environments to finally meet in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots and 49ers would have met in the 2012 Super Bowl, had the 49ers not fallen to the New York Giants in overtime -- which ultimately came back to haunt the Patriots. Last season, it was the Patriots who failed to meet the 49ers in the Super Bowl, which paved the way for the Baltimore Ravens to knock off San Francisco.
This time around, New England and San Francisco have endured more hardship than usual to get this far. Of course, the Patriots had it harder with all their injuries and lucky victories, although the 49ers had a few swoons and have had to win on the road throughout January. However, winning in Seattle against the arch-rival Seattle Seahawks will be harder for the 49ers, while the Patriots get their toughest task against Peyton Manning and the hungry Denver Broncos.
Both the Patriots and 49ers are obvious underdogs, with the Broncos having lit up opponents most of the season and the Seahawks being virtually unbeatable in Seattle. While road teams have regularly pulled upsets in the NFL playoffs lately, this year's postseason has been the most conventional in years so far. The 49ers are the only low seed that's still alive, yet their 12-4 record makes them no ordinary fifth seed.
Considering the Seahawks' recent struggles and Manning's history of upset playoff losses, there is a window of opportunity for the Patriots and 49ers to pull road upsets. If they do, it will set up a Super Bowl pairing that's been three years in the making.
In that time, San Francisco and New England have actually met once, when the 49ers nearly blew a huge lead to the Patriots in Foxborough and still held on for a 41-34 win in Dec. 2012. Can New England finally get revenge with a championship on the line, or will one or both teams fall short on Championship Sunday yet again?