The NFL's final four is set.
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos grabbed the last spot in the NFL's upcoming Championship Weekend with a 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon. Manning tossed two touchdown passes and led a late clock-killing drive as the Broncos held off a fourth-quarter rally by Philip Rivers and the Chargers. The win snapped a three-game playoff losing streak for Manning that stretched back to his time in Indianapolis.
As a reward for this closer-than-expected triumph over the Chargers in the all-AFC West divisional-round playoff game, the top-seeded Broncos will host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 42-23 on Saturday night in the first AFC divisional-round playoff game to book their spot in Championship Weekend.
AFC Championship Game
Broncos vs. Patriots
DATE: Sunday, January 19
TIME: 3 p.m. ET
This AFC title tilt will be the 15th career meeting between Manning and Tom Brady and their third matchup with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Brady has won 10 of the 14 previous meetings overall but the quarterbacks split their two matchups in conference championship games. Brady and the Patriots overcame Manning's Colts 24-14 in January 2004 en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVIII. After the 2006 season, Manning rallied his Colts past the Patriots 38-34 in the conference title game. In both cases, the home team won and the winner went on to win the Super Bowl.
"Well, it's the Broncos versus the Patriots," Manning told CBS' Tracy Wolfson on the field at Mile High when asked about his upcoming matchup with Brady. "Certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot but when you get to the AFC Championship it's about two good teams that did a lot to get there."
Before the Broncos and Chargers kicked off in Denver on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers clinched a spot in the NFC title game for the third year in a row. The defending NFC champions defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 in Charlotte to advance out of the divisional round. In order to return to the Super Bowl, the 49ers will have to do something that they haven't been able to do in a while: win in Seattle.
NFC Championship Game
Seahawks vs. 49ers
DATE: Sunday, January 19
TIME: 6:30 p.m. ET
The Seahawks defeated the New Orleans Saints 23-15 on Saturday behind yet another beastly performance by running back Marshawn Lynch to ensure that the road to Super Bowl goes through Seattle.
The 49ers were routed by the Seahawks 29-3 and 42-13 in their previous two regular-season trips to CenturyLink Field but quarterback Colin Kaepernick sounded confident after his team's divisional-round win over the Panthers.
"We're different team than we were the first time we played them up there. We have a lot of key playmakers back and we're ready to go," Kaepernick said on Sunday, via The Associated Press.
While the 15th Brady-Manning heavyweight fight in the AFC will likely dominate conversation ahead of Championship Weekend, the young quarterbacks in the NFC could be in the early stages of a rivalry that will be talked about for years to come.