Poupart's picks: Conference championships

We're down to the Final Four in the NFL, and the stage is set for some history in the making. This year's conference championship games might lack the pizzazz of previous years, but it's hard to beat in terms of having even matchups. Here are this week's predictions.

AFC title game

Pittsburgh (13-5) at Denver (14-3): These teams are meeting for the AFC title for the second time in the last nine seasons, with Denver winning 24-21 at Pittsburgh in 1997. The Steelers are trying to join the 1985 New England Patriots -- and perhaps this year's Panthers -- as the only teams to win three games on the road to advance to the Super Bowl. Obviously, that's quite a task. But the truth is the Steelers looked the better of the two teams last weekend, despite the fact they beat Indy by three and Denver beat New England by 14. The Broncos only beat the Patriots because of turnovers because they were badly outplayed on both sides of the ball. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, would have won much more comfortably than the score if not for some horrific officiating. In this matchup, we see both running games being stuffed by the other team, so it might come down to which quarterback can make more plays or which special teams can produce. We'll give Pittsburgh the edge on both counts. It's really tough to go against the home team in this one, but the truth is Pittsburgh simply looks like the best team in the AFC right now. Pittsburgh, 23-20.

NFC title game

Carolina (13-5) at Seattle (14-3): The Seahawks have a chance to get to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, while Carolina will be attempting -- as mentioned before -- to make it three in a row on the road. The big focus in this game has been on the running back position because of last week's injury to DeShaun Foster and Shaun Alexander's concussion. Foster is out, while Alexander will play. But Alexander has had little success in the playoffs throughout his career, and he'll be going against a Carolina defense that has played the run well all season. As with the AFC title game, we don't expect either team to have much success running the ball, and in the passing game the edge clearly goes to Carolina -- because of Steve Smith. Jake Delhomme and Matt Hasselbeck are close to a wash at quarterback, but Smith makes everyone else on the Carolina defense better. We also like Carolina's defense better than that of Seattle, which looked good last week, but against a mediocre Washington offense. Carolina also has the edge in the kicking game, which means that Seattle really doesn't have that much going for it other than home field. That could make a difference because maybe Carolina runs out of gas on the road. But somehow we're thinking this weekend makes NFL history as two wild-card teams advance to the Super Bowl in the same year. Carolina, 24-17.

Last week's record: 3-1

Season record: 183-81

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