DENVER — To the outside world, it's Peyton versus Tom — again — with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.
Not surprisingly, that's not how the Denver Broncos quarterback views it.
"Tom Brady has just been an outstanding quarterback for such a long time, but the game next week is Broncos versus the Patriots," Peyton Manning said after a 24-17 victory over San Diego in a divisional playoff game.
"I know there will be some individual matchups that will get headlines. But it will be a battle between two good teams, teams that have been through a lot, that have overcome a lot to get to this point, and that's where my focus will be — trying to help the Broncos get a win over the Patriots."
Still, the familiar matchup of Manning and Brady — nicknamed the "War of 1812" because of their jersey numbers — is too enticing to ignore. Sunday's game in Denver will mark the 15th time the quarterbacks have stood on opposite sidelines, the fourth time they have met in the postseason, and the third time in the AFC championship game. Each has won one title game against the other.
What's more, Broncos receiver Wes Welker will face his former Patriots teammates with a trip to the league's marquee game hanging in the balance.
"It's the AFC championship game, so there will be plenty of juice," Welker said.
Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips called Brady "my second-favorite quarterback behind Peyton."
"He really is," Philips said. "I think he's a great quarterback and a great person. And what better way to do it? You want your two best teams going head to head, and that's what's going to happen."
In the NFC, Seattle plays host to San Francisco in Round 3 of what suddenly has become the league's most bitter rivalry.
The 49ers advanced to their third consecutive NFC championship game by winning at Carolina, 23-10, collecting their first road victory in a divisional game since 1970. San Francisco had lost the previous four of those. They 49ers also have won consecutive playoff games on the road in the same postseason for the first time in their history.
San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh is the first coach since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to lead his team to the conference title game in each of his first three seasons. He is 5-2 in postseason games, tied for the second-most playoff victories in his first three seasons behind Washington's Joe Gibbs (six).
So it's back to Seattle, where the 49ers have lost the last two meetings by a combined 71-16, dating to December 2012.
But San Francisco won the latest round of the rivalry, beating the Seahawks, 19-17, on Dec. 8 to avenge a 29-3 loss at Seattle on Sept. 15.
"I think we're the two teams everyone was looking at from the beginning," 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "It's going to be a knock-down, drag-out game."
Kaepernick added that the 49ers "are a different team than we were the first time we played them up there."
Most prominent of those differences is San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree, who missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon. He was Kaepernick's favorite target last season and, since his return, has helped create additional opportunities for receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis.
For the last month, the Seahawks have failed to find their rhythm on offense and have relied primarily on their defense to win games. They could use an offensive playmaker, and Percy Harvin fills that bill — although Harvin left Saturday's victory over New Orleans after two jarring hits to the head.
This much the Seahawks know: the 12th Man will be jet-engine loud. Seattle has the loudest stadium in the league — in fact, the world record for loudest crowd was set (twice) at CenturyLink Field this season — and the crowd might not sit for a moment of this one.