USA TODAY Sports' Tom Pelissero takes an early look at the Super Bowl XLIX matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.
Snap reactions from conference championship Sunday:
— The NFL's last repeat champion against the team trying to end the league's decade-long drought. Bill Belichick against the coach he once replaced in New England, Pete Carroll. Tom Brady's latest shot at his fourth Super Bowl ring against Russell Wilson, who has a shot for two in his first three seasons. There's no shortage of storylines for Patriots-Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, even if they'll all be run into the ground long before the teams arrive in Arizona next weekend. The guess here is the game will be a lot more compelling than last year's rout, too. These were two of the NFL's best teams over the course of the season, particularly down the stretch. And it'll be strength-on-strength: a Patriots offense that has scored 80 points in its two playoff games against an intimidating Seahawks defense that's gunning for a place in history. Of course, that was supposed to be the story last year, too, until Seattle blew the doors off the Broncos by halftime.
— Sunday's 45-7 thrashing of the Colts in the AFC Championship Game put the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the sixth time in 14 seasons. To put that in perspective, the seven other franchises with at least three Super Bowl wins — the Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, Packers, Giants, Raiders and Redskins — have eight appearances between them in the same span. The Patriots' consistency can be taken for granted, particularly among those skeptics who point out they haven't won a title in the aftermath of the 2007 Spygate scandal. But season after season, Belichick and Brady have their team in a position to win it all. In a league where consistency is hard to come by, the Patriots' feat only gets more remarkable by the year.
— With five minutes to go in Seattle, it sure didn't seem that Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin would get to go on another profanity-laced tirade against media "doubters" — the same people who almost unanimously picked the heavy favorites to win Sunday. If anything, the struggles of the Seahawks receivers to shake man-to-man coverage and hang onto the football matched the primary doubt scouts always have had about their roster. But even before the Seahawks erased a 12-point deficit and WR Jermaine Kearse caught the 35-yard game-winner in overtime to beat the Packers 28-22, any suggestion they could really use WR Percy Harvin in a spot like this was ludicrous. Carroll and GM John Schneider can't get enough credit for having the courage of conviction to deal their most explosive player five games into a title defense, believing in their ability to make up for the loss in other ways. Now they just have to hope Baldwin, Kearse or somebody else can make the sort of impact Harvin did on last year's title game against the Broncos.
— In hindsight, Packers coach Mike McCarthy may take heat for some conservative decisions — most notable, kicking field goals from 18 and 19 yards in the first quarter and running five out of six plays on consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. But the bottom line is that the Packers would be going to Super Bowl XLIX as long as they recover the Seahawks' onside kick in the final minutes of regulation. Instead, third-string TE Brandon Bostick — who's supposed to be a blocker — stepped in front of star WR Jordy Nelson and took a bonk to the head that will live on in fans' nightmares. How many times have NFL coaches told players, "Just do your job?" Bostick tried to do somebody else's, and it proved fatal. Any criticism of strategy misses the point that, failing that one error, the strategy worked.
PHOTOS: NFC Championship Game
— Of all the paths that players took to Super Bowl XLIX, Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount's might be the strangest. In March, he left New England for a two-year, $3.85 million contract with the Steelers. In August, he was arrested on a marijuana charge in a car with then-teammate Le'Veon Bell. In November, he walked off the field before the end of a Pittsburgh win over the Titans, leading to his release the next day. The same week, Blount re-signed with the Patriots, who rode him for 148 yards and three TDs Sunday. Given his history, it's hard to say where Blount goes from here, but he should get a shot at a ring before the Patriots make the decision on whether to pay a $100,000 roster bonus that's due in March and keep him for 2015.
— Another ugly ending at New England for Andrew Luck — 12-of-33 passing for 126 yards and two interceptions in a runaway defeat — reflects more on the state of the Colts roster than a young quarterback who continued to make big strides in his third season. Remember, the Colts played the entire season without their best defensive player (OLB Robert Mathis) and benched the running back (Trent Richardson) they not long ago gave up a first-round pick to obtain GM Ryan Grigson has plenty of work still to do. But there's no doubt the most important piece is in place, for the long haul.
— Perhaps the biggest win on this day for the NFL: Nobody will be talking about the officiating Monday morning. It's about time. On to Arizona.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
PHOTOS: AFC Championship Game