THE SEAHAWKS HAD A DEFENSE TO DIE FOR LAST SEASON AS THEY MADE SERIOUS STRIDES TOWARD THE SUPER BOWL. SO WHAT DID COACH PETE CARROLL DO? HE BLEW THE WHOLE DAMN THING UP—AND OUT OF THE RUBBLE CREATED SOMETHING EVEN SCARIER
Line of Flier Give the Panthers' O-linemen this: Nothing distracts them when quarterback Cam Newton is barking his signals, not even the sudden and unexpected presence of a linebacker above their heads. The 49ers' Ahmad Brooks drew a flag for his premature invasion of Carolina airspace, one of the few mistakes San Francisco made in a 23--10 win on Sunday. Brooks & Co. will be aloft again this week: They head to Seattle for the NFC championship game (page 32).
PHOTOPHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BERGMAN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Patriot Missile It seems there was a trend on divisional-playoff weekend: Teams with linebackers who took to the air ended up victorious. A day before San Francisco clinched its berth in the NFC title game, Jamie Collins (91) and New England locked up a spot in the AFC's by beating the Colts 43--22. In his first postseason game, Collins, a rookie, had a sack and one of the Pats' four interceptions of Andrew Luck (12). Things figure to be more difficult when New England plays at Denver on Sunday (page 38).
PHOTOPHOTOGRAPH BY ROD MAR FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Hear Me Now? Three things Seattle defenders probably said to each other as they huddled before hosting the Saints last Saturday: 1) Remember your assignments, 2) Don't miss tackles and 3) This place is about to get really loud, so we'll talk again at halftime. CenturyLink Field was deafening—as usual—and with good reason: The Seahawks jumped to a 16--0 lead and held on for a 23--15 win to clinch the third trip to a conference championship game in franchise history.