FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - And so we get the matchup that looked the most enticing right from the start.
The defending champion Seahawks, with a magnificent comeback win over the Packers in overtime, get the chance to become the first repeat champion in more than a decade -- against the team and the quarterback for the ages.
Thanks to the Patriots' 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game Sunday night, Tom Brady will become the first quarterback in NFL history to play in six Super Bowls.
It is on to Phoenix for the Patriots, who will try to win the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season. That's when they became the last NFL team to win back-to-back titles, an accomplishment the Seahawks can match in Super Bowl XLIX.
In a league that regularly produces surprise teams that make it to -- and often win -- the Super Bowl, this was a year when chalk ruled and the favorites emerged from their conferences.
The Seahawks are one of the youngest Super Bowl championship teams on record, and now third-year quarterback Russell Wilson has a chance to add another title at the age of 26. That's how old Brady was when he won his second Super Bowl title after the 2003 season.
Brady will break a tie with John Elway, the only other quarterback to appear in five Super Bowls. And if he gets his fourth ring, he will tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most by any quarterback.
The way the Patriots have played since laughing off their critics after a 2-2 start, there's no reason to think Brady doesn't stand a decent chance of getting that ring.
I still like the Seahawks, whose defense is as good as any we've seen this side of the '85 Bears. But after seeing Wilson struggle for most of the game against the Packers and need a mind-numbing performance in the final minutes to beat the Packers in OT, it's certainly plausible to believe the Patriots will give Seattle plenty of trouble when they meet for the Lombardi Trophy.
With Brady at the top of his game and Bill Belichick looking every bit the most dominant coach of our age -- or perhaps any age -- it certainly is not a stretch to believe the Patriots will win. Belichick (who set the NFL record with his 21st postseason win Sunday, breaking a tie with Tom Landry) will be coaching in his sixth Super Bowl -- the most by any coach -- and he's hungry to erase the sting of two losses to the Giants in his previous two appearances.
The first of those losses came in the same stadium he'll be visiting in two weeks. It was Eli Manning to David Tyree on the remarkable Helmet Catch that sparked one of the greatest Super Bowl upsets ever against the previously unbeaten Patriots. It was Manning with another thrilling performance after the 2011 season that foiled the Patriots again.
Belichick and Brady have been at their best this year. There were plenty of skeptics after the first month of the season, when Brady looked shaky, the defense looked vulnerable and the Patriots were 2-2 after a Monday night embarrassment in Kansas City. But it's dangerous to predict the beginning of the end of one of the greatest empires in NFL history, and that was not the time to do it.
The Patriots recovered beautifully and Brady ended up with one of his best seasons in leading the Patriots to a 12-4 record and the No. 1 seed.
The Patriots again had their moments in last week's divisional playoff round against the Ravens, twice falling behind by 14 points, but Brady was magnificent in leading them to a comeback win. He had another signature effort against the Colts, and the running game, powered by bruising tailback LeGarrette Blount, also keyed the win.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck again was no match for the Patriots' defense, which is perhaps the best since their dynasty began in the early 2000s.
All these years later, Brady and Belichick still are in position for more championships.
One more title run in two weeks, and coach/quarterback can lay claim to another Super Bowl championship.
Can't ask for a better matchup.
"I think you've got the best two teams playing in this game,'' Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You can't ask for a better game than this. Two good organizations, two good teams being able to slug it out for one champion, and that's what it's all about. So we got to get ready to go. It's going to be tough, but like I said, to be a champ, you got to beat the champ.''