Here are the top stories from Friday:
Seahawks general manager John Schneider: Running back Marshawn Lynch is "leaning toward retirement"
From Bill Barnwell's story on how the Broncos can beat the Patriots: "Brady-Manning XVII is expected to be an exercise in squeezing Denver's quarterback, in Bill Belichick swarming the field on the fading Manning and waiting for the 39-year-old to make mistakes. The game could very well turn out that way. New England is rightly the favorite to win this game, almost wholly because nobody trusts Manning. The divisional-round victory was Manning's first start of the year without an interception, and it would be a small miracle if he bumped that streak to two. As much as it would be a fairy-tale story in what is likely to be the last Brady-Manning encounter, it's extremely tough to imagine the Broncos evening the quarterback gap by virtue of a classic performance from Manning."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera: Tough decision to rule out defensive end Jared Allen (by David Newton)
From Ian O'Connor's story on how wide receiver Julian Edelman made himself into the perfect Patriot: "He wanted to accelerate the process of realizing his zillion-to-one childhood dream, and he thought he could force his way into the pros as a receiver, cornerback, return man, Wildcat option or whatever by competing in a mid-major conference and dominating a position ruled by passers a half-foot taller at the heavyweight schools. Edelman's blind belief in himself explains why he will carry a personal 15-game winning streak into the AFC Championship Game in Denver."
49ers fire defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, hire Lions running backs coach Curtis Modkins as offensive coordinator
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, Lions players donate 94,000 bottles of water to Flint, Michigan (by Michael Rothstein)
Kathryn Smith's Bills promotion isn't surprising to those who know her work (by Mike Rodak)
From Matt Bowen's story on how Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's designed runs wreck defenses: "At 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, Newton has the frame and toughness to run inside the tackles, the 4.5 speed to expose the edge and the ultra-rare athleticism to win in the open field. With that freakish ability, the Panthers can create game-plan issues for opposing defenses on run schemes that put the ball in Newton's hands."
From Greg Garber's story on the Slater legacy living on in New England: "For five seasons, 6-foot, 198-pound Matthew has been the Patriots' special teams' captain, and, in each of those seasons, he was the AFC's sole non-kicking special teams player named to the Pro Bowl. Only the Buffalo Bills' Steve Tasker has more consecutive special teams appearances (six) from 1990-95."
From ESPN Stats & Information research: Over the last two seasons (including the playoffs), the Patriots are 24-3 when wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski both play. They are 4-5 with at least one of them out of the lineup.