Number 30, HHH. Wins.
The Feeling Being Mutual
I’m not going to start this section of the column with a sarcastic knock on someone or something, like I usually do, in order to stress the gravity of what we are about to witness early afternoon this Sunday: the Final, and I do mean FINAL, playoff meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. All roads have led to this.
Now, first off, I would like to rip on the NFL for scheduling this game as the first off the two playoff games. I would have preferred that they booked this as the late afternoon/early evening game, even though I’m sure the schedule was planned prior to this game. I also would like to take the time to rip on the WWE, who booked the Royal Rumble on the same night as the NFC/AFC Championship games. Both companies have screwed us over with horrible bookings and we’re the ones who will have to pay for this.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced each other in three AFC Championship games to date. Manning has won two of them, most recently the one that led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2014.
I’ve gone on record saying that I believe Manning, at the end of the day, is the greatest football player of all time. What I feel has made the more successful of the two is the impeccable coaching that Brady's had the luxury of being surrounded by his whole career. Conversely, Manning has experienced a plethora of obstacles that he has had to overcome: potentially career-ending injuries, team changes and personnel changes. If Brady is a child of a nuclear family, Manning is a child of divorce. It’s the slight tumultuous nature of Manning’s career that will ultimately lead to it ending years before Brady’s does. I heard a report this week that Brady actually feels he can play eight more years in the league, and may plan to. Case in point, a complete lack of talk and speculation on Brady’s retirement this offseason on the heels of a Super Bowl victory. And once again, he’s here. Another AFC Championship game. Patriots owner Robert Kraft actually acquired ownership of the team 22 Years ago today. The result was a New England renaissance. The Pats have been to 11 AFC Championship games since then. This Sunday will be one of those 11 games.
As for my pick in this game:
We witnessed two great games last week from the two teams in question. At the end of each, both teams, on paper, looked equally as impressive. Their respective opponents hung with them enough to ultimately lose by a touchdown. The brightest stars, like Rob Gronkowski or Aqib Talib, shined in later moments, and ultimately the better team in both games won. There’s no doubt that Manning looked about as lackluster as he has since the second half of the season began. One can only imagine that if Antonio Brown was playing for the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger were healthy, the Broncos wouldn't even be here at this point. Still, I’m not knocking Peyton’s play. He still threw for 200+ yards without an interception.
The thing that worries me most in this game for the Broncos is them potentially starting out flat and having to play catch-up. That’s essentially what happened in the first half on Sunday. They needed to rely on defensive game-changers to get second and third chances to bring it home. They will get no gifts in this game.
I didn’t really expect jawing between these two teams this week, but we got a little from safety T.J. Ward, who stated that the proper way to tackle Gronk is to “go low” on him. Of course, Gronk felt threatened by that and responded with a homoerotic/homophobic comment.
It’s surprising that the Pats are three-point favorites on the road this week in an AFC Championship game against a team that has been basically at the same exact strength all season, but they really are that much better. I want to pick the Broncos, because I want nothing more than to see Peyton get his one shot at redemption, and to ride off in to the sunset a champion, but I really can’t in good consicence.
For all you Manning fans, and I’m one of you: Take solace in the fact that even if Manning loses this game, at least he will be put out to pasture by his greatest rival, and I’m sure he wouldn’t want it any other way.
Broncos plus the points, and hopefully prove me wrong.
Until No Flags Fly
Whew, now that serious time is over.
The Carolina Panthers last week, at least in the first half, showed me exactly why the fuck they are in the NFC Championship game this year: They are a dynamic team that, though a couple players short, know how to put points on the board and play game-manipulating defense. I didn’t like the fact that their D crumbled in the second half, allowing the ever-dangerous/never-say-die Seahawks to make it a game. Disaster written all over it, which, luckily for Carolina, resulted in nothing.
I also gotta give props to Cam Newton for owning up to this persona he’s created as more and more spotlight has been put on him. Dude has a big chip on his shoulder at times. He also for sure doesn’t like road fans infiltrating his stadium and cheering for their team. Case in point, Newton balling up a 12th Man flag and throwing it, much like he did to a Green Bay Packer fan a few weeks back. Of course, much like the Packers fan a couple weeks ago, a pansy-ass Seahawks fan wrote an open letter to Cam, expressing how much his feelings were hurt at the 12th Man desecration.
We all know Sarah is really a man, by the way.
Like it or not (and I do like it), you gotta admire the balls on Cam to throw yet another flag a mere weeks after getting such flack for throwing the first one.
A pet peeve of mine is hypocrisy when someone's perceived to be scandalous. For example, if Cam feels the need to throw flags of opposing teams in his stadium, I want him to do it like Rip Taylor throws confetti. I don’t want him to stifle himself because it hurts other’s feelings, and I especially don’t want him to bitch about it when the rest of the league hates him, or wants to single him out as a bad guy. He’s made his bed. He has to lie in it.
The bottom line is you cannot play both sides of the fence, and Cam doesn’t. I respect that about him, and everyone should.
Meanwhile, another game was played Saturday night in Arizona that had some sort of significance.
Now I know Cris Collinsworth is pretty much universally hated by everyone who has ears, but he said an amazing comment during the Green Bay/Arizona postgame the other night that flirted with brilliance and was totally accurate.
“There is no reality TV that can match the drama we just saw.”
He was right. Bad coaching, bad riffing, Déjà Vu Hail Mary and a coin that didn’t flip all led to Larry Fitzgerald, the oldest guy in the room, taking over in overtime and bringing his team a win.
For all of us who don’t have horses in this race, we have a very simple good vs. evil match all laid out for us. The pompous Cam Newton-led Panthers and the humble oldie and goodie Larry Fitzgerald-led Cardinals.
As for the pick,
I, like pretty much every other NFL analyst, feel that Cam and the Panthers have many, many great years ahead of them. These Arizona Cardinals we're seeing do not.
The Pack were the better team on Saturday night. It was poor coaching, dropping of open completed passes, and dropping of open interceptions that cost them the game. Basically, the Packers beat themselves and the Cards had little to do with it. And at the end, the Pack’s play was still good enough to send the game to overtime.
Arizona’s D is good; Carolina’s is way better. Arizona’s offense is good (when Carson Palmer isn’t under- or overthrowing receivers), Carolina’s can be explosive.
All that said, and I’m crazy for doing this, I’m picking Arizona. They will have to do everything right in this game to have a chance. I can’t get the second-half crumble of the Carolina D out of my mind. If Palmer can make a few big plays, their defense and run game can keep them in the mix to eke out a win by a field goal.
Clear your schedules and watch all this unfold with me. No seriously, where are you watching the games? Let's meet up.
Next week, the second annual NF-FELD awards.