by Ryan Meehan and Coach Ryan
We’re down to the final four NFL teams remaining in the competition to win sporting’s ultimate prize. As stated last week, this is good for us as the fans because the four best and most interesting teams are left. There isn’t a Bengals or a Chargers team that got through, and while that does eliminate the potential for an underdog story I’m getting tired of underdog stories anyway. (There’s too many of them in sports nowadays) Now that I’ve removed the rain cloud from above my head, we can talk about the two games that are coming up on Sunday which are going to be awesome. While I still think that the NFL starts the Wild Card and Divisional rounds too early in the day, they really nail it on Championship weekend. One game is on at 2 Central, and the other starts at 5:30 because it doesn’t care about your dinner and ends right when primetime stops getting ripe. It’s the greatest example of capitalism in America, and if the league could find away to put a logo in your living room they’d do that too.
New England Patriots (13-4) +4.5 at Denver Broncos (14-3) (55) 3PM EST – CBS
Meehan: When I say we’ve got the games that we want, you know that this is exactly the matchup I’m speaking of. Brady vs. Manning is something that will be a part of the NFL schedule for as long as these two are playing. And if you’re lucky, you’ll also get a playoff between the two in some seasons. With as weak as the AFC has been this year, I can feel confident knowing that no matter who wins I’ll be glad one of these two teams are in the big game.
The most recent reference point everyone will likely jump to is the Broncos blowing a 24-0 lead and losing the week twelve game against the Patriots 34-31. That game was in Massachusetts and this game won’t be, and all truth be told that first matchup has absolutely no relevance to what we will see on Sunday afternoon. Both of these teams are going to run the ball a lot more than you might think. And the team that’s doing it better at the moment is New England. LeGarrette Blount has become the latest unlikely star in the NFL. He got into a very public fight on national television when he was in college, and everybody thought it was going to end his career. Now he’s one game away from potentially becoming the MVP of the Super Bowl. That’s not an underdog story, it’s just plain fucking nuts. In a society where we overreact to everything and as soon as one person makes a mistake they are doomed, that guy took his suspension and didn’t let it stop him from working towards his ultimate goal. Sure his draft stock dropped like crazy, but he’s proved himself and he might end up being the X factor in this game. Tom Brady is where the center of attention is, but in that Indianapolis game he was more of a game manger than anything. Don’t get me wrong, he’s one hell of a game manager but that’s the direction New England is heading.
Denver is very much the opposite. With a seemingly endless supply of options, Peyton Manning can do pretty much anything he wants to. And I really hope for his sake that he wins this game, because I’m growing really tired of all the “choke artist” comments aimed at a guy who’s had such an impressive career. I don’t really have any strong personal feeling about the overall state of the Denver Broncos, other than I’ve noticed that seeing John Elway put away drinks in the press box doesn’t make me feel so bad about my recent weight gain. Of all Manning’s options, the two most important guys on the football field are going to be DeMarius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno. If they are successful and Peyton doesn’t throw more than one interception, the Denver Broncos will win this game.
That said, I am taking them to indeed do it but not by much. And although I’m not picking this game to have many similarities to the game these two played back in November, it could easily go into overtime. I give Denver a slight edge of one point and say take the over on the point total.
Meehan’s Pick: Broncos 31, Patriots 30
Coach: The best way to compare this weekend is to picture a Final Four with all four teams being the one seed in their respected division. As much fun as the NFC game will be make no doubt this game is as big as it gets. This matchup is the main reason why Championship Weekend often outshines the Super Bowl and is the Ali and Frazier of quarterback duels for this generation. Earlier in the season this matchup became one of the best games of the year as Tom Brady led an amazing secondhalf comeback at home but this is the AFC Championship and no matter the outcome you can be sure that if Denver has that kind of lead this week it will be safe.
As much as has been made about Brady against Manning personally if I was going to pick a pregame MVP Candidate it would be Wes Welker. The last time these two teams met Welker was just coming off a major injury and for the most part was rather ineffective (4 catches for 31 yards). There might not be anyone on the field with more to prove than Welker. One reason why this game is so hard to pick has nothing to do with Manning’s struggle in the cold/ playoffs but how Tom Brady has essentially owned Peyton. The last time Manning won was in 2009 when he was with the Colts. If you add the fact that Chris Harris is done with a torn ACL and this has Brady and Belichik back to the Super Bowl written all over it.
This however hasn’t quite been the Patriots year. Take into account everything that has gone wrong for the Patriots this year starting with Aaron Hernandez followed by all the injuries they have had and them just making it to the AFC Championship is nothing short of shocking. If there’s one reoccurring theme throughout this season it has been the absolute dominant play of Peyton Manning. Is nothing more suitable for this game than Manning breaking Brady’s record for touchdown passes in a season going up against Brady’s comeback against the Broncos?
Despite what is made of Brady being 10-4 against Manning the fact is this will be the fourth meeting between the two in the playoffs with Brady having a slight 2-1 edge. Look past that and this is the ultimate rubber match with these two each holding a record of 1-1 in the AFC Championship. This quite easily could be the last time we see these two square off in such a high profile stage so we surely will be seeing the best they both can offer and if last week taught us anything (myself included) it’s don’t go bet against Peyton this year. I’m taking the Broncos in an instant classic.
Coach’s Pick: Broncos 33, Patriots 31
San Francisco 49ers (14-4) +3.5 at Seattle Seahawks (14-3) (39.5) 6:30PM EST – FOX
Meehan: The San Francisco 49ers have won eight road games this season, which is an incredible feat for any team that is not the 2007 New England Patriots. And it’s fitting they will be playing Seattle, because let’s be honest they’re really the only team that has a shot at going up there and winning. The Seahawks are fresh off of a win against New Orleans, a team they should have beaten by more than eight points. They got up early but looked sluggish in the second half. Perhaps the biggest weakness that this illusion of home invincibility surrounding the Seahawks can be found in their lone home loss. They lost at home week sixteen to the Arizona Cardinals, who were much improved this year but still did not make the postseason. What that tells me is if they can do it, San Francisco can do it as well because not only do they have a pretty nice recent playoff history but they beat the Cardinals twice this year.
Regardless of what happens, this is not going to be like week two where the Niners went up to Seattle and got smoked 29-3. You can pick Seattle all you want and I don’t blame you, but if you’re thinking that they will blow San Francisco out again you’re out of your mind.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is getting some media flack this week for imitating Cam Newton’s touchdown celebration after scoring a touchdown of his own in Sunday’s game, proving that when it comes down to it collectively the media has absolutely no sense of humor. Given it’s not exactly the business they are in, but it’s still the truth and Colin was acting in good fun and it made for the biggest non-story of the week. And in all reality, the Niners have a much more serious problem to deal with, and that’s being able to hear the snap count.
The Hawks are very tough and in this case I think they are just a little tougher than San Francisco. I just think that this team is destined to get to New York and I have to trust the probably overhyped idea that their home field advantage gives them all they need to win in the second biggest game in the franchise’s history. Here again, close but I think Seattle does it.
Meehan’s Pick: Seahawks 26, 49ers 23
Coach: If the AFC Championship is showing us the twilight of two great quarterbacks careers the NFC Championship may be showing us the beginning of another great qb rivalry. I’ll admit it I thought the Panthers were going to beat the Niners last week in Carolina and San Francisco didn’t just dominate, they made as big of a statement as any team in the league has made all year manhandling one of the better home teams this season. Granted beating Carolina in Charlotte is a completely different animal than the 12th man in Seattle.
The Seahawks home field advantage this season isn’t just big, it has the feel of one of the best in history comparable to the great run by the Packers or the Broncos in the old (and only real) Mile High Stadium. In short it puts them on an entirely different playing level. I’m not even sure they would have gotten past the Saints in New Orleans but playing at home gives them a different mind set which transforms them into a completely different team.
I see this game as being very similar to the last time these two met meaning we should get the opposite of what we’ll see in the AFC: a defensive struggle with possibly the winning team being the first to go above 21. After last week’s game my head is telling me that it will be San Francisco but I’m going to have to go with my pick since last season and stick with Seattle.
This game much like the Denver and New England game have to be the hardest games to pick this season which is exactly how it should be when you’re down to the final four. Even though I’m picking the Super Bowl to be Seattle and Denver if it ends up being San Fran and New England I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. The bottom line in both of these games for me is how big the home field advantage is, Brady in the thin air of Denver and Kaepernick in the loudest stadium on the planet during the playoffs. I will say this: it’s been a Hell of a season and this weekend features two of the better Championship matches I have seen in recent years so sit back, pop open a case of your favorite beer (that’s right a case, man up), and enjoy.
Coach’s Pick: Seahawks 24, 49ers 23
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Meehan and Coach Ryan