2016 Conference Championship Weekend Preview: Death Comes Ripping

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by Eight Thirty Seven with assistance from J-Dub and Jason from Indiana

We’re just a few short weeks away from the Super Bowl, and this past weekend four very good teams bit the dust. Seattle got smoked out of the box, their comeback being too little too late. Pittsburgh threw away the Denver game because they couldn’t do anything in the red zone, but they were missing the best receiver in football due to injuries. This same fate also plagued the Packers when Randall Cobb left the game in the first quarter with a chest injury, and even with a second improbable Hail Mary at the end of regulation they never saw the ball in overtime and lost almost immediately. Andy Reid’s poor clock management at the end of the Kansas City/New England game sent the Chiefs packing, which is a sentence that should only shock you if you happen to be reading this whilst sticking a fucking fork in an electrical outlet. In less than thirty hours death became very real for the 2015-16 NFL seasons of those four teams, proving that sometimes your aspirations are just dreams.

I used to be in this death metal band called From The Wreckage and we played two cover songs. One was Black Flag’s “My War” (because it’s easily the best song in the entire BF catalog) and the other was a Misfits song called “Death Comes Ripping“. The latter was not only a blast to play live, but a very stern and powerful reminder that death is a thing which strikes with a very sudden blow. Every single player on the four remaining playoff rosters legitimately believe they are headed to Santa Clara in a couple of weeks, and half of them are dead wrong. On Sunday afternoon or evening death will ripping through their dream like a bat out of hell, and hopefully for their sake that shitty Meatloaf album of the same name won’t be playing as it happens.

The Super Bowl is almost like an entirely different season itself, so the grim reaper basically comes for almost all of the NFL on this Sunday night. Last year we saw an unbelievably amazing NFC Championship game where the Seattle Seahawks assisted the Green Bay Packers in choking away what looked like the easiest road conference championship win in playoff history, and then something that sort of maybe a little bit resembled a football game shortly thereafter. This year we’ve got two really, really good ones, and won’t be stuck with results that end up with the Colts hanging up a banner that pretty much reads “At least we tried”. But what the fuck do I know? Not a whole hell of a lot, as 36 years into this slow struggle towards death I’m lucky if I can put together a rational thought before noon any day of the week. That’s why I have someone who can cut to the chase and give you the information that you want in fewer words, and that man is the man, the myth, the legend we all have come to know as J-Dub.

J-Dub:  Championship weekend brings us to the brink of a bunch of knuckleheads who know nothing about football planning Super Bowl parties during which they will spend more time talking about fucking commercials than they will about what ever they see on the field.

With that, let’s take a hard look at the team’s involved in this week’s Super Bowl Semi-final.  I’ll start with what Eight Thirty Seven and I orginally said about each team, then I’ll roll that into what you might expect from a piece with the word “Preview” in the title. Then comes where I’m putting the cash.

Arizona Cardinals: What We Originally Said:

Why They Can Win:

Much like Carolina, the Cardinals have a head coach who is light years ahead of the rest of the NFL. Specifically, this means instead of imitating or trying to accuse Bill Belichick, Bruce Arians has taken it upon himself to turn the Cardinals into what could be a perennial killing machine for the next decade. Carson Palmer isn’t going to play until he’s 43 years old, but they are going to milk that goat for every cent of the 45 million dollars they paid to prepare it for slaughter. Nearly a fifth of their starters made the Pro Bowl, and we’re sure none of them could give a rat fuck about making plans for that trip. This team is on a mission to win the Super Bowl, and everything other than that matters to them about as much what those twats on “The View” think matters to Vladimir Putin.

Why They Can’t Win:

After Carson Palmer got hurt last year, the Cardinals didn’t just go into a tailspin; they went full-on “Challenger.’ They got dropped in the first round by a team with a losing record, and mustered an offensive performance as weak as the French Army in 1940. Palmer is 36 years old and has had two knee surgeries, which means the Cardinals are one hit on a guy who’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated walking on an underwater treadmill away from “Challenger II: This Time, It’s Everywhere.”

What’s Changed:

Carson Palmer has gone from a guy on the periphery of the MVP discussion back to being Carson Palmer.  He threw two interceptions so horror-filled against the Packers I’m surprised they aren’t featured in a Friday the 13th remake. If he continues that, the Cardinals become just another annoying bird J-Dub blasts out of the trees in his back yard when their incessant caterwauling wakes him at 5:45 a.m. from yet another bourbon-induced “woke up in his clothes again” moment.

Carolina Panthers: What We Originally Said:

Why They Can Win:

Not enough can be said about the job Ron Rivera has done with a team that made last year’s postseason with a losing record. He’s got the league MVP whom most writers thought would never succeed as a pocket passer, and not only is he getting the job done (albeit not in the flashiest manner), but his ability to run the ball is a key part of the Panthers’ success. In other words, he’s a bigger, stronger Randall Cunningham, which means he can actually climb the mountain rather than having his career end with a whimper in Baltimore.

Josh Norman went ape-shit on Odell Beckham because Norman is a bad-ass and is having a career year. Luke Keuchly got beat one play in the Atlanta game where he somehow ended up having to cover Julio Jones, but the rest of the year he’s been flawless. Collectively, the Panthers have had the perfect balance of offense and defense to succeed, and now that they don’t have the “undefeated” thing hanging over their head, they can focus on the goal of becoming Super Bowl champions.

Why They Can’t Win:

If they don’t win the Super Bowl, it will be because they got beat on the way there. Nobody in the AFC (more on that in a bit) can hang with this team. I know, any thing can happen in a one-game scenario, but if you had to lay your next house payment on Carolina versus anybody from the “Almost Football Conference,” tell me who you’ve got?

Toward the end of the season, teams started to figure out the Panthers on both ends. They almost lost to the Saints and the Giants, which should probably disqualify them from the Super Bowl altogether. But this is a league based on actual results, which is why anybody still thinks any team in the AFC is still relevant. The fact the Panthers did lose to a Falcons team they shut out 38-0 just two weeks prior gives everybody hope, but like we said, hope is not a strategy.

What’s Changed

Time to go old school here.  If you are under 50, you likely don’t remember the old show “To Tell The Truth.” To make a long story short, this was all about three people pretending to be the same person who had some interesting story, and it was the task of a panel of “celebrities” to guess who was the “real deal.”  The hook came at the end when it was announced “Would the real (insert name here) please stand up?”

Would the real Carolina Panthers please stand up?  Is the real Carolina team the one who gorilla-stomped the league on its way to a 15-1 record, or is it the one who got man-handled by the imploding Atlanta Falcons, or it is the one who checked out for the second half against the Seahawks?  Don’t tell me we need to dig up Kitty Carlisle to tell us.

Denver Broncos: What We Originally Said:

Why They Can Win:

The AFC might as well stand for “Absolute Fucking Crap,” because there isn’t a single great team in this entire conference. It doesn’t require greatness to be at the top of the AFC heap; it merely means somebody has to be a better grade of crap. There really isn’t a better way to describe the Broncos.

Having said that, Denver’s defense isn’t crap. Denver’s defense has been making Denver omelets (Mmmmmm…omelets) out of opposing offenses all season. They rush the quarterback as well as anybody else in the league.

Why They Can’t Win:

The answer is contained in the following, sung to the tune of the “Nationwide” jingle: “Denver Broncos just fucked up.”

Gary Kubiak is trying in Denver to rebuild the offense with which he won a Super Bowl in Baltimore. A dominant, “ball-control” running game married to a six-foot-six rocket-armed quarterback who is just mobile enough to make the play-action game effective. In preparation for the play-offs, Kubiak just benched that quarterback for the quarterback of Christmas past.

We could very easily cite the first year Peyton Manning came to Denver, where he blew the divisional playoff game at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens in two overtimes. Or we could really get nasty and talk about how Ol’ Horseface got smoked by the Seahawks 43-8 in what has to have been one of the most embarrassing Super Bowl performances since Tony Eason forgot what the color red looked like in January 1985. And if we wanted to go even further than that, we could talk about how they lost yet another divisional playoff game at home to the team who hired the guy who Manning’s old franchise had hired to take his job.

What’s Changed

Peyton Manning is back under center for the Broncos. The key here is ” back under center.”  Manning is clearly running Gary Kubiak’s offense, which doesn’t require the quarterback to make plays to win the game. The “stat guys” will tell me Manning didn’t throw for 300 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown pass, which is why “stat guys” are idiots.

New England Patriots:What We Originally Said:
Why They Can Win:

Two words: Tom Fucking Brady. Yeah, we know that’s three words, but the average Patriots’ fan can’t count that high anyway. Face it, Brady is the definition of that smarmy fuckwad of a guy everybody outside of greater Boston hates with the intensity of Chipotle-fueled intestinal distress, but the fact is he single-handedly changes the standard conventions of NFL football.  As we all know, the New England Patriots are no stranger to the Super Bowl. They’ve been to the big game six out of the last fifteen years, and they’ve won four of them. Tom Brady is still playing killer football, and his age isn’t slowing him down (although injuries are) as the gap widens in what’s left of the Brady/Manning discussion with every passing day.

Why They Can’t Win:

Jesus may have walked across the water once…but it was once. There’s a limited number of miracles that can be pulled off, and even St. Thomas A-Brady-ius is running out of his. The fact the Pats a 2-4 in their last six games tells you that. The fact the Patriots offensive line is made of lunch meat is another tell. If the Patriots season were a craps game, they’ve got a low point and they’ve tossed about 11 straight passes. But “snake eyes” is coming…sooner rather than later.

No Patriot fan wants to admit this, but there’s no real excuse for losing to the Eagles and the Dolphins. The Patriots were the only play-off team the Eagles beat, and the Eagles also lost to the fucking Dolphins. The Eagles lost TWICE to a quarterback who forgot to spike the ball before halftime. Three days after they got knocked out of the play-offs, they canned Chip Kelly, who might have been most incompetent person working in the NFL outside of Robert Kraft’s sobriety coach.

There are bucketfuls of kids in the Philippines who are considering child prostitution as a legitimate career option because they can’t live with the guilt that comes with stitching Eagles jerseys. The Patriots’ vulnerability exposed in that loss will linger throughout the play-offs because it’s pretty obvious there is larger issues in New England beyond just injuries or “having a bad game.”

Doubt that? Tell us another play-off team that gave up 300 passing yards to Ryan Tannehill. Case closed.

What’s Changed

Nothing.  Absolutely fucking nothing. 

I simply can’t believe how not impressed I have been by the Patriots this entire season, which is odd considering where they are. Granted, I know part of that is the fact that this entire league has been putting a shit product on the field this whole season.  Like I’ve said before, to be the best in a shit league doesn’t require greatness; it simply means being a better grade of shit.

Obviously, based on previous writings of mine, this “shit” thing doesn’t apply to Tom Brady, who is the sole reason why this team is where it is. He’s still overcoming the exceptionally mediocre nature of this team. That’s why the Patriot offense continues to get the job done.

It’s the Patriot defense which is a mess.  You can tell me all you want about injuries, but even healthy that unit has three guys who don’t suck, and eight guys who can all hit red-line levels of suckitude with little or no notice.  This is why the Patriots are looking like a “scratch and dent” version of the 80’s San Diego Chargers…a team with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback who will throw the ball 70 times a game on a team that couldn’t spell defense if you spotted them the “D” and the “fense.”

I can honestly say that while it’s chalk to have all four teams that got byes in the conference championships, every single one of these teams deserves to be here. While I can’t stand the Broncos as a franchise and would rather watch footage of Wall Street day traders barbecue homeless people in front of their few remaining family members instead of seeing Denver succeed, they have a hell of a pass rush that even a San Diego Chargers fan who got a Raiders tattoo because he lost a bet could appreciate and they earned their spot. I don’t think they deserve home field advantage, but then again not all of my takes on the National Football League are popular. (I can’t believe that the online petition I set up to have Roger Goddell eaten by mountain lions while death row prisoners beat him with hammers was removed. For shame, change.org…) 

Personally, I couldn’t be more excited that conference championship weekend is on its way. If my calculations are correct, this will be the first day I’ve had off of work since the early seventies and I’ll be more than ready to sit on my ass and not set up Gmail accounts for people while guacamole falls onto my lap. This is Conference Championship Weekend in the NFL, and when Sunday ends death will have came ripping for two of these four teams.

AFC Championship:  New England Patriots (13-4) -3 at Denver Broncos (13-4)   (44)   3:05 PM EST – CBS  

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By now you’ve probably heard a million times that this will be the umpteenth time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have faced each other in a regular or postseason game. Since that’s a tired bit, it shouldn’t go without mentioning that these are two teams who are playing each other and not two men. Or should it? Even though Denver is playing in their own stadium, even though they have the better defense, even though the Patriots’ offensive line was so banged up that they almost lost at home to Andy Reid and the Chiefs, I can’t tear myself away from the fact that at the end of the day this is still Peyton Manning on the field with Tom standing on the opposite sideline next to Darth Hoodie. For a guy who’s been so amazing in games against other elites like Ben Roethlisberger, his only Super Bowl win came against Rex Grossman. It is impossible for one to argue that when he steps onto a field in which the New England Patriots are playing, he suffers from an overwhelming case intimidation. And rightfully so, because this is right on par with playing a round of golf with Tiger Woods in 2006…Except for this is a collision sport, and we’re talking about a guy whose neck could snap at any given moment in time. The Broncos can become a problem when it comes to their pass rush – and they had better be given all of the shit they’ve talked this week on Twitter – but Belichick knows a thing or two about adjusting his play calling approach when things aren’t going his way. That’s precisely why the Patriots recoil in disbelief when things aren’t going as planned…Things have gone so well for them for so long that they simply don’t respond well to failure. Given this golden opportunity for Peyton to go out on top, there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to step all over a beat up Pats secondary and linebacking corps. That being said, I’d rather drink a gallon of tap water in Flint, Michigan before I’d count on that one being a lock. As of late, Robert DeNiro’s agent has done a better job selecting movie roles for Unble Bob than Manning has done at taking advantage of opportunities under center that could immortalize him and spray some Flex-Seal in the middle of that “Yeah, but…” boat he seems to force into capsizing in every time this conversation comes up. Patriots win, cover, force the over to be a decent bet, and Manning says something really sweet to the press before seriously considering not doing this another year. And if the Broncos do win? They are going to get absolutely fucking crushed by whoever wins the NFC Championship in the Super Bowl. The last time the Broncos won a home playoff game against New England, they came out and got dick-punched by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. And one could argue that either one of the NFC teams would be favored against Denver should they find some way to pull this off. I’ll discuss that in the next section:

837’s Pick:  Patriots 27, Broncos 20

J-Dub:  It’s all about trends.  The Tom Brady Patriots are 2-6 in Denver. Can you name the two quarterbacks who started for Denver in thos two New England victories? Tim Tebow and Danny Kanell. No matter who the Broncos put under center, they’ve got somebody better than that. I pretty much have to take the points here. $100 Denver, $75 Under

Jason from Indiana:  New England

NFC Championship:  Arizona Cardinals (14-3) +3 at Carolina Panthers (16-1)  (47.5)  6:40 PM EST – FOX

Cam Newton

The Cardinals are coming off an exhilarating Saturday night win in the divisional playoffs against the Packers, and now that Seattle is out of the postseason it would be hard to argue that Arizona isn’t the most dangerous of the remaining four playoff teams. Once they get going, they can be a nightmare for almost anybody that gets in their way. Led by a 36 year old former playoff bust that had been all but left for dead by almost any owner in the NFL with a need at quarterback, the Cardinals at full speed are just flat out fucking scary. Not that the Panthers aren’t either…Carolina is 21-2 going back to December of 2014 and finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL, their lone loss being a confusing week sixteen contest against the Falcons who otherwise spent the second half of the season pulling their own teeth out of their throats while Arthur Blank called 30 other NFL owners crying and seeing if he could get half a fruit basket for Matt Ryan. With all of the people looking at the Panthers regular season record and already crafting Super Bowl Champion memes for Cam Newton, here’s a take you might not get hear a lot:  Carolina is in serious trouble here. Even though they shot the Seahawks out of the sky in the first half of the NFC Divisional Playoff game and picked their teeth with the feathers, their offense evaporated after the intermission. In the playoffs the quarterback position is more important than ever, so think about what really happened there:  That defense could have manned up and produced a 3 and out, then Cam could have gotten the ball back and taken them down the field on one five minute touchdown drive. At 41-0 with 22 minutes left and everything in the world headed in their favor, they could have comfortably put Derek Anderson in and easily won that game no matter what. Instead, they let Seattle score on two consecutive drives, produced no offense at all in the second half, and if that game is five minutes longer they don’t win it. No matter how good you look in the first half, that shit is not going to fly this deep in the playoffs and it definitely isn’t going down against a team coached by Bruce Arians. Typically the quarterback is the leader of the team and players will follow them. Cam Newton practically led them to the execution chamber, and thankfully for them somebody pulled the fire alarm while all fifty three of those motherfuckers were walking The Green Mile. I’m not simply saying this for effect, but this might be the hardest game I’ve ever had to pick in all of my time doing this. Last Sunday was Carolina’s twelfth straight home win, but picking them would mean that I’d be eliminating the team that I think might be the best in football at the moment. I really think the Panthers will be in the Super Bowl…next year. Meanwhile the urgency of Carson Palmer becoming one of the many quality quarterbacks to never make it to the Super Bowl is going to drive him nuts all week, and you have to think that as a guy who’s not particularly cheerful anyway he knows goddamned good and well that with free agency being the way it is in the NFL now this may be his last shot to get it done. I’m probably going to regret the hell out of this pick by the second quarter, but for some reason I think Arizona was a much better team than they appeared to be in the first three quarters of the Green Bay game. I think they’re a lot closer to the team that beat the Packers by 30 in week sixteen than what we saw on Saturday, and now that some of the rust has shaken off they will be in much better shape when they head to Charlotte this weekend. Sometimes in life you have to take chances, and this is my “dick on the chopping block” pick of the week. I feel a lot more comfortable about the under than I do the pick itself.

837’s Pick:  Cardinals 22, Panthers 20

J-Dub:  I really don’t have a flowery narrative here beyond what I’ve already said. I simply can’t trust Carson Palmer, especially not on the road against a better team. $200 on Carolina.

Jason from Indiana:  Carolina

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Eight Thirty Seven

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