1. The last thing we expected to happen was what we expected to happen. The last time all four favorites won in the Divisional Round was the 2004 season. That year, the Eagles, Falcons, and Steelers advanced to Championship Sunday. Then, the Patriots dismantled the Colts in Foxboro to cap off the weekend. The more things change, I guess.
2. Cam Newton’s loss with the Carolina Panthers means that this stat is still alive: No Heisman-winning quarterback has won an NFL playoff game in the last 26 years. Except, of course, for one man: Tim Tebow. Seriously? Unreal. Tebow.
3. Is the Patriots’ backfield the best in the playoffs? Unless the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch is allowed to affix a Skittle dispenser to his helmet, I’m arguing yes. LeGarrette Blount is the punisher, Stevan Ridley is the firecracker, and Shane Vereen is Brady’s favorite target not named Julian Edelman. I don’t know whether it’s a testament to Bill Belichick and his team’s depth or it’s just straight dumb luck, but New England’s ability to revamp its offense from a radically pass-happy prototype to an old fashioned ground-and-pound mock-up is absurd. It’s absurd!
4. Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers deserves love, too. The dude is just delightfully consistent. Weeks ago, one might say he was the rich man’s version of a young LeGarrette Blount. Now, he’s half the man Blount is, and that’s still high praise.
5. The Old Spice moms ad is the best commercial going right now. Someone argue me. That stuff is pure gold. I don’t know why anyone besides Old Spice, Geico, and AT&T is even making commercials at this point. I’d include Skittles in the discussion if they embraced their number one fan and made their tagline something simple like, “Skittles: Beast Mode.”
6. Three straight Conference Championship appearances for the Patriots and Niners. Maybe we haven’t achieved parity just yet? I mean, Broncos-Patriots/Niners-Seahawks is exactly what we predicted at the start of the year. But we shouldn’t complain. It’s better this way. The playoffs wouldn’t be as fun without changing-of-the-guard stories. Before he makes a Super Bowl, Andrew Luck will have to vanquish Tom Brady. And before Russell Wilson or RGIII or Chip Kelly work in February or, hell, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees get back there, they’ll have to conquer the mighty San Francisco defense. That’s fun. That’s why we watch. And hey, Wilson has a chance this weekend. Personally, I hope he’s successful.
7. Speaking of Russell Wilson: I love this dude. He’s perfect for Seattle. Fits the offense, the team, the city. Beyond the raw physical attributes, he has what it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback. But oh my God — he rarely has to do ANYTHING to win football games. He’ll throw maybe 15 times and the Seahawks will put up 40 points. Which is okay. Back when the Patriots were winning Super Bowls in the early 2000s, Brady was nothing more than a stellar game manager — guiding the offense, controlling possessions, making big plays only when necessary, and most importantly, taking care of the damn football. Stellar game managers can win Super Bowls. They can win Super Bowl MVPs. Russell Wilson is a very good game manager. Is he stellar? We’re about to find out, unless, of course, a certain Skittle connoisseur can do it all himself.
8. Can you believe Buffalo gave up on Marshawn Lynch? He joined the Seahawks in 2010, when “Beast Mode” was born. Since then, he’s had three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, averaging 1,350 yards and 12 TDs per year over that span. He’s been exceptionally productive and staggeringly consistent, not to mention gruesomely ugly and always a candidate for a “holy crap!” play. Still, right now, he’s only the second best running back in the playoffs.
9. LeGarrette Blount. 24 carries, 166 yards, 4 touchdowns. But stats aside, just watch this dude. He consistently extends 2-yard runs into 10-yard runs. And not even by running over people. He just falls forward for 8 yards every time. That’s the best way I can describe it. Three more things on Blount before we move on: 1, He’s shockingly elusive for a 250-pound rhinoceros; 2, His last name (pronounced “blunt”) is making EVERYONE in New England a comedian these days; and 3, He’s the undisputed X-factor for the remainder of the postseason.
10. And about those bolo ties… Okay, we weren’t talking about bolo ties. But we should have been, because if there’s anything to take away from Philip Rivers’ 2013 campaign, it’s that bolo ties are officially back! Were they ever in? you’ll ask moronically. Doesn’t matter. They’re here now and they’re here to stay. Go get one before Craigslist runs out.
11. I have no read on the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, my least favorite player in the NFL. First of all, Kaep could be the best QB in the playoffs or the worst. I have no idea. Just can’t tell. He’s awe-inspiring and terrifying at the same time. Second: Does anyone else just hate his guts? Maybe it’s because I think he unfairly took Alex Smith’s job or maybe it’s because he’s weird looking. I don’t know. But I despise this homie. Although, doing Newton’s patented “Superman” on Cam’s home turf was wonderfully bold.
12. On January 18, 2004, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning met in the AFC Championship game. Ten years and one day later, they’ll do it once again. We’ve been at this for ten years now. Ten years of “Who’s better?” arguments and GOAT discussions. Ten years of “Manning can’t play in cold weather” and “Manning’s not clutch.” Ten years of “Brady’s overrated” and “Brady doesn’t have Manning’s stats.” Ten years of the greatest player vs. player rivalry since … wait … Bird and Magic? My God! It’s been Brady versus Manning for a decade! Think about all the other superstar quarterbacks who’ve come with high promise but gone with not even half the success as these two. Since their first playoff meeting, Brady and Manning have combined for 11 AFC Championship appearances. All other quarterbacks in the NFL have combined for — wait for it — 11 AFC Championship appearances. Half! And this weekend — just maybe — it’s Brady versus Manning for the final time. Wow. I can’t wait for Sunday.
And now, onto Championship Sunday.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Denver is going to screw up its chance to play in the Super Bowl because: Peyton Manning is a worse quarterback in the playoffs and an even worse quarterback when he’s playing Brady and Belichick. When those elements are combined — Brady and Belichick in the playoffs — Manning’s practically second-rate. And even if he plays flawlessly, Denver’s running game is inferior to New England’s, which will free Tommy up for a pass-happy attack if the Broncos overplay the run. Plus, Denver’s defense, despite a strong performance against San Diego, is flawed. Oh, and John Fox versus Bill Belichick? Please.
New England is going to screw up its chance to play in the Super Bowl because: It’s Peyton’s year and we’ve learned before not to mess with destiny. The power of Brady and Belichick won’t matter much in the comfortable Denver climate, facing a passing attack that emulates your own model, but is superior in every way. Wes Welker’s performance will fill New England with remorse. But more important than everything else, the injuries are just going to catch up with the Pats. You can’t make the Super Bowl after losing nine of your top playmakers. You just can’t.
The pick: Patriots 26, Denver 20.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is going to screw up its chance to play in the Super Bowl because: Russell Wilson isn’t ready. All the ingredients are there for Seattle, but their QB needs another year to become a star. He doesn’t yet have the big-play ability to overcome a defense as strong as San Francisco’s. Marshawn Lynch will be stymied by that defense. The Seahawks defense will play well, but its offense will struggle for all 60 minutes. You need more playmakers and a more seasoned QB to beat the Niners.
San Francisco is going to screw up its chance it play in the Super Bowl because: Colin Kaepernick is less ready than Russell Wilson. In fact, he might never be ready. He’s just not a Super Bowl caliber quarterback. He’ll make a dumb decision late in the game and that’s all Seattle’s defense will need to close it out. San Fran’s defense is good. It’s great. But it’s still inferior to Seattle’s. If the 49ers are to win, Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis will have to make some highlight reel catches. But against Sherman and Co.? Doubtful. Maybe they’d have a chance playing at home. But in Seattle? Forget about it.
The pick: Seattle 24, San Francisco 16.