A great divisional round weekend couldn’t quite match the lunacy of Wild Card Weekend, because few playoff weekends will ever do that. One game (Patriots-Colts) was decided by three touchdowns, while another (Broncos-Chargers) became interesting late, though it was still largely one-sided.
But to hell with comparing the first two playoff weeks. The divisional round was great times too, with major performances from wide receivers in both a win and a loss (Keenan Allen and Anquan Boldin combined for 278 yards), another BeastQuake from Marshawn Lynch (140 yards and two touchdowns, a franchise playoff yardage record), and two onside kicks that breathed life where there shouldn’t have been any, one giving Marques Colston a chance to be just the dumbest.
But now we get to look forward to the glorious matchups of championship weekend, featuring four teams that won at least 12 games during the regular season. All week around these parts we’ll be picking apart the two games, and ultimately failing with a prediction because both Seahawks-49ers in the NFC and Broncos-Patriots in the AFC are just too damn close.
Right now, though, here are the three things that are inducing my imediate drool reflex…
1. The promise of youth: Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are inherently rivals, because their respective teams are division rivals. But beyond that rivalry, and the very real difficulty that comes with the visiting team winning a game in Seattle (the combined score in Kaep’s two starts is 71-16 Seahawks), there’s something a little deeper here.
When we talk about the new-ish breed of NFL quarterback who’s skilled with both his arm and legs, and can therefore effectively run the read-option, we’re talking about Wilson and Kaepernick. Oh, we’re talking about Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III too, but one of those quarterbacks isn’t at all himself right now, and Kaepernick just discarded the other. Wilson and Kaepernick are both in offenses that drastically prioritize the run over the pass, though when they do air it out, the throw is often deep, and delivered with pinpoint accuracy.
They couldn’t be more identical. Of course, CenturyLink Field eats parity for breakfast.
2. Two Legends: Then there’s Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two old foes and two legends. They’ve faced each other 14 times, and Brady’s Patriots have won an overwhelming 10 of those games. Two hall of fame quarterbacks will decide who represents their conference in the Super Bowl, and they’ll do it with near equal crumbling around them. About that…
3. Identical strengths, weaknesses, and injuries: Both the Patriots and Broncos have been decimated by injuries, with the difference perhaps being that at least Denver has full health on the offensive side of the ball. That may not matter if they don’t have Chris Harris, whose absence was immediately felt yesterday when Allen repeatedly torched Quentin Jammer for 142 yards and two touchdowns in just the second half. Von Miller is long gone, and Derek Wolfe will likely remain out too, which will result in little pressure getting to Brady.
The Patriots’ list is still long, and hurtful. The importance of Rob Gonkowski being broken can’t be said enough, as it’s transformed the Pats into a far more run-oriented team. Then on the other side, stopping the run has been a consistent problem with Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes shelved. There will be no need for torpedo tears from Knowshon Moreno.
Overall, though, the matchups of the final four will produce games between teams with similar strengths and weaknesses, partly because of those injuries. In Seattle we’ll watch a game between two of the top five overall defenses during the regular season, and then in Denver we’ll do the same with two offenses that nearly fit the same description (Denver had the league’s best offense, while New England was seventh).
We’ll also watch two games involving the teams that won homefield advantage in their respective conferences. Grab those headphones, Kaep.
More notes, reading, stray thoughts, and other such randomness
We might be watching Peyton Manning’s last game this week?
Oh neat, I just spent many words joyously anticipating the greatest championship Sunday in human history, and now there’s a possibility one of the greatest quarterbacks in said history could be done this offseason.
I really have no idea what the true odds are of Manning being forced to retire due to further complications with his neck, mostly because I’m not his doctor. And I’m really not sure how much to panic due to the report that follows (if at all), because the exam on his surgically repaired neck that Manning will undergo in March is a mandated one he agreed to when he signed his Broncos contract. So there’s a routine feel to this, or at least as routine as a neck exam can possibly be for a guy who’s had four surgeries and flirted with retirement two years ago.
But yeah, this is still frightening:
If the exam reveals that his neck is stable, Manning plans to return to the Broncos in 2014, regardless of how Denver fares this postseason, according to sources.
But if there is an increased risk of injury, Manning will be forced to decide whether to retire, sources said.
Thanks for that sucker punch, reality.
Say, Peyton, any thoughts on your career possibly ending?
Asked if uncertain future weighs on him, Peyton Manning says: “What’s weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth.”
— Bob Glauber (@BobGlauber) January 13, 2014
Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!
Yesterday Manning also gave the Internet the gift of “Omaha!” an audible call that could mean anything in the world, really, or absolutely nothing at all. A hero editor/intern over at NFL.com put together every time Manning said “Omaha” during the Broncos win. The video isn’t embeddable, so please click through for your viewing pleasure.
Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss provided a very educated guess on what Omaha and other such seemingly random verbiage means, though it could change for every team and every quarterback.
Years ago, Kenny Mayne found the real explanation: it’s gaelic.
Surely Pey Pey will now be given Omaha’s golden key. Overnight, that tiny Nebraska city tripled in its popularity as a honeymoon destination among Broncos fans.
— Official Omaha Info (@VisitOmaha) January 12, 2014
Dinosaurs still exist
Yes. For God’s sake. RT @salmaiorana Kaepernick. Always so media friendly. Turn your cap around and act like a professional quarterback.
— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) January 12, 2014
I had to borrow from the always great and always appropriately caustic Doug Farrar here, because creaky curmudgeon Sal Maiorana deleted his original tweets about a hat, presumably because he grew tired of his Twitter mentions getting lit on fire.
And I almost didn’t touch this, not that there’s some deep editorial decision happening with something so stupid. Maiorana knows he’s chucking a log onto the Internet rage fire, and tweeted as much, so in some small way I suppose I’m doing my part to keep that fire burning. But I’ll make that sacrifice, because often I think there’s value in forever preserving idiocy, and highlighting just how absurd it is to focus on a players’ hat — or any piece of his attire — rather than his play.
First, there’s the problem of the backwards hat, and the many, many quarterbacks before Colin Kaepernick who have sported that particular look. Why, just spend about two seconds on the Google machine and you come up with a few who have Super Bowl rings…
Which then brings us to the more important question: why the hell does any reasonable thinking person care enough about a hat that, to them, says something about class and professionalism?
That’s actually a serious question, because every time Cam Newton was in a game where his team lost this year, among the lowest and loudest fringe there would be observations about the towel he’s wearing on his head, even though he does that every game. We’ve been through the same exercise with Jay Cutler, only not with attire, and instead with facial expressions (or a lack thereof).
It’s quite possible that no two humans are the same.