The Super Bowl hunt has dwindled to eight teams – soon to be four. Shaw Media’s Hub Arkush and Tom Musick discuss:
Musick: The NFL’s wild-card weekend was unbelievable. Three out of four games were decided by three points or fewer, and two came down to game-winning kicks. Would it be wrong to expect more of the same for this weekend’s playoff games? And for anyone unable to devote another 12-plus hours to football this weekend, how would you rank the four games (on paper, at least) from best to worst?
Arkush: It’s actually hard to imagine anything ever matching the Colts’ comeback vs. the Chiefs and the 49ers/Packers and Saints/Eagles games certainly provided as much drama as any playoff games in recent memory. Of course, had someone on the Chiefs elected to cover T.Y. Hilton or put a little pressure on Andrew Luck, things probably wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting. Therein lies the wild card, no pun intended. Will individual players rise to the occasion again this weekend as they did last week and, if so, just who might they be? On the face of it, the early Sunday meeting between San Francisco and Carolina offers the greatest hope. Consider the slugfest they had in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and this one feels like a heavyweight fight. In spite of the beating the Saints took in Seattle on the first Monday night in December, that’s the next one that intrigues me. But, when I look at the dogs in the two AFC games, maybe I’m underestimating them, but I don’t expect down-to-the wire outcomes in those two.
Musick: I’m with you. I would mark down the 49ers-Panthers game as No. 1 on my list. I also like the Bears angle in that game with Ron Rivera going up against Jim Harbaugh. You know both guys. Is it safe to say they’ll be a wee bit intense when they take the sidelines before kickoff?
Arkush: The biggest question I have about that 49ers-Panthers game is whether they’ve agreed on 12 or 16 ounce gloves. It certainly has all the feel of a heavyweight title bout and those two teams are constructed so similarly it’s really difficult to find an edge. Harbaugh and Rivera are both good friends from our days together with the Bears – in fact Ron was my broadcast partner on Bears postgame shows for a couple years after he retired before he decided to get into coaching, and Jim occasionally showed up at my oldest son’s Little League games – and are two of the most competitive guys I know. Don’t let Rivera fool you, he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve like Harbaugh does, but he boils inside with the best of them.
Musick: Maybe instead of gloves, they can run out of the tunnels with heavy jousting sticks like in “American Gladiators.” They could feature cool names like Roar and Porcupine, or something. But I do think that the Carolina-San Francisco game will be close and could come down to a coaching decision, so hopefully Rivera and Harbaugh are on top of their games. Speaking of old guys who would understand “American Gladiator” references, Peyton Manning might have his hands full with San Diego this weekend. Am I wrong to think that the Broncos could be staring at the real possibility of an ugly loss?
Arkush: No, you’re not wrong, but I think asking the Chargers to go into the fire and come out on top twice in one season and for the Broncos to be great all year and mess the bed in their playoff opener two years in a row is expecting an awful lot. And don’t forget, Philip Rivers went into Indianapolis and knocked Peyton out of the playoffs a few years back, and there’s never been any love lost between these two. I’d expect Peyton to be ready and have enough to get the job done.