How many times have you heard it said this week and how many folks have you heard say that it’s great that the best four teams in the league are playing for the AFC and NFC titles.
Don’t doubt it. These are the four clubs we should all be paying to see play.
What more could we ask for than Tom Brady against Peyton Manning?
Brady and Manning are probably past their prime, but there’s still no more classic matchup in sports.
That Brady owns an 8-3 advantage over Manning in the regular season, and 2-1 in the playoffs, says more about the teams they’ve played on than the two themselves.
Again, that’s the point. Personally, I doubt one of these quarterbacks is going to be the reason their club wins or loses. Manning is going to put up his numbers whether the Broncos win or not, and Brady is going to lead his club and manage and supplement the Pats’ new earth-moving ground game like a magician.
This one will come down to which of these two flawed defenses is more flawed, and whether or not the Broncos can match the Pats on the ground.
With LeGarrette Blount coming in with 48 rushes for 355 and six touchdowns in just his past two games, and Stevan Ridley having put up 14 runs for 52 yards and two touchdowns on the ground Sunday, these are the two guys Denver has to stop, not Brady.
With Broncos defenders Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Chris Harris all injured and in street clothes, can they get it done?
On New England, watch defenders Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory. I’d expect Talib singled up on Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas most of the day and either McCourty or Gregory singled on tight end Julius Thomas. If the Pats’ defensive backs win those matchups, the Broncos will have a problem.
Then there are the 49ers and the Sea-hawks. The Seattle Seahawks have been the best team in the NFL almost all season long. The 49ers are the hottest team in the league right now. The teams have split a pair of meetings this year and hate each other.
Much like the AFC title game, many will try and make this about quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, but that is not the story. Both will make a few big plays, both will probably make a couple of mistakes. Kaepernick is more likely to make them on the ground, Wilson through the air.
Maybe the slightest of nods to Kaepernick because of experience, but most likely they cancel each other out.
For the 49ers, overcoming the Seahawks’ overwhelming home field advantage and the nightmarish memories of their past two visits to Seattle will be key. They are the more talented squad and should prevail. But Seattle is 16–1 at CenturyLink Field over the past two seasons and 5-1 all time in the playoffs.
There is no argument that the Seahawks have the best secondary in football. But with a 100 percent healthy and ready Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, the 49ers may still have an edge.
The winner of that matchup most likely wins the game.
For Seattle, can wide receiver Percy Harvin go and can he be effective? The answer to that will most likely be no. That leaves running back Marshawn Lynch, and that’s it. Wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller aren’t going to beat the 49ers.
I can’t wait, and the best part is that no matter what happens, there’s not a bad Super Bowl pairing in the bunch.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and pro football for Shaw Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.