It’s finally here! It’s Super Bowl Week! Oh, wait……this isn’t Super Bowl week? Well, it might as well be in my mind. No possible Super Bowl matchup can produce the amount storylines that the 49ers versus Seahawks and Patriots versus Broncos can produce. None of them! I’ll give you a second, go ahead and try. We get to experience the best team rivalry (49ers-Seahawks) and the best individual matchup (Brady-Manning) in the NFL today. Who knows where the 49ers and Seahawks rivalry goes from here? It could end up being the best NFL rivalry of the past 20 years. Brady versus Manning might be the best NFL QB rivalry of all-time, but we’ll get to this in a little bit.
Before the season our website, SportsMoneyLife.com, hosted a NFL Team League Draft that is similar to our NHL, NBA and MLB Team Leagues. The first four picks in our 2013-2014 draft were, in order, the Broncos, 49ers, Seahawks and Patriots. Go team! Similarly, and I’ll get this out of the way now as to not bore you later on, Iselected the Seahawks to defeat the Broncos 26-21 in the Super Bowl in our NFL Season Preview and I had the 49ers playing at Seattle in the NFC Championship game. The only Championship game participant I missed was the Patriots, whom I had losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. Not so happy about that selection but overall a pretty good job.
Here’s the question on everybody’s mind (or maybe just mine): Am I sticking with the Broncos and Seahawks? Well, you’ll just have to wait to find out. Let’s first go through all of the ridiculous and amazing storylines going into easily the best week of football this season.
Storylines: Patriots at Broncos
1. Brady v. Manning IV & Brady v. Manning XV
This has to be the biggest storyline of the season and it seems like it has been building ever since the November 24th game in which the Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead only to lose to the Patriots in overtime by the score of 34-31. Manning just set about every single quarterback passing record known to man this season and led his offense to the most points in a single season in NFL history, surpassing, yes, you guessed it, Tom Brady and his 2007 Patriots.
However, Tom Brady absolutely owns Peyton Manning. Overall, Brady’s Patriots are 10-4 in head to head matchups against “The Sheriff” and owns a 2-1 record against him in the playoffs. Manning’s lone win against Brady in the playoffs came in the 2006 AFC Championship game in Indianapolis. That win took Manning to his first Super Bowl and his only Super Bowl victory. In order to get to the Super Bowl this season he has to take down his greatest rival in what I believe to be the most important game of Manning’s career. Yes, it’s bigger than the two Super Bowls.
If Manning can beat Brady and win Super Bowl 48 he will have a great case to be considered the greatest QB in the history of the NFL, something we will get to in a bit. On the other side, Brady can strengthen his argument as the greatest QB of all time with a fourth Super Bowl victory. Without question, this is the NFL’s best QB rivalry going and could be the best rivalry of its kind of all time. Needless to say, this game has more legacy implications than any game in recent memory and perhaps of all-time.
2. Blount Force Trauma
The man who once punched out an opponent on the “Smurf Turf” in Boise is now the most feared man in the NFL postseason not because of his fists but for his legs. I remember when Blount punched out Byron Hout after the Boise State game. I remember because I was there. In case you don’t remember it, here’s a fun trip down memory lane.
Screw Texas, don’t mess with Oregon.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round, Blount finally reached his true potential as a thundering back who pounds in TDs in the redzone yet has the nimbleness to break off 80-yard runs. It’s a dynamic combo. Blount has become the Patriots featured back, along with Steven “I Have Fumbilitis” Ridley, and has rushed for 355 yards and 6 touchdowns on 48 carries in his last two games. The Patriots slowly worked LGB into the lineup during the season (he only had 153 carries in 2013) and he seems to be the freshest running back left in the playoffs.
If the Patriots are going to win this game they are most likely going to do it on the back of the human battering ram. New England is a running team now. Without LaGarrette Blount, the Patriots aren’t in the AFC Championship game. Who would have thought that when the Buccaneers traded Blount for a 7th round pick before the season?
3. Wes Welker v. Julian Edelman v. The World
Wes Welker is the best slot receiver in the history of the NFL. He is 5’9 and that might be with lifts in his shoes. Julian Edelman has been a breakout star for the Patriots this season while taking over for Welker. Edelman, who is “5’10”, had 105 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns this season. He is, essentially, the new Welker.
However, let’s be honest here. Wes Welker is a Rolls Royce. Julian Edelman is a Mercedes. It’s not that I don’t like Mercedes but c’mon. It should be an interesting matchup of slot receivers in this game. The Broncos defense played relatively well last weekend; however, they are missing Chris Harris and the Patriots lit them up in the second half earlier this season. Welker is a tough matchup for the Pats, who have been without some of their best linebackers for most of the season.
While I don’t think the game will come down to who performs better between the two, I do think one of them will have a game changing moment that will alter the course of the game. It’s going to be tough for these slot guys to find space to operate this weekend but Welker and Edelman always find a way to get open. It’s hard out there for a shrimp.
4. Bill Belichick v. Vince Lombardi
Yea, I said it. Bill Belichick versus the man for whom the goddamn trophy is named. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of legacy implications this weekend in Denver.
Bill Belichick is the greatest NFL Head Coach since Vince Lombardi. I know you don’t believe me but it’s true. Who else has racked up 3 Super Bowls, 5 Super Bowl appearances and 8 Championship game appearances in 14 seasons? His overall record in New England is 163-61, which is good for a winning percentage of 72.8%. Oh, by the way, he is 19-8 in playoff games.
Who else are you going to put on the Mount Rushmore of NFL Head Coaches? Bill Walsh? Chuck Noll? Sure, go ahead. I won’t stop you. However, Belichick’s resume is better.
Bill Walsh: 14 seasons, 102-63-1, 10-4 playoffs, 3 Super Bowl Appearances, 3 Super Bowl Titles
Chuck Noll: 23 seasons, 193-148-1, 16-8 playoffs, 4 Super Bowl Appearances, 4 Super Bowl Titles
If you were going to make an argument against Belichick it would be that he has lost two Super Bowls. Well, if that’s your argument then go ahead then. I won’t stop you. However, in my opinion, in the modern NFL, what with free agency and a salary cap, what Bill Belichick has done in his 14 years in New England is nothing short of amazing. He is, in my eyes, the second greatest football coach of all-time. A fourth Super Bowl, with this jigsaw puzzle of a roster, would perhaps push him past Lombardi.
Hell, even Peyton Manning says that Bill Belichick will go down as the greatest NFL coach of all-time. That’s one hell of an endorsement.
5. John Fox v. His Heart
Can his new heart handle the stress of an AFC Championship game against the most successful team of the century with his star players legacy on the line?
Sorry, this is mean. Let’s move on to number 6.
6. Tom Brady and his castoffs
How do you accurately explain the turnover and injuries the Patriots have overcome this season? There roster, as currently constructed, is like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle crossed with a bad Jackson Pollock painting. The funny part is that the machine doesn’t stop cranking out victories. The next man up mentality is such a part of the Patriots culture that I don’t think these 53 men realize what they have accomplished at making it this far this season.
Just take a look at the players the Patriots have put on injured reserve this season. The names read like a Pro Bowl roster. Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Shane Vereen, Adrian Wilson, Brandon Spikes. Only Shane Vereen has been activated from IR.
Of course, that’s only the season ending injuries. The Pats have lost a ton of other key players for parts of the 2013-2014 season. The fact that this team is in the AFC Championship game is nothing short of miraculous; however, it never really felt like they weren’t going to be here. That’s on the shoulder of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. We’ve learned better than to bet against one of the best QB-Coach tandem of all-time. When you’re in the conversation with Walsh-Montana, Noll-Bradshaw, Shanahan-Elway, Dungy-Manning, Starr-Lombardi, Shula-Marino and Staubach-Landry you know you’ve done a lot of things right.
7. Peyton Manning v. Himself v. The Title of the Greatest of All-Time
There is little doubt that Manning is the best regular season QB of all-time. He either possesses or will possess every major career passing record by the time he hangs it up. However, his legacy in the playoffs isn’t quite as legendary. He is 10-11 and has had eight first game exits, which is the most all-time by a mile. Manning is 1-1 in the Super Bowl.
I don’t quite know why Manning is completely blamed for his Colts team’s failures in the playoffs. Sure, his performances haven’t quite matched up with his outstanding regular season performances; however, it’s the playoffs and a dip in performance comes with the territory. Manning led his offense to 35 points in last years AFC Divisional Round loss to the Baltimore Ravens and they Broncos lost because of Rahim Moore’s inability to time a jump. It happens. It’s the playoffs. Just take a look at some of the other great QBs and their postseason statistics.
That being said, everything in the NFL falls on to the shoulders of the Head Coach and the Quarterback. The QB gets too much credit and too much blame. Again, it comes with the territory.
However, if Manning is to be considered the greatest Quarterback in the history of football he needs to win this game and Super Bowl 48. Manning’s case for the GOAT is a lot more palatable to pundits if he’s rocking a second Super Bowl ring. Manning probably knows the history of the NFL better than every writer and historian that works with or covers the NFL. He knows what’s on the line this weekend. Will he step up to the plate and have one of the best games of his career or will he turn in another blah performance against the team that has tortured him for so many years.
This is the most important game of Peyton Manning’s career. He probably knows it this better than anyone else.
Storylines: 49ers at Seahawks
1. The Rivalry
The 49ers and the Seahawks have created the best rivalry in the NFL and it’s not even close. The two teams are so similar in style that if you put the 49ers in Seahawks gear and vice-versa while not putting names on the backs of the jerseys I’m not sure you would notice the difference.
The NFL is banking on this rivalry continuing for years to come and it seems like this NFC Championship game was three years in the making. Did Roger Goodell plan this? I wouldn’t put it past him. It all started with Pete Carroll taking over as the Head Coach of the Seahawks in 2010 and Jim Harbaugh taking the 49ers job in 2011. We’ll get to their feud in a moment. Carroll and Harbaugh took two struggling franchises and almost immediately rebranded them into badass, hard nosed, winning football teams. Carroll’s first two years in Seattle weren’t that special; however, he did make the playoffs in his first season, albeit with a 7-9 record. We all know how his first playoff game ended…..BEASTMODE! The determination! Well, just watch the video. Is that the best TD run in the history of the NFL? It’s got to be near the top. It caused a freaking earthquake!
Carroll’s third stint in the NFL took two years to really get underway. The Seahawks, under Carroll’s leadership, have been the best in the NFL at finding diamonds in the rough and turning them into Super Bowl caliber players. Look at the late round picks or rookie free agents the Hawks have chosen or picked up over the past three seasons: Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Red Bryant, Walter Thurmond III, Brandon Browner, Bryon Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Michael Bennett. That’s about half of the list. What Carroll has done with his “Always Compete” mantra and enthusiastic attitude in Seattle is astounding.
On the other side we have the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh was gifted a Pro Bowl laden roster that was being coached into the ground. Harbuagh had a ton of success in his short time at Stanford; however, he was always thought to be a ready-made NFL Head Coach. Well, three years later and three NFC Championship appearances later it looks as if those predictions may have been a slight towards the former NFL QB. Harbaugh was a sleeping giant. He’s molded the 49ers into a caricature of himself. Tough, gritty, angry, feisty and nasty. The 49ers play with a fuck you attitude.
The reason this rivalry is fantastic is obvious. There’s a ton of bad blood between these two teams, mostly due to the fact that they play in the same division and their head coaches obviously have a mutual disdain for one another. It’s fantastic to watch. Both teams don’t even care about winning unless they destroy your spirit and murder your soul in the process. This rivalry has the chance to be one of the great modern day NFL rivalrie. I see it as being akin to the 49ers-Cowboys rivalry of the late 80s and early 90s except with more bad blood. It’s the Rock versus Stone Cold Steve Austin. It’s Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. It’s Vince McMahon versus The World. It’s freaking awesome!
2. Pete Carroll v. Jim Harbaugh
“What’s your deal?”. Those three words will forever live on in the brain of Trojan and the heart of Cardinal fans. The rivalry began from there; however, it was short lived as Carroll move on to the NFL soon after. Little did we know that Harbaugh the sleeping giant would be coming for Carroll once again.
These two elite coaches have kept it relatively civil in the NFL and have even exchanged “pleasantries” after games. But deep down inside you know both Harbaugh and Carroll hates the other coach and each wants to “push his stupid face into the ground” if I may go the route of a 7-year old. It’s the best head coaching rivalry in the NFL. I wouldn’t even know who to put second on that list.
3. Richard Sherman v. The Universe
Can you imagine a world in which Richard Sherman gets to go up to Tom Brady after a Super Bowl victory and repeat his infamous “You Mad Bro” line? I can. I was at that Patriots-Seahawks game in 2012 and happened to be sitting right next to a certain Mrs. Sherman, his mother. After seeing her performance in the stands that day, I knew where he got his “swagger” or “brashness” from.
Sherman is widely considered to be the best Cornerback in the NFL. He had the most interceptions in the league this season despite being thrown at the least amount of times of every CB in the NFL. Not bad for a 5th round pick who scouts at the NFL Combine were trying to convert into a Wide Receiver.
The case against Sherman goes something like this: he’s brash, arrogant, says stupid shit, acts like he owns the place and got beat twice in the NFC Divisional round game in 2012 against the Atlanta Falcons that ultimately cost the Seahawks a trip to the NFC Championship game. He called out Darrelle Revis on Twitter and proclaimed himself to be the best CB in the NFL while Revis hadn’t quite relinquished the title.
Well, Sherman straight up stole the title belt from him this season. You can use the Falcons argument against Sherman; however, it’s not like he’s going to change his mind about how good he is. He dares you to throw the ball his way, then he intercepts it and then he’ll tell you about it. It’s the way the entire Seahawks secondary operates. As they say, “It’s a lifestyle”. Well, go ahead Sherm. Do your thing.
4. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree v. The Legion of Boom
The Legion of Boom is the Seahawks secondary, which plays with reckless abandon. There is no measurable stat out there that says that the Seahawks secondary wasn’t the best in the NFL this season. For all the talk about Richard Sherman, and we just devoted a couple hundred words to him, he might not be the best player in the Seahawks secondary. He is probably tied with a little 5’10 safety by the name of Earl Thomas. Thomas is considered the best Safety in the NFL and he is the most disruptive force the Seahawks defense has. Whether it’s in coverage or attacking the ball, Thomas seems to be in on every single play. He’s simply remarkable.
On the other side we have the tandem of Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Crabtree is obviously the star and has played like one since coming back from injury late in the season. Colin Kaepernick and Crabtree have a unique relationship and Crabtree has flourished during the Kaepernick era. With Crabtree running deeper routes, it has allowed the 49ers most productive WR, Anquan Boldin, to run shorter routes that hides his lack of speed and enhances his ridiculous catching skills.
If you need a first down with the game on the line and it’s 3rd and 7 there is no WR in the NFL I would rather throw to than Anquan Boldin. None. Not Calvin Johnson. Not Jimmy Graham. Not Josh Gordon. Not Julio Jones. Not Rob Gronkowski. Not A.J. Green. No. One. I’m not sure how to describe it but Boldin had the softest set of hands, while also possessing hands of steel. His acceptance of the ball when receiving it is so soft, yet, when he has possession of the ball he essentially puts a vice grip on it. The ball doesn’t move. I think Anquan Boldin is the most criminally underrated WR in the history of the NFL. This will be THE matchup to watch on Sunday Night.
5. Defense > Offense
If you don’t like defense then you may want to take a siesta for the Sunday nighter in Seattle. While both offenses have shown spurts of success this season, it’s all about the defense. On our Field Level Podcast earlier this week, I mentioned that this game was going to be like the movie Armageddon. Shit is just going to be flying everywhere, you’re not going to know what is going on but you’re going to love every second of it. The over/under on concussions is 14.5. That’s diagnosed concussions. The over/under on undiagnosed concussions is 1,037.5 including fans in attendance. This game will be the Mallice in the Palace without the fan interference. Too strong? Ok, I’ll move on.
6. The 12th man
Speaking of fan interference, if you’ve never been to a game at “The CLink” I don’t think you can truly grasp the magnitude of how loud it is there. There’s a reason the Seahawks have only lost one game in Seattle over the past two seasons. It has a lot to do with how good the Seahawks are; however, the 12th man almost doesn’t get enough credit.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com did a fantastic study on which teams have the biggest home field advantages. Obviously, the Seahawks ranked at the top of the list. The advantage is no joke. The fans in Seattle are insane. There will be concussions due to crowd noise. There will be false starts by the 49ers. The 12th man will make a difference.
7. Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick
Are Kaepernick and Wilson the new Manning and Brady? I’m not sure about that. I don’t think they will be able to put up the sheer amount of numbers that Manning and Brady have put together over their illustrious careers. You’re talking about all time greats.
However, Kaepernick and Wilson are two of the four best young QB talents in the NFL and have the best defenses in the league behind them. This is going to be an epic rivalry for however long it lasts. Let’s hope that Wilson and Kaepernick are battling each other for years to come.
Patriots @ Broncos
Reasons to take the Patriots
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. A stout running game. A surprisingly effective defense. Their continued dominance of Peyton Manning. Their AFC Championship record of 5-2. Tom Brady! Bill Belichick!!!
You’ve got to be a little crazy to bet against the New England Patriots in any game, let alone a game against Peyton Manning. Other than the 2006 AFC Championship game there is no basis for picking Manning against the Patriots. Plus, at this point don’t the Pats seem like a team of destiny? They have comeback from injury after injury, each time getting strong.
Again, this is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick we’re talking about. How can you possibly justify betting against them with everything on the line, especially considering they aren’t playing the Giants?
Reasons to take the Broncos
Peyton Manning is the greatest regular season Quarterback of all-time. He just had the greatest individual season of all-time and he’s playing in a game that will go a long way in determining his legacy.
Manning is the smartest QB to every play in the NFL and dissects every opponent with an attention to detail that makes rocket scientists look like students at Arizona State. You have to believe he will be at his best on Sunday and that he understands he is nearing the end of his career. He understands the magnitude of the moment better than anyone else on the face on the planet. With so much talent how can you keep betting against him? One of these days he is going to shine brightest in the biggest game.
The Broncos also have a distinct home field advantage, as chronicled in the Grantland.com article we shared earlier. The defense played well last week against the Chargers and I would expect that Jack Del Rio, the Broncos defensive coordinator, will have a great game plan to stop the running game and force Tom Brady to beat him with his band of Oompa-Loompas.
The clear X-factor in this game, and something we haven’t mentioned yet, are the special teams. Special Teams cost the Broncos a victory at New England earlier this season when Wes Welker called for a fair catch in overtime and Broncos special teamer Tony Carter ran into the ball. The Patriots recovered the ball in their red zone and Stephen Gostkowski, the Pats reliable kicker, made a 31-yard Field Goal to win.
I have a feeling that the Broncos are going to have a special moment on special teams, whether it be a returned punt or kick for a touchdown, blocked field goal, or some sort of turnover. The Patriots may be without starting Punter Ryan Allen, who was injured in the divisional round game against the Colts. Allen, who also handles holding duties for Gostkowski, would be a huge loss for the Pats. Gostkowski is an effective punter; however, he lacks experience at the position and not having Allen to hold on kicks could be an issue in such a big game.
My gut tells me New England but my brain says that Peyton Manning is going to have one of the best performances of his career and that the Broncos will edge the Patriots in an instant classic.
Broncos 28 – Patriots 27
Patriots +3 first half
Under 55.5 total points
Broncos Under 30.5 total points
Patriots Over 24.5 total points
49ers @ Seahawks
Reasons to take the 49ers
The 49ers clearly have the advantage when it comes to experience. The 49ers also haven’t had a ton of roster turnover and Jim Harbaugh has learned how to prepare his team mentally and physically for these types of big games.
Colin Kaepernick is a big game QB who has Super Bowl experience. His record is 4-1 in the playoffs and it looks like he’s really comfortable with the game resting in the palm of his hands. He is mobile and elusive and can get a big first down with his rocket arm or his lightning speed.
Anquan Boldin hasn’t lost a playoff game since 2011 and is the most experienced WR in this game. His career statistics in the postseason are 65 receptions, 987 yards and 6 TDS. Oh, by the way, his teams are 10-3 in the playoffs. Chew on that for a second. 10-3!!! That’s a higher winning percentage than Brady. He may be the difference maker coming down the stretch. The dude is a winner. There is no one in the NFL I would rather have as my go-to receiver in crunch time.
Oh, the 49ers have a pretty freaking awesome defense themselves. The 49ers linebacking trio of Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks is intimidating as hell and are considered the best trio in the NFL. The 49ers also have the “Smith Brothers” in Aldon and Justin who are both healthy and playing outstanding football.
Lastly, the 49ers are the hottest team in football. That is the best reason to take the 49ers in this game. The 49ers are riding a league best 8-game winning streak in to Seattle and have the most balanced roster in the NFL. You may be able to beat the 49ers; however, it’s never going to be an easy. The 49ers give nothing to their opponents. The only way to beat them is by actually outplaying them. That’s tough to bet against.
Oh, and this guy got a tattoo of the Seahawks winning Super Bowl 48 before the season. Unless you’re Jason Terry I would strongly advise against doing this.
Reasons to take the Seahawks
The biggest reason to take the Seahawks is their league best defense and the 12th man. Like I’ve stated previously, the 12th man is a real thing. It affects the way offenses play. It’s a tangible asset to the Seahawks.
Pete Carroll is an outstanding coach whose demeanor never changes. While he has never coached the Seahawks in a game of this magnitude, he certainly has a lot of big game experience from his time at USC. That will translate well to this game. Carroll always keeps his team loose and enthusiast, which will prevent the Hawks from getting uptight and thinking too much about the importance of this game.
Russell Wilson is the calmest person in the room and, like Manning, has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His studying habits have been compared to Manning’s in the past and his knowledge of the 49ers will help him when the game in on the line Sunday night. Pressure is when you aren’t confident in what you are doing and haven’t prepared for the moment. I guarantee you that Russell Wilson has OVER prepared for this game and that he will make clutch throws when the Seahawks need him to.
If you feel confident making your selections based on eye-popping numbers, how about this one for ya to chew on. Over the past two meetings between the 49ers and Seahawks in Seattle, the Seahawks have won by a combined score of 71-16. So, yea, the Seahawks don’t just win games at home, they eviscerate their opponents.
Experience. The 49ers have a ton of big game experience having gone to the last two NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl last season. Don’t take that lightly. It would be completely logical if you assumed that the next step for the 49ers is to win the Super Bowl considering that in 2011 they made the NFC Championship and lost, in 2012 they won the NFC Championship and lost in the Super Bowl and in 2013 they could win the NFC Championship game and then the Super Bowl. It seems like a logical progression. The Seahawks lack the big game experience that is usually required of Conference and Super Bowl Champions.
There is no home field advantage in any sport quite like that of the Seattle Seahawks at the CLink. The 49ers have struggled mightily in their last two trips to the Great North West. While I don’t think this game will be a blow out, in fact I believe it will come down to the wire, I believe the Seahawks home field advantage is so strong that it will propel them past the 49ers. I have no other choice than to pick my preseason Super Bowl Champion.
Seahawks 23 – 49ers 17
49ers +3 first half
Over 38.5 total points
49ers +.5 first quarter
Seahawks -.5 fourth quarter
I can’t wait to kick back on Sunday and take in both of these games. They are legendary matchups and will go a long way in determining the legacies of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and others. I hope you’ve enjoyed this long, strange trip through the NFL Championship games as much as I enjoyed writing it. After 5,200 words I think I either know everything about all four of these teams or absolutely nothing. I guess I’ll find out on Sunday.