NFL Conference Championship Open Thread, Brady/”Manning” XVII Edition
New England (-3) over Denver And here we are, with the Patriots one win away from the Super Bowl again. Why, I’m beginning to think that DEFLATED FOOTBALLS (that probably weren’t even illegally deflated) were in fact the not-even-trivial offense absolutely everyone considered them to be before or since in any context but the 2014 Patriots. (It seems worth noting that the team whose whining led to the BALLGAHZI breaking-a-butterfly-on-a-wheel plans to go into 2016 with a GM whose notable accomplishments include trading a first round pick for a below-replacement-level running back and assembling a roster that, without the good QB that fell into the team’s lap for half the season, somehow managed to blow the division to a team that started Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden at QB and lost a home playoff game 273-0. In conclusion, the Patriots probably beat the Colts senseless every year because the Patriot receivers wear non-regulation gloves.) And I think they’re headed to the Super Bowl again. Yes, Denver has the best defense in the league, and you have to respect that. It would be a vindication of my minor hobbyhorse if Bill Belichick attempting an almost-all-downside punt return in the snow cost his team the #1 seed and allows Denver to grind out a win. And, yes, Peyton Manning had one good game this year and given his history it is not an absolute certainty that he won’t have another. Still, he has been terrible this year — examine the ratings and the only question is whether he was slightly better or slightly worse than Blaine Gabbert. He’s capable of better than his regular season norm, but I’m not sure how much better. Their average starting field position last week was roughly on the Pittsburgh 21 and they didn’t get a touchdown until the 4th quarter. That’s unlikely to happen again, and in addition their earlier meeting notwithstanding the Patriots are less likely than any other team to give up that saving fumble. (Remember that BALLGHAZI junk science?) I just can’t pick what little is left of Manning against Brady and Belichick.
Carolina (-3) over Arizona Ordinarily, I would love Arizona here. Their long passing game seems like a good matchup against Carolina’s secondary, and two weeks ago I would have believed Arizona — probably the best regular season team in the NFL — should have been favored in this game on the road. And generally it’s a bad idea to overreact to the previous week. In this case, though, I have real concerns about Carson Palmer, who looked awful playing with an injured finger last week. Maybe it was just bad luck. But add that to how bad he looked in the season finale to Seattle, and I think there’s a good chance that this is like recent Peyton Manning, where a veteran QB puts up great regular season stats but just keep it up through the playoffs. Only worse in this case, because Palmer doesn’t have a sustained record of regular season greatness either. And they have less margin for error against Carolina than they did against Green Bay. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Palmer be able to make enough big plays to get to the Super Bowl, but I think the Panthers are in a better place now.
Have fun, but Broncos fans, don’t let the drunk takes get out of hand, or I’ll devote a full post to demonstrating that John Elway was more Eli Manning than Joe Montana.