Well, really, most Sundays are not at all like Championship Sunday, but how else could I work a Morrissey lyric into a sports headline and show that there's much more to me than just my deep passion for art and culture and Spotify playlists? I hope you also appreciate the lengths I went to find an appropriate image to accompany this piece—two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, rubbing each others' bellies in a sign of hyper-masculine, warrior respect. And who has words for the shared look between them? Maybe T.S. Eliot could make true sense of it, or Philip Larkin, perhaps, but I am without the power to convey such a powerful moment in sports history.
Anyways, I know you've come to This City of Islands for one reason—to see Patrick, Lauren, and me argue about Kanye West. That being the case, you're probably surprised that there is a Pro Football story here (unless you are a longtime reader—hi, mom!—and you've been wondering what ever happened to the much neglected sports section from the site's first incarnation). That first attempt at sports coverage withered and died, mostly from neglect, and as I am basically the Jacksonville Jaguars of my Fantasy Hockey League (it's pretty horrific, no thanks to Henrik Lundqvist's awful first half of the season, and the recent injuries to Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson up in Detroit), and the Pro Football season is just about to end, I didn't see the good in breathing life back into a sports section. After the Super Bowl, I get irrationally excited about the Washington Capitals and watch them find a way into the playoffs and then lose to the New York Rangers. After that, it's pretty dismal on the sports front.
But to business: the AFC and NFC Championship Games.
I couldn't have asked for two better games—Brady-Manning XV and the third contest of the year between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. No offense intended, but there really isn't another team that I feel played well enough to deserve a spot in this final four over any of these teams. The Kansas City Chiefs played a brilliant season, and they should be very proud of what they did this year, but the pieces are still coming together for Andy Reid's squad. Same for the Arizona Cardinals, who have begun to catch up with their NFC West rivals, and the Carolina Panthers, who will only grow better under the guidance of Riverboat Ron Riviera. I could also make an argument for the New Orleans Saints, who are always one of my favorite teams to watch play, but this just never quite felt like their year.
New England Patriots—Denver Broncos
Those of us who enjoy powerhouse sports coverage know where to go: the Atlantic. Jake Simpson has the Patriots falling to the Broncos by a score of 38-35 (which, for all your degenerate sports gamblers out there, means the smart money's on the Patriots beating the 5.5-point spread). Eliiot Harrison of NFL.com also sees the scales tipping just ever so slightly in Denver's favor, 26-24. Of the Sporting Press (including life-long Patriots fan and TCoI contributor Lauren Lauzon), only the NFL Network sees this game going Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's way.
I'm going with the underdogs, however.
Last weekend, Tom Brady didn't throw a single touchdown pass. He didn't have to. The New England Patriots have a bonafide running game, and it isn't just LaGarrette Blount—Share Vereen and Stevan Ridley made their own contributions to last week's romp over the Colts. So, in addition to the countless hours of Brady tearing defenses to shreds with laser beam passes, now you have to watch the tape from last week of Blount making a mockery of Indianapolis' running defense, albeit not exactly an elite group. Denver's defense is quite a bit better than the Colts', but they still allowed 15 rushing touchdowns over the regular season—and even if they can remain somewhat stout against the run, so what? It's not like the Patriots have Blaine Gabbert under center. With the Patriots being able to toggle between a running game with Julian Edelman doing a damn good Wes Welker impersonation and Danny "Glass Bones" Amendola staying healthy, and a running game that scored six touchdowns last week, the Denver defense is going to have serious problems today.
The Patriots also have a few other serious advantages today:
- They beat the Broncos already this season, so they don't have that monkey on their back
- The Patriots are total underdogs—Vegas, the sports world, and even casual fans are all foaming at the mouth, babbling about the unstoppable, cannibalistic horde that is the Denver Broncos—which gives the Patriots that "chip on their shoulder," the "us vs. the world" mentality, which we've seen take plenty of teams to the Super Bowl
- Tom Brady isn't the one known for choking in the playoffs
- Tom Brady is 10-4 in his meetings with Peyton Manning
- Bill Belichick—name me one coach who could take a team missing Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Jerod Mayo, and alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez, among others, to a conference championship game. Just think about that for a second or two, seriously. It's mind-boggling
- Bill Belichick's amazing use of the practice squad
Yes, yes, I know how amazing the Broncos are—I rode their coattails all year in Fantasy Football, pulling off an improbable winning streak and stealing the championship game from my cousin James (thank you Julius, Demaryius, and Knowshon!). I'm not saying the Patriots are going to dispatch Peyton Manning and company with ease. This is going to be a tough, hard-fought match—and because of that, I'm taking the team that's the most familiar with hardship this season, the team that has had to change on the fly due to injuries, and the team that has been kicked in the teeth and kept on going.
Prediction: Patriots 28 - Broncos 24
San Francisco 49ers—Seattle Seahawks
Like the Patriots, most of the sports world isn't too optimistic about San Francisco's chances up in Seattle, and for good reason. Over the last two seasons (the only ones that really matter when thinking about this game), one thing can be said quite clearly: the 49ers just do not win at CenturyLink.
As a 49ers fan, I can say without even the smallest hint of sarcasm or irony or bullshit that the 12th Man is not a fucking joke—I'm waiting for the inevitable lawsuits to start coming in claiming that the crowd noise at CenturyLink has caused tinnitus and partial-deafness for thousands of Seahawks faithful and visiting fans—and neither are the other eleven men. Whether anyone likes it or not, Pete Carroll has put together a phenomenal team. My hat off to him, his assistants, the players, and the entire Seahawks staff.
You couldn't have chosen a better NFC Championship Game—only Carolina, New Orleans, and Arizona could find their way into that discussion, and it just didn't break for them this year. Sadly for Niners fans like me, the thought of playing in CenturyLink has a way of causing strange intestinal spasms and cold sweats. I really can't think of a current team that has such a home field advantage or a city that is as excited to be in a game of this caliber. If San Francisco is going to win this game, they are going to have to play lights-out brilliant football on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes.
The key will be finding a way to stop the unstoppable Marshawn Lynch and forcing Russell Wilson to throw against the 49ers secondary, a personnel grouping made up of intensely bad men. This is going to require Herculean efforts all around on the San Francisco defense. If there was one defense out there to pull off this impossible task, it is the Niners—but even Luke Skywalker needed Han Solo to help blow up the Death Star, you know? And how is Han going to hear our cries over the deafening roar of the Seattle fans?!
On offense, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are going to have to make the Seahawks' intimidating secondary look foolish at least a few times, and Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are going to have to keep hitting holes and praying something breaks loose. It can be done, it has been done, but today, at CenturyLink, with the 12th Man whipped up into an orgiastic frenzy at the thought of a Super Bowl berth?
There are a few things I've learned over the years as a (bad) sports gambler and supporter of lost causes—don't bet your heart, bet your head. Well, I'll be keeping my money in my wallet today (you know, until my diet of beer and bourbon catches up with me and I make some outlandish claim which I then have to back up with cold hard cash), but my heart is with the San Francisco 49ers. I'm going to hope that Kaepernick is ready for the waves of noise about to hit him (and the team won't waste precious time outs because the QB can't call the play in time), that the Niners don't settle for field goals when they are in the red zone, and that the defense finds a whole new devastating, bone-crushing gear, and slows down the Skittles fanatic and the prodigy quarterback.
Prediction: 49ers 21 - Seahawks 20.