Football’s final four pushes its cream at the top
Mark Bell Spectator’s Eye
Might as well just cut to the chase and call the upcoming sure-to-be-massively-frigid-in-New Jersey Super Bowl for San Francisco and New England to decide, or rather suffer as seems likely to be the case.
Now you only need to read on if you care about the reasons, and I’ll see you in two weeks and force you to read every last word as I cryptically plan to keep the secret to the end.
Patriots at Broncos - Sunday’s 3:00 p.m. kickoff in Denver presents the usual problem of dealing with the Brady vs. Manning issues. First off there’s the obvious and clichéd notion that quarterbacks don’t face one
another on the field and therefore this game is not between them, and that’s nonsense.
It’s not just that they lead the respective offenses, both teams are defined by these two personalities. It’s the qualities of these two individuals and their skills as football players that makes these teams what they are.
Bill Parcells, a man who definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to pro football, has the notion that teams “are what their record says they are,” and while that’s true it is also a fact that you are what you believe yourself to be, and these two teams believe in their quarterbacks - and with good reason.
The thing about matchups between these two is that they cancel one another out and the outcome of their games usually turns on another aspect of the teams’ play. Now, in the past, Manning had a time or two when he attempted to force things, but desperate times often call for desperate measures and a lot of times it’s the call, not the execution.
Even Brady had his fourth-and-one moment of infamy. Miracles don’t happen often, which is why we call them miracles. Duh.
Denver has more and better offensive weapons so count on them spreading it all over the field, short and deep, plus run whenever necessary. The Broncos are not a great running team, but that’s by design and they don’t have to be.
New England has lately been running through people like their house was on fire, and Brady is making only the throws he must. The Broncos score points but the Patriots can control the ball, and Manning can’t beat you
standing on the sidelines. Part of New England’s plan will be to get time of possession somewhere near 40 minutes. More would be better, but unrealistic.
That gets us to the defense, where both teams have their major issues. New England is weak up the middle and, as a patched-together unit, they continue to play with great inspiration and intelligence. Like him or
not, Bill Belichick has a way and a plan with players no matter where he finds them (and Cleveland thought HE was pretty worthless).
But where the Patriots are obviously weak, Denver is fatally flawed. With some major talent out with injuries, the core of their performance on defense continues to be their speed at linebacker - good for covering receivers but not so good against the power rushing game, which is the Patriots’ bread and butter on offense at the moment.
New England’s scorching hot backfield tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley are the key to calling this one a lock.
49ers at Seahawks - As much as any matchup can be, this is the antidote to Brady vs. Manning Syndrome.
The NFC West has the two best teams top to bottom in the game right now. It wasn’t that long ago this division was regularly referred to as the NFC Worst. Now that they are winners, the old adage of “familiarity breeds contempt” actually begins to apply because each has professional pride, league status, and postseason dollars on the line.
Four years ago, when both lost about as often as they won, these guys didn’t hate on each other very much now did they? So don’t make too much of that nonsense now, but it makes for an easy story.
As much as anyone, San Francisco has been dogged when they play at Seattle, where they measure fan passion with the seismograph. And while that matters, it’s a peripheral issue. The 12th Man is not going to make a play.
It’s taken awhile, but the Niners now have the offense they always planned on and now they can make plays with the ball all over the field. While they won consistently without everyone on board, it’s been their
defense that’s been the steadying influence and still defines their team.
That defense will have its hands full. Look for them to keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, where he’s much less likely to beat you, and try their best to contain the beast within Marshawn Lynch. If that lion roars too often, look for another spike in the Richter Scale along the Pacific
Seattle’s defense is as tough as they come and Colin Kaepernick will have to be very careful in choosing his targets, but the Niners have the receivers to make plays and Anquan Boldin has never cared how much or how
hard he gets hit. He just fights to win, and he usually gets what he wants.
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