How the darts landed
Hit all our picks straight up last week except our gamble on Carolina winning. Correctly had San Diego-with-points but that was about it against the spread. (Seattle’s win was a push.) Rolling big dice this week with both road ’dogs winning outright for an unexpected Patriots-Niners Super Bowl. Anybody else with me on that? Nah, I didn't think so. By the way, this week’s usual Friday NFL column previewing Championship Weekend will instead appear online Saturday and in Sunday’s newspaper.
|Final regular season||153-102-1||.600||110-132-14||.457|
The 15th and perhaps last edition of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning of course is the broad framework for Sunday’s early game, the duel of Canton-bound arms in some ways seeming even bigger than the game, than Patriots-Broncos. The result is for the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in the Super Bowl, but based on the preamble, you’d think it was mostly about the two QBs and their legacies. Clearly, Brady’s 10-4 edge head-to-head and more pedigreed postseason résumé puts the far greater pressure here on Manning to win at home and not end his historic season sourly. So does the teams’ wild regular-season meeting, won by the Pats 34-31 in overtime. You’ll recall Denver led 24-0 before collapsing under Brady’s assault, and that Manning (150 yards) had his worst game of the season. Weather should not be a big factor in the rematch; cold but no rain. Besides, a team from outside Boston is supposed to have chattering teeth in Denver? I like New England in what would be a big upset, and I do so with utmost respect for Manning and Denver’s home record. Picking against Peyton at home feels like betting against tomorrow’s sunrise, but the gut feeling here is pretty strong. Saturday-game winners in the previous round are 7-1 since 2010 in this round, a trend favoring New England. Manning is 6-11 all-time against Bill Belichick teams. John Fox is 1-6 against the Pats. NE finally has a running game and has three very good cornerbacks. And here’s something else that might seem small but isn’t: Denver is missing injured CB Chris Harris, and the Broncs’ opposing passer skyrockets when Harris isn’t on the field. That’ll clear a path for Brady to victimize 34-year-old replacement Quentin Jammer and to continue his mastery of Manning.
These teams’ first postseason meeting is a brutally delicious matchup between two coaches who don’t like each other in a bitter division rivalry whose fulcrum will be punishing defense. I get that Seattle’s “12th Man” fans are supposed to make the venue the difference here. Earthquakes, decibels, yada yada yada. I know that Seattle is 16-1 at home the past two seasons and has won six consecutive home games in the postseason. And I know — acutely — that San Fran has lost its past two trips to SEA by a combined 71-16 score. OK. Deep breath. Now repeat after me: The most likely effect of those past two games in Seattle is to make the 49ers angry and assert themselves to not be embarrassed again. (Yes. Yes I AM picking another upset!) Give me the hotter-than-Hades Niners to win the NFC’s George Halas Trophy and get back to the Super Bowl. San Fran has won eight games in a row and is playing its best right now. The Niners’ defense is as good as Seattle’s or imperceptibly shy of it, and SF’s offense is hitting on more cylinders coming in than Seattle’s. If Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch are a running-game push, Colin Kaepernick vs. Russell Wilson is not. At least not lately. Give me The Tattooed One. Wilson has been pretty ordinary the past five games, a stretch during which Seattle’s offense has averaged a Dolphinesque 20 points and 265 yards per game. Six consecutive NFC Championship Games have been decided by seven points or fewer, three in overtime. This one should continue that streak, maybe right down to the OT. Due respect to Seattle’s ear-busting crowd, but it’s San Fran bringing the hotter all-round team capable of jamming the mute button on all of those sonic decibels.