Lots of strange drama aswirl in the NFL in the buildup to Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been tamping down a week-long brush fire after receiver Antonio Brown secretly did a Facebook Live video of coach Mike Tomlin’s supposedly private postgame talk to the team. In it, Tomlin called Sunday’s opponent, the New England Patriots, “[expletive].” Angry and embarrassed, Tomlin then called Brown “foolish,” “selfish” and “inconsiderate.” Brown in turn confessed apologies for causing a “total distraction.” Said Patriots receiver Julian Edelman: “That’s how that team is run.”
Over on the NFC side, the sad family rift surrounding Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was laid bare this week as publicly as that video of Tomlin when the New York Times exhumed the weird estrangement. Rodgers hasn’t spoken to his parents or brother since late 2014, soon after he began dating actress Olivia Munn. He did not attend the funeral of a grandfather he used to phone before every game. Rodgers won’t discuss the divide. “Fame can change things,” said his father Ed, without elaborating.
Meanwhile, over at the league office, commissioner Roger Goodell must now deal with the Raiders wanting to ditch Oakland for Las Vegas on the heels of the Chargers bolting San Dieo for L.A. But Goodell mainly was in the news this week for continuing to avoid attending a game in New England, where he is hated because of Deflategate. Instead of Foxborough, the cowardly commish will be in Atlanta on Sunday — for the second week in a row.
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With all of this drama going on, I almost forgot to mention:
This Sunday will be the single greatest day of the football season — better than even the Super Bowl. And that’s partly because this might be the greatest Final Four in NFL history.
(No, I am not saying that because my preseason Super Bowl pick — Steelers over Packers — is still in play. I’ll need some luck, including two upsets Sunday to keep that alive.)
These conference semifinalists enter Sunday having won a combined 30 games in a row, a record for a final four. It’s nine wins in a row for the Steelers, eight each for the Packers and Pats and five for the Falcons.
The four starting quarterbacks had a combined passer rating of 107.0 during the season, also a record for a Championship Sunday. The only other time the last four QBs standing topped a collective 100 rating, it was 100.7, and it was 1998.
Tom Brady (four), Ben Roethlisberger (two) and Aaron Rodgers (one) also have won a combined seven Super Bowls, also a final-four record.
I also love the mix of teams: three league giants and a requisite Cinderella for balance. The Packers, Steelers and Patriots have won a combined 23 NFL championships, including 14 Super Bowls. The Falcons have won none.
And yet Atlanta is favored Sunday, has the likely league MVP in QB Matt Ryan and led the NFL in scoring with 540 points — hardly your classic underdog. Perspective: In the 15 seasons since 2002 realignment, only 10 of 480 teams (2.1 percent) have topped 500 points in a season and only five outscored the 2016 Falcons.
So, enough with the off-field drama. We’ll have plenty of the right kind on Sunday.