With profound apologies, this NFL column is going to be about football, believe it or not. We’re going to take a short break from domestic abuse and DUIs, crime and punishment, the league’s image problem, disgruntled sponsors, and Roger Goodell’s missteps.
The national conversation has veered off the field early this season. Let’s get back on the field.
The conversation has been about what’s wrong and bad with the NFL. So let’s talk about what’s right and good. Very good, in fact. The best.
Denver at Seattle.
Thank you, schedule maker. Goodell couldn’t have wished it any more, or timed it any better.
The NFL has seldom needed the distraction of football (as odd as that sounds) more than it does right now, and Broncos at Seahawks late Sunday afternoon delivers a signature, marquee game that will help us forget about police reports, surveillance videos and grand jury indictments for a blessed few hours.
Unfortunately, South Florida won’t see this game because it runs concurrent with a Dolphins home game. Too bad.
Broncos-Seahawks marks only the sixth time in the Super Bowl era — and first time in 17 years — that the most recent SB opponents have played each other the following regular season. The previous five times were Packers-Patriots in 1997, Cowboys-Bills in 1993, Steelers-Cowboys in 1979, Raiders-Vikings in 1977 and Chiefs-Vikings in 1970. Only in ’70 and ’93 did the SB loser exact a measure of revenge the following regular season.
Now, if the betting odds are right — Seattle and Denver presently are co-favorites to be champions at 9-2 odds — Sunday could be a preview of only the second Super Bowl rematch in history, the other being a sequel of Cowboys-Bills in 1992-93.
Dallas and preening Jimmy Johnson dominated both of those games, winning 52-17 and 30-13.
The onus would be on Denver to avoid a rout-repeat after Seattle’s 43-8 drubbing in the most recent SB.
The teams met in this year’s preseason opener, a 21-16 Denver home win that the Broncos seemed to take a lot more seriously than Seattle.
“I think there was something going on in the preseason,” as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week. “I think it was a big deal for them.”
It’ll be a far bigger deal Sunday as five-time and reigning league MVP Peyton Manning tries to solve the NFL’s best, fiercest defense in the toughest stadium to beat the home team.
This won’t be about avenging the embarrassment of the Super-blowout. No way to do that.
But this will be about setting the framework for an SB rematch that seems somewhere between likely and inevitable. It’s hard to recall when, so early in a season, the eventuality has seemed so foregone.
After only two weeks of play there are a mere seven unbeaten teams left in the NFL. Parity is greater than ever. The Dolphins’ 1972 perfection seems safer than ever. And it is amid the rampant mediocrity that the Broncos and Seahawks stand out, stand apart, as much ever.
Seattle is a clear favorite at 12-5 odds to win the NFC, and Denver is an even bigger favorite at 8-5 to win the AFC.
Who’ll win Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch is a good question.
An even better question, and tougher to answer:
What teams can prevent the Broncos and Seahawks from meeting again in February?
Right now, there are none to be seen.