I’m not the least bit surprised that the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship Game. All season long, their lack of overall talent jumped out at me, even through the winning. I know all about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, believe me, I hear you. It’s never going to be about them though. Yeah, yeah, they play the game for a reason, but you and I know that Seattle should’ve sealed the deal. There’s always going to be a hero and it was Malcolm Butler in the last Super Bowl. That’s great for him, and great for the Patriots.
I do realize how close they were in Denver. You can say that Stephen Gostowski should have made the extra point at the beginning of the game, which would have allowed the Patriots to kick the extra point at the end to force overtime. Instead, on a drive where Tom Brady, who got hit all game including that drive, Brady got hit on the first couple downs and made some great throws. He eluded heavy pressure just to throw the ball away. Just to throw an incompletion to stop the clock. Brady got sacked a couple of times on that final drive, but he also avoided a couple of sacks and converted 2 huge 4th downs to Rob Gronkowski, including the touchdown at the end.
They didn’t complete the 2-point conversion and Denver is headed back to the Super Bowl for the 2nd time in 4 years. The first time around they were led by Peyton Manning, but this time, the Broncos’ defense clearly paved the way. Previously, the most hits on a QB in a playoff game were 14. Brady got hammered 20 times. Von Miller may be in his prime. DeMarcus Ware looked as hungry of a defender that I’ve seen in a while. If you’ve been paying attention to the Patriots injuries, and I’m actually referring to the O-line, not so much the skill position players that are well-known, that’s when I knew they were headed toward a dead-end.
I did think they would be one and done when Kansas City came to town, but to be honest, I wasn’t fully bought into the Chiefs either without a healthy Jamaal Charles or Jeremy Maclin. All in all, I am pretty happy that we got to see Peyton versus Brady in the AFC Title Game one last time, it was very fitting with Peyton’s retirement on the horizon. It kind of makes me want to root for the future Hall of Famer in the Big Game, but again, in all reality I believe it will be a blowout like that Seattle bonanza a couple of years ago where they only put up 8 points.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the defensive talent in combination with the best D-coordinator in football. Wade Phillips should be a D.C. lifer from this point forward, much like Dick LaBeau, and much like Norv Turner, who is better suited as an offensive coordinator. They are great at what they do despite so-so results during their head coaching stints. But yeah, that Denver D will be the best test that Cam Newton and the Panthers will face during their memorable 17-1 run up to this point. We all know that he will win MVP, but after picking Seattle and then Arizona to beat them, Cam has his team on his back and they look like they can’t be stopped. Ron Rivera on the other hand, has become a really good head coach after being a defensive coordinator. I’ve been a big Gary Kubiak supporter and really felt like he was an upgrade for Denver and he takes them all the way in his first season.
Even if you want to call it close, or possibly a wash going into this game, that’s when you have to turn attention to the other side. Peyton going against that Carolina defense doesn’t sound favorable. The Broncos won the games they had to, but again, whom did they play? The wounded Patriots and the wounded Steelers. Good thing they held on for a first-round bye. Good thing Brock Osweiler was competent enough to beat New England head-to-head. How about now?
I can’t shake off the Panthers I watched in 2014 that finished 7-8-1 and got crushed by the Eagles on Monday Night Football. That’s kept me a little skeptical about their ability to go deep into the playoffs. Just like the Patriots, I thought the Panthers were one and done. Apparently, I was wrong. The point is that I thought their flaws would catch up to them at some point. It caught up to New England. Could it catch up to Carolina? Their defense is just as good as Denver’s. It does hurt that Jared Allen and Thomas Davis aren’t close to being healthy. They’re going to try to play because those veterans only have so much left in the tank, plus it’s not every year that a team makes the Super Bowl. My pick was Arizona, so you can say that I’m completely stunned that they got dominated the way they did. Who saw that coming?
If you find Cam and his celebrations bothersome, you’re just a hater. Whether you don’t like the mobile quarterback winning, or the Panthers because you root for another NFC team, him dabbing or shooting a basketball shot with teammates can’t possibly hit your boiling point. There may be off-the-field decisions or incidents that you don’t agree with, such as him having a child out-of-wedlock like a lot of other people in the world, that’s simply a topic I won’t dive into that here. I care about what goes on in the locker room, how a player develops, and what he brings to the turf. That’s what I want to discuss as a sports enthusiast.
I completely understand if you are going to root for the animated Cam Newton. Just like I completely understand if you’re cheering for Peyton Manning’s happy ending, much like his GM rode off into the sunset. Just like John Elway finished his career on top. For rooting purposes, it’s very exciting. Just looking at football, I see the best 2 defenses in the league. I see a talented Broncos offense with a once great QB that I hope has one solid game left. Believe it or not, I actually predicted that Manning, once he was “benched,” would do what a pitcher in baseball cannot do, start and close. He came back as the freshest QB in the playoffs. I see the Panthers no-brainer for MVP with, realistically, an underwhelming supporting cast. But hey, whatever these teams have done all year-long worked better than everybody else.
I want to see a good game, competitive throughout, because I love football. That pretty much means that I’m rooting for both teams to scored under 20 points, or maybe in the low 20s at the most. Cam can clearly lead the Panthers to light up the scoreboard these days. Peyton and the Broncos, not so much anymore. A low-scoring game is the only way I see Denver having any chance, and that does mean that part of me feels like this will be a blowout. Like the Seahawks did to the Broncos 43-8. As for a prediction, I don’t WANT to go there because I want to see a fantastic finish, a close game, where Peyton has a chance to leave on top. It also would say a lot about Cam’s development, exploding onto the scene, winning the regular season MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same year. Both would be awesome outcomes.
Of course, Carolina is favored and the majority of football fans understand why. The Super Bowl fans that just like to party and pick a side, I expect them to be split between the historic Manning and current Newton. It should be that way. When I dig deep to actually care about who I want to win, because on the surface I don’t as an Eagles fan, but taking everything into consideration I’m leaning towards ROOTING for the Broncos. The die-hard fan and me, however, expects the Lombardi Trophy to return to Sweet Home Carolina.