Of course this year, I can do so without having myself accused of being a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool Hawks fan. (For the record, I actually had them losing to Atlanta in the NFC semis last year. So it’s my fault. Sorry guys.) I mean, call me, well, a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool Hawks fan, but I don’t see any team in the NFC who can come into Seattle and beat ‘em at home this year. Arizona just got lucky–oh, and that wasn’t an illegal block when Hasselbeck tried to make the tackle! I digress, but that probably won’t be my last Super Bowl XL reference in this column.
In any case, it’s probably just as well that the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. Hey, one last-second field-goal attempt a little further to the left, and they’re in the Wild Card. But alas, while the middle of the AFC pack shit its collective britches down the stretch, said conference is pretty top-heavy, to the point where three or four teams have a decent shot. That being said, the last time the Seahawks suited up at MetLife Stadium, they shut out the home side 23-0. So clearly, they’re going to win Super Bowl XLVIII. It’s just a matter of how they’re going to get there. Read on to see how the rest of the playoffs play out.
Saints @ Eagles, January 4th: Y’know, I can sorta see why NBC wanted to show this one in prime time. Between them, these two teams averaged 53.5 points and 816.6 yards a game this season. Dick Ebersol and company (wait, is that guy still alive?) are clearly anticipating a high-speed shootout, what with that Chip Kelly hurry-up offense and everything. But wait, not so fast. As anyone who isn’t, well, a true-black-and-gold, dyed-in-the-gumbo Saints fan knows, their team can’t win on the road. As a matter of fact, they’ve never won an away playoff game, including that time when they were heavy favourites against the 7-9 NFC West champs. This December alone, they lost to Carolina, St. Louis, and oh yeah, Seattle away from the dome–and Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field is definitely not a domed stadium. Hell, on some weeks it more closely resembles a snowglobe. Suffice to say the Saints should come up short…again. 28-17 Eagles.
49ers @ Packers, January 5th: Speaking of snow, it’s supposed to be -15 Celsius in Green Bay this Sunday, with white stuff in the forecast the night before. Lemme tell ya that I’ve walked to work these last two days in similar conditions, and it’s certainly not very pleasant. Frankly, I thought my legs were gonna fall off…although, to be fair, I don’t have the chiseled physique of Colin Kaepernick. Alas, San Fran is no strangers to the Pack in January–they put up 45 points in an NFC semi-final win last season. That game wasn’t in Green Bay, but still. As much as I want to pick the Pack (or anyone who’s ever playing against the Niners), I’m not so sure if Aaron Rodgers will be at his best, with just one start in the past two months heading into this one. Did I mention that the Pack was just 4-3-1 at Lambeau this season? Niners 24, Packers 14.
49ers @ Seahawks, January 11th: I hafta say, as a Hawks fan, this is the matchup I wanna see. After all, in the last two years, Seattle has outscored San Fran 71-16 at CenturyLink Field. Sure, the Niners have won a couple close, low-scoring contests at Candlestick in that timespan–but they’re not playing this one at Candlestick, are they? Seahawks 35, Niners 7!!!
Eagles @ Panthers, January 12th: As opposed to Philly’s first-round matchup, this one’s a case of unstoppable force meets immovable object, as the Eagles take their fourth-ranked offense down south to meet Carolina’s second-ranked D. The two teams haven’t met yet this year, but keep in mind that the Panthers held the NFL’s second-best passing attack to just 13 points in a game that decided the NFC South just before Christmas. The Eagles will hafta score a lot more than that to have a chance, and they haven’t faced too many tough road tests this season, the NFC Least being what it is. Put it this way: the last time they faced a playoff-caliber team with a healthy starting quarterback away from home, they lost to Denver 52-20. Now, Cam Newton’s no Peyton Manning, but unless he gets into a beach-football game during the bye week, he’ll be 100-per-cent healthy, which doesn’t bode well for Philly. Panthers 25, Eagles 17.
Panthers @ Seahawks, January 19th: The old adage that defense wins championships will be put to the test in the NFC final, as Carolina (second in points, total yards and rushing yards allowed) travels to Seattle (first in points, total yards and passing yards allowed) for a showdown between the league’s two best defensive teams. As a matter of fact, these two squads already squared off in 2013–and unsurprisingly, they combined for less than 20 points in the process. Waaaaay back in Week One, the Hawks went down to Carolina and squeaked out a 12-7 snoozer with a fourth-quarter score. Sure enough, the Carolina D held Beast Mode to just 43 yards on 17 carries, but Russell Wilson picked up the slack with 320 yards passing, hitting Jermaine Kearse with the late long bomb. Cam Newton? He threw for just 125 yards. At home. Did I mention this game’s at CenturyLink Field? Seahawks 15, Panthers 12.
Chiefs @ Colts, January 4th: Hard to believe the Chiefs were once the NFL’s last unbeaten team in 2013. Since entering their Week 10 bye at 9-0, they’ve lost five out of seven, with just a couple blowouts over the hopeless Redskins and hapless Raiders sandwiched between double-decker defeats to Denver, San Diego…and the Indianapolis Colts. That’s right, KC hasn’t beaten a playoff-caliber team since Philly in Week Three. And, oh yeah, Andrew Luck came into Arrowhead and beat ‘em… 23-7… with the mighty Griff Whalen leading the way in receiving. Not only did they win that one, but the Colts also beat Denver, Seattle and San Francisco this season. They’d be a Super Bowl dark horse if they had anyone who could hoof it out under Luck’s throws. Colts 28-13.
Chargers @ Bengals, January 5th: Speaking of dark horses, the Chargers did not look like they were going to make the playoffs just a couple weeks back. It took back-to-back losses by both Baltimore and Miami–not to mention a last-second field goal attempt wide right–for them to even get here. Mind you, they also won their last four games, including a 27-20 Thursday night showdown at Denver, so they’re coming in hot. But welcome to chilly Cincinnati, where the mercury rises to 2 degrees Celsius at kickoff–with a 100, that’s right, 100 per cent chance of precipitation. By the way, the Bengals are a perfect 8-0 at home, and they’re also the last team to beat the Bolts this season, holding the Chargers to just 10 points in sunny San Diego. Philip Rivers and co might as well book those return tickets already. Bengals 20, Chargers 10.
Bengals @ Patriots, January 11th: Andy Dalton, meet Tom Brady. You’d have met him last year, too, had your team not lost to the Texans. As of Jan 4th, Cincy hasn’t won a playoff game under Marvin Lewis, and Dalton, he of the career 48 passer rating, 0 TDs and 4 INTs in the postseason, has played a pretty big part in that. (My guess is he throws for 223, 1 TD and 2 picks in their win over the Chargers.) On the other hand, Mr. Brady, there, he’s won a few playoff games…not to mention Super Bowls. Nice meeting you. 38-14 Patriots.
Colts @ Broncos, January 12th: Back in Week Seven, Andrew Luck and the Colts shocked the world. What was meant to be a showdown between Peyton Manning and his successor–on Peyton Manning Day, no less–turned into a 33-17 rout through three quarters before Manning (and the refs) made it interesting in the fourth. Nevertheless, the second-year pivot outscored the surefire Hall of Famer 4 TDs to 3 (including one rushing) and didn’t throw an interception nor fumble the football in a 39-33 win. Granted, that was with a healthy Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey, but hey, if Wes Welker even suits up for Denver, he won’t be the picture of perfect health, either. Of course, the biggest difference is that this one’s an away game, but the Colts have also won some big ones at KC and San Fran this season. And besides, Denver gives up 25 points per game. Of course, they score a lot more, too. But I still think Indy gets Lucky again–with a little help from playoff legend Adam Vinatieri. 30-28 Colts.
Colts @ Patriots, January 19th: Let me just go out and say it: Yes, Tom Brady is a giant douchenozzle, and the Patriots are the perfect picture of douchenozzlery. But every year, they seem to finish right up there in the standings, and every year, they make it deep into the playoffs. Call it destiny, call it fate, call it Bill Belichick stealing signals from the other sideline…but they get the job done. On the other hand, if Andrew Luck is going to be the next Peyton Manning, then he’s still got several seasons of heartbreaking playoff losses to go before he finally wins the big one. This time, in snowy Foxboro, a tuck-rule call goes in Brady’s favour while a crew of illegal aliens shovels enough snow during the stoppage to clear a path for Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning FG. Patriots 23, Colts 20. Aliens $5/hr.
Which brings us to…
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
Patriots vs. Seahawks @ MetLife Stadium, February 2nd: This one continues this decade’s trend of superlative Super Bowls with another game for the ages. (At least I hope so, as I’m about thisclose to buying an overpriced ticket.) The Seahawks get on the board first with a field-goal, before Brady tosses a dart to Amendola halfway through the first quarter. But the Hawks answer back with a 24-yard pass across the middle from Super Bowl MVP Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin, and lead 10-7 after the first quarter. However, New England battles back with 10 points in the second to go into halftime with a 17-10 lead.
The SeaFence steps up in the second half, holding the Pats to just a field goal in the third, and another three points in the fourth. But Wilson struggles to move the ball until there’s nine-and-a-half minutes to play, when he orchestrates a five-play, 71-yard drive that takes just two minutes off the clock, bringing the score to 23-17. The teams exchange punts until Seattle gets the ball back with 2:38 remaining. Wilson scrambles for nine before the two-minute warning, then Lynch gets stuffed for a two-yard gain.
But with 1:27 on the clock, In Russ We Trust drops back and hits PERCY MUTHAFUCKIN’ HARVIN, who’s been saving himself for the Super Bowl, with a 46-yard TD pass. I knew we traded for him for a reason!
With 1:18 left, the SeaFence holds the Brady Bunch to a four-and-out, and hangs on for a 24-23 victory. Ladies and gentlemen, your Super Bowl XLVIII champs…
THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS!
(OK, so maybe what I described sounds awfully similar to Seattle’s Week Six win over the Pats in 2012, but man, that was one heckuva game, wasn’t it? ;) )