I’ve always considered myself to be a loyal person.
That’s why when I look at this weekend’s NFL Final Four, I have to stick to my principles.
We couldn’t have asked for a better pair of conference championship games. In fact, I think this may be the best Final Four in NFL history — a true Super Sunday.
We’re seeing the teams we have clamored for. In the NFC, it’s the Bad Blood Bowl — San Francisco vs. Seattle. The teams, which are in the same division, don’t like each other and the coaches, especially, don’t like each other, despite the rhetoric that is coming out of their camps. It goes back to the days when Seattle’s Pete Carroll was at USC and San Fran’s Jim Harbaugh patrolled the sidelines at Stanford.
In the AFC you have the Brady-Manning Bowl, otherwise known as New England against Denver, a game that pits the two best quarterbacks of our era, with apologies to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who in all honesty hasn’t built the resume of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Getting back to the question of my loyalty, before the season I picked a Super Bowl of San Francisco against New England, with San Francisco winning it all. My belief was the 49ers came so close last year and quite frankly should have beaten the Baltimore Ravens. I believe once you’re on the bandwagon, you stay on it — even if you have to go down with the ship.
After last weekend, I was thinking I was Titanicked. I was thinking there was no way the 49ers or Patriots could go on the road to places where the home team wins just about every game that’s played.
But the more and more I look at it, my preseason gut feeling could be right.
San Francisco is a hot team. It has gone on the road the last two weeks and recorded impressive victories. The NFL playoffs are all about being in the moment and right now, the 49ers are living the dream. They are punishing teams with their ground game and physically assaulting teams with an experienced defense. Colin Kaepernick has his swag back and the 49ers are feeding off that.
Seattle is such a scary team at home. It’s so loud and its defense feeds off its crazy crowd. But the Seahawks’ offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders and Russell Wilson has been putting up rather pedestrian numbers. If the 49ers can find a way to bottle up the beastly Marshawn Lynch, Wilson may be asked to win the game. Lately, he’s been more Alex Smith, managing the game and not making mistakes.
They may as well play this game in a back parking lot, because the only rules will be no rules in this fistfight.
• San Francisco 23, Seattle 20
As for Brady vs. Manning, uh, New England vs. Denver, I’m hoping this game turns into one of the old AFL games where the team having the ball last, wins.
Brady engineered an amazing comeback when the teams met earlier this year as the Patriots rallied from 24 points down to win. It just added a little more to his legend, one that has made a lot of former coaches wealthy, even if they floundered on their own (see Charlie Weis).
Both teams have lost an inordinate amount of players to injuries. There is no room left on the injured reserve lists, so I don’t think either can use that as an excuse. It’s the next man up and may the best man win.
The more and more I think about this game, the more I like the Patriots. The pressure is all on Manning, as his window is literally shut, with just a tiny crack remaining. The cucumber-cool Brady has at least five good years left, if he so chooses, and you could put the cast of the Jacksonville Jags around him and they’d be contenders.
New England has displayed a toughness down the stretch, especially last week when it was so muscular against Indianapolis. The depleted Bronco defense might not be able to stand up to a strong running game, plus Brady throwing to his “Who is he?” group of receivers who he seems to turn into All-Pros.
It’s Brady or bust for me.
• New England 34, Denver 27