This weekend, the AFC-NFC Championship games will feature four teams that started the playoffs as favorites to reach the Super Bowl. It will serve as the penultimate episode of a season that was chock full of intriguing subplots which managed to do nothing but fill up think pieces and conspiracy theories. Teams like the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles were like the Bob Bensons of the NFL – just something to keep our minds away from the thought of an inevitability. It was nice to see some fresh teams added into the mix after years out of the picture – greetings from Kansas City/Charlotte – but alas, the favorites prevailed, and there is not a Super Bowl dark horse in sight. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s actually quite to the contrary. If last year’s conference championships games were battles of Davids against Goliaths, this is an all-Goliath fest.
This will be like watching a Godzilla movie double-header. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, then Godzilla vs. Mothra. Just look at the Pro Bowlers in these two games not named Peyton Manning or Tom Brady: Marshawn Lynch, Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin, Rob Gronkowski, Kam Chancellor, Von Miller, Frank Gore, Jerod Mayo, and so on and so forth. It’s some of the best in the NFL going head-to-head, providing the league with two mini-Pro Bowls that will outsell the actual exhibition game. This is only surface-level stuff which does not even get into the meat of the sports page fodder that will be espoused before the AFC Championship even begins.
Let’s break down the off-the-field clashes of the weekend, shall we?
Tom Brady v. Peyton Manning: This is the most obvious SportsCenter marquee talking point that will likely be featured on other Worldwide Leader in Hype programming such as Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption and Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable. It’s already been a point of conversation on the ever-changing white board known as Numbers Never Lie. It’s a hotly contested argument, with championship rings and MVP accolades favoring Tom Brady.
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, is statistically more efficient. Over his career, Manning has amassed 64,494 passing yards with a passer rating of 97.2. Brady’s numbers pale in comparison, with an accumulation of 49,149 yards and a rating of 95.7. This game will be seen by many as a test of which quarterback reigns supreme in the 2013-2014 season, though running back LeGarrette Blount has been shouldering most of the load for the New England Patriots. That last part will nary be mentioned in any conversation due to the fact that these two are the greatest quarterbacks of the past decade.
These debates will not center around whether or not the Broncos can stop Blount. The focus will solely be on Tom “Pretty Boy” Brady and Peyton “Hey Papa” Manning. It’s about a constant fixture of Gentleman’s Quarterly against a guy who has no problem walking out in public with barbecue stains on his khaki shorts. In a way, it’s almost a battle of which way of life you prefer. Are you an erudite bro who scoffs when the waiter brings you and your model girlfriend a bottle of Charles Shaw? Or are you the son of America’s down-to-Earth, Outlaw country blaring, lemonade sippin’ family of quarterbacks? Satan Dexter, or Shining Ray of Bible Belt Light? You decide.
Jim Harbaugh v. Pete Carroll: This is the coaching battle already dominating the sporting world. It should be used as a modern example of yellow journalism. Two former college head coaching rivals now taking their blood feud to the highest game within their conference. The only way that this is to be topped is if there was a way you could push these two into the Super Bowl against one another and then let them duke it out in a ring of fire.
This is the coaching battle that spawned “what’s your deal” when Carroll was at USC and Harbaugh at Stanford. The tension has carried over to the pros, setting up one of the best rivalries in the NFL of the past three years. Both coaches are downplaying the significance of their personal rivalry as they head into the game this weekend, but how can you? These two are the perfect foils for one another. Carroll as the sly, level-headed coach with the sarcastic wit, and smirk to boot. Harbaugh is the ultra-competitive time bomb who would probably be mad at his toaster if it didn’t cook his Brown Sugar Pop-Tarts to a particular, specific temperature.
Harbaugh is 4-2 against Carroll since entering the league in 2011. Under his helm, the 49ers have already played in the NFC title game twice, with one Super Bowl appearance to show for it. Carroll has yet to make it out of the divisional playoffs with this game as his first opportunity at both the NFC title and a shot at making the Super Bowl. For both coaches, this means bragging rights on one of the biggest stages they have ever met.
John Fox v. Bill Belichick: The last time these coaches met in the postseason was during the divisional playoff of the 2011-2012 season. You might remember this as the year of the Denver Broncos Starring Tim Tebow. You may also recall that the Broncos were eviscerated by the Patriots with a final score of 45-10. In their first postseason appearance against each other since Super Bowl XXXVIII, the outing proved to be nothing but a referendum on the country’s love affair with Tebowmania. It also was another chance for Belichick to wryly smile at Fox and say “scoreboard” underneath his breath.
It’s been two years since that game, and John Fox’s record against Bill Belichick is still winless. Fox can formulate a game plan to kick in the teeth of almost every opponent, but with Belichick, it seems that everything is figured out. For every great move, there are seemingly better counter moves or adjustments. Even in a year where the Patriots have turned into the Wisconsin Badgers, the Peyton Manning-led Broncos still failed to defeat the Patriots. New England’s personnel is not as strong as in years past, but here it is again in the AFC Championship and against the team coached by the man who can never seem to catch a break against Belichick.
Derrick Coleman v. Your Cold Heart: You’ve probably seen this inspiring commercial that Duracell has been airing within the past week. If not, please stop what you’re doing and watch it.
Coleman was deaf since the age of three and his life long dream of playing in the NFL was realized when the Seattle Seahawks dialed him up to take the field. Now, Coleman, after not being drafted into the league, is the starting fullback. I have seen this video posted all over the internet, and the story does not get any less motivational after each viewing. If you don’t have some sort of heartfelt reaction to this video, I am going to assume you’re an awfully miserable human being (real Upworthy stuff right here).
Wes Welker v. The Patriot Way: Wes Welker was a mainstay on the New England roster for years. He was one of the receivers instrumental in one of the most high-profile passing attacks in the NFL. He was the most beloved Patriot not named Brady. During contract negotiations in the offseason of 2013, Welker didn’t re-sign with New England because of an amount he felt was too low for a player of his caliber. In the finger-pointing quotables printed nationally, it seemed that Robert Kraft and the organization did what the they’ve always done: they made a business decision and told Welker to take it or leave it. Welker left it for a two-year contract with the Denver Broncos and another future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Welker has been one of the key components of the wide receiving corps. He’s amassed a quality season, with 778 receiving yards complete with ten receiving touchdowns. Granted, this is about a hundred shy of his lowest with the Patriots, but it is still better than some other receivers within the league. This is the reason why he demanded more money from the Patriots. His departure from the Patriots left a void, which the team tried to fill with Danny Amendola from the Rams. Amendola’s stats on the year? 633 yards for two touchdowns. That’s more than a football field shy of what Welker was able to do inside of 17 games.
So what does Welker have to prove? Nothing to the general public. He has earned his reputation as a potential member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I’m sure he’ll revel in the fact that the Patriots missed out as Robert Kraft looks on from his visitor’s luxury suite at Mile High Stadium.
Russell Wilson’s Instagram v. Colin Kaepernick’s Instagram: You might have seen somewhere that a Seahawks fan decided to “compare” the Instagram accounts of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. The point of the comparison was to paint Kaepernick as a materialistic villain who would rather amass a massive shoe collection than spend his time at charity events. Of course, the feed is edited to elicit a “Kaepernick is what is wrong with America” response from all those people continuing to watch Duck Dynasty.
This is probably the dumbest comparison between the two quarterbacks, and you will most likely have the misfortune of stumbling upon it again via the Facebook post of your ‘friend’ you meant to delete, Jim ‘Benghazi’ Allen.