The final four. It’s been four years since the Giants played on this weekend and it’s felt like 40 given what’s gone on with them since they beat the 49ers in San Francisco in January 2012. From the 2-6 finish to the 2012 season to the 0-6 start to the 2013 season to the seven-game losing streak in 2014 to the six last-minute losses in 2015, the Giants have done the exact opposite of what I thought they would do when they won Super Bowl XLVI and started the next season 6-2. The point is you don’t know when you’re going to get back to this round or if you’re ever going to get back, so when you get here, you better win.
So about me wanting to dominate the divisional round picks … (crickets … crickets). By dominating, I must have meant going 0-4 and falling to 2-6 in the playoffs. The good news is there are still three games to pick to finish the season on a winning note and the better news is that I’m 13 games over .500, so no matter what happens in the last three games, the season was still a success.
DENVER +3.5 over New England
I can’t believe I’m in this spot again: rooting against the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl. Actually, I can. The AFC East was once again a joke, the rest of the AFC wasn’t much better and with the Patriots able to wrap up a first-round bye and then divisional round home game, I’m not sure why I ever think they won’t be in this spot. Since 2001, the only time they haven’t been in the AFC Championship Game was 2002 (missed the playoffs), 2005 (lost to Denver in the divisional round), 2008 (lost Tom Brady for the season in Week 1), 2009 (lost to Baltimore in wild-card round) and 2010 (lost to the Jets in the divisional around). Take out 2008 because of injury and that’s 10 AFC Championship Games in 14 seasons with Tom Brady as the quarterback. Right now, if you were to tell me that Tom Brady will be healthy for all of 2016 then it’s hard not to think the Patriots won’t be back in this game again next season. Now the only thing standing between the Patriots and me drinking heavily to avoid dealing with a Patriots championship a little over two weeks from now is Peyton Manning.
I never thought Brock Osweiler should remain the Broncos’ quarterback when Peyton got healthy and couldn’t understand the people that thought he should. Maybe Osweiler will eventually be a top-tier quarterback, but for anyone who watched him play in Peyton’s absence (or bet on the Broncos during this time), a healthy Osweiler isn’t even close to a barely-hanging-on Manning.
Peyton was horrible in the regular season, but was saved by his defense after years of carrying his team, and his performance last week against the Steelers and one of the worst secondaries in the league wasn’t exactly promising. The greatest passer in the history of the game has been downgraded to game manager and the rapid decline of Peyton’s health and career couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The theme all week has centered around the idea that Peyton will be forced to beat the Patriots deep and he won’t be able to. No one is talking about what the Broncos’ defense is capable of or how special teams could impact the game, but why would they? It’s Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady (kind of) and one’s career is coming to an end and the other’s has no end in sight.
I want Peyton Manning to beat the Patriots, give the Mannings another postseason win against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, go to the Super Bowl, win it and ride off into the sunset as a champion. I want that to happen. But most importantly, I need the Patriots to lose. Let’s take care of the need first and then we can get to the wants.
CAROLINA -3 over Arizona
There is a Regular Season Carson Palmer and a Postseason Carson Palmer, and if you think the near-MVP you saw for 16 weeks was going to be the guy that showed up last week, your bank account can’t be doing too well.
Carson Palmer was bad in the divisional round, but he wasn’t the only one. The Cardinals’ defense was surprisingly bad, and Bruce Arians, managed the clock in the final minutes like he was paying tribute to Tom Coughlin’s 2015 season and installed a defense on the final drive of regulation as if he had bet against his team with the spread. The Cardinals mailed it in in Week 17, had a week off and showed up for their home playoff game as the 2-seed as if it were a preseason game in August. There was nothing to feel good about from the Cardinals and for a team that has historically been embarrassed on the East Coast, they couldn’t have a worse matchup for the NFC Championship Game.
I still don’t believe in the Panthers, even after their 15-1 regular season and even after they ran off a 31-0 halftime lead against the two-time defending NFC champions. But if they win two more games, I will have been wrong all along. I guess even getting to this point shows I was wrong all along. If the Broncos can’t beat the Patriots and they go to Super Bowl 50, the Cardinals aren’t going to beat them, but the Panthers can. In the event the AFC Championship Game doesn’t go the way I want it to, I’m going to need the Panthers to be in San Francisco in two weeks. It’s time to believe in the Panthers.
Last week: 0-4-0