How did we get so lucky?
As NFL fans, all we do all season long is bitch and complain about everything we don’t like. The shoddy officiating, the players we don’t like, the disappointing teams, the sissifying rule changes, and our incredibly frustrating fantasy football squads. We do this ad nauseum and to the point that I can’t say that I would blame the NFL Gods if they annually tossed us duds in the postseason as punishment for being ungrateful. For whatever reason, those mythical NFL Gods convened and decided this year’s Championship weekend would arguably be the most anticipated non-Super Bowl Sunday of NFL action in recent memory. So I ask again, how the hell did we get so lucky?
Maybe luck has had nothing to do with it. Maybe all it comes down to is that these are simply the four best teams, and they did what good teams are supposed to do… they took care of business in the regular season, finishing with a combined record of 50-14, and are now in position to play themselves into the Super Bowl with one more victory. However, I’m not here to discuss who is going to get that one more victory. For the sake of this write up the results of the upcoming games are completely irrelevant. What I’m here to discuss is what individuals have the most to gain in the next two weeks of NFL action. Since it’s the 2013 season that will soon be coming to a close, let’s count backwards from 13 to 1.
NOTE: For what it’s worth, I’m taking New England over Denver 31-28, and Seattle over San Francisco 23-21.
13: Tim Tebow- Currently has as many playoff wins as a the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos as Peyton Manning does, and with a Patriots win over Denver on Sunday keeps it that way. Look, I’m not going to flagrantly defend Tim Tebow like I used to. All I’ll say is this: Brandon Weeden, Jeff Tuel, and the immortal Blaine Gabbert started games this year and finished 0-9 collectively. If those duds can finagle their way into starts in the NFL, then what in the holy hell is Tim Tebow doing covering the BCS Championship Game?
12: Wes Welker- Forget about Welker getting the chance to stick it to his former team. That’s just gravy. As long as Welker doesn’t get his ass knocked out cold again he’s the biggest winner of the next few weeks.
11: LeGarrette Blount- Talk about an all-time upset. Considering where Blount was one year ago, he’s the most unexpected individual on this list. Up until the latter half of this season Blount’s reputation was centered more on his one punch knockout ability and being utterly insane than any of his on the field accomplishments, which had more to do with his frequency of hurdling defenders than everything else. As per usual, the Patriots took in a cast off and overlooked his shaky past, and it’s paying off. The LeGarrette Blount redemption project officially became a success last week when Blount ran wild like Hulkamania all over the Colts defense. Now Blount is the centerpiece of the increasingly run-centric Patriots offense and star of the best NFL-related GIF I’ve seen this week.
10: Anquan Boldin- Quietly building a nice résumé for himself, specifically in the postseason. It doesn’t seem like it would be the case, but Boldin will soon more than likely climb into the top ten all-time in playoff receiving yards, and has an outside shot of sneaking into the top five if he goes absolutely bonkers. During the Ravens postseason run last year Boldin was a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. His ability to get open and make plays against the heralded Seahawks defense will be crucial for San Francisco.
9: Any Seahawks or 49ers Defensive Player- Rather than pick just one guy, I’ll give two entire defensive units some love. It’s like killing twenty-two birds with one stone. Both defenses are stacked, and in all likelihood there will be at the very least one guy who separates from the pack over the next two weeks. Your guess is as good as mine. I’d wager on Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Navorro Bowman, Eric Reid, Justin Smith or Patrick Willis. By picking eight different guys, I really should be covered here.
8: Pete Carroll- USC fans are likely all aboard the 49ers bandwagon this weekend given the condition Carroll left the program in, but a National Championship and four Rose Bowl victories should earn him a little bit of leeway. Even though Carroll abandoned the ship at USC right before it sunk, he brought the Seahawks ship back to the surface and deserves a lot of credit for that. Big Balls Pete is the ideal coach for the loose, high energy and young Seattle Seahawks and whether you’re a fan of his or not, a Super Bowl victory given the circumstances on top of his impressive college credentials gives him a whole lot to brag about. That’s indisputable.
7: Marshawn Lynch- You can’t understate how vital Lynch has been to the Seahawks for the last four seasons. The easiest way to determine that would be to look at his numbers and very easily see that over that span Lynch has been one of the most consistently effective backs in the league. I want to take it a little further. Lynch is the crutch of the Seahawks offense—an offense that hovers between average and below average at throwing the ball. Lynch is the guy who most frequently pops into my head when I think about how I wish Steven Jackson ran with the ball. Lynch is the central figure in one of the most incredible rushes in NFL history; a run that symbolized CenturyLink Field emphatically claiming it’s spot at the top of the Loudest Stadium Rankings. Most importantly, in an evolving league where running backs are disposable and very few stick out, Lynch is one of the few guys that truly matter.
6: Russell Wilson/Colin Kaepernick- With all due respect to Andrew Luck, who I believe is and will be better than both Wilson and Kaepernick, if either Wilson or Kaepernick come away with a Super Bowl XLVIII title it means they will have had to go through the other, as well as either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady in the process. You know what that means? Get ready for the “This guy is THE next great quarterback in this league!” chatter to be beaten into the ground within five hours after the Super Bowl. And hey, it may end up being true. For all we know, Wilson/Kaepernick could be the modern day and fast man’s version of the Manning/Brady rivalry the carries the NFL into the next five to ten years. Look at what the Manning/Brady rivalry has become. It’s taken on a life of its own and somehow become bigger than Broncos/Patriots or Colts/Patriots ever was, even though they’ve never played a snap directly against each other. That is what we should be hoping for out of Wilson/Kaepernick.
4: Jim Harbaugh- Please excuse me for stating the obvious, but Jim Harbaugh can coach his ass off. Just three seasons into his NFL coaching career he has already earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best coaches in the league and last week he founded his own club; by defeating Carolina last week he became the first coach in NFL history to make conference championship game in each of his first three seasons. That’s just incredible. With a Super Bowl win Harbaugh regains his spot at the top of the Harbaugh Brother Power Rankings over John, sticks it to Pete Carroll again, and completes the restoration of San Francisco to prominence in the NFL. And to think it was just four years ago when Mike Singletary was making chicken shit out of chicken salad in San Francisco before Harbaugh came in and started cooking chicken parmesan? I’m not really going anywhere with that, it’s just incredible how inept Samurai Mike was as a head coach.
3: Bill Belichick- Belichick is two wins away from immortality in the coaching ranks, and maybe greatest coach of all-time status if he’s not there already. With the Patriots he’s put together a 163-61 regular season record, a 16-0 regular season, eleven division titles, an 18-7 record in the playoffs, five Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl wins… that’s just incredible. He’s one win away from joining Tom Landry as the only two coaches with twenty career postseason wins, and two wins away from joining Chuck Noll as the only coaches with four Super Bowl titles. The thing is, Belichick doesn’t need the wins like some of the other guys on this list need the wins. Look at what he’s already done. And take into account, going 12-4 with this particular Patriots team might be the greatest testament to how great The Hoodie is. Belichick was dealt a constant stream of injuries, mediocre skill position players and even a PR crisis when we found out one of the ten best guys on the roster might be a murderer. He just put his head down and plowed straight ahead with a boring and quiet resolve like he has for fourteen years in New England. Then again, you could make the argument that his quarterback had a lot to do with it.
2: Tom Brady
1: Peyton Manning
I’ve spent far too much time thinking about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning this week than I would like to admit and for some reason I have the strange desire to visit Omaha, but ultimately my choice of Manning over Brady in the “Who has more to gain” department comes down to one thing: Manning having far more to lose. Even though Manning will go down as the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time without much dispute, he still has that postseason cloud hanging over his head. As long as the “he can’t win the big games” narrative is in play, it mars his legacy to a degree. If Manning comes up short yet again in the postseason, losing potentially his 6th home playoff game of his career, that narrative snowballs and his magnificent 2013 regular season will lose steam historically. He has to win with this team and these playmakers. If he wins the Super Bowl everything changes. A second Super Bowl, a 5th regular season MVP, and the greatest statistical season by a quarterback ever, all after four neck surgeries… all of the sudden every slight against Manning can be forgiven. Even his record against Tom Brady.
As for Brady, he’s two victories away from immortality, just like his coach. A fourth Lombardi Trophy and an 11 to 4 edge over Manning all but clinches his status as greatest quarterback of the generation, if not all-time. So yeah, that’s what is on the line. Enjoy the games.