Well dear readers, we find ourselves down to the last two or so weeks in the playoffs, and along with that, we are very close to the end of the NFL season until September. Sure, there’s free agency and the draft and training camp and preseason, but the six month gap between the end of the Super Bowl and the opening whistle of the kickoff game of week one will be very, very, very long.
We couldn’t ask for two more intriguing matchups this Sunday, as we get to see the top four offenses and two future HOF QBs faced against two extremely talented young gunslingers. We get to see rematches from two of the best games this season, and any way you slice it, this weekend is going to produce an amazing Super Bowl matchup no matter which teams survive.
Will we see Tom Brady or Drew Brees add a Super Bowl ring to their collection of accolades and perhaps ride off into the sunset, a la John Elway or Peyton Manning?
Will we see Patrick Mahomes or Jared Goff elevate their team to the biggest stage, and claim a Super Bowl ring very early in their respective careers, and beat a HOF QB to do it?
Will we get to see Brady vs Brees for all of the marbles? McDaniels vs Payton, Belichick vs Payton, or the battle the entire nation wants to see – which castoff gadget player makes the biggest impact.
Again, no matter what we get, this is going to be a very intriguing next couple of weeks. We hope you’ve enjoyed the playoffs, and we hope the teams still in contention deliver on a couple of great games. We asked Fireside Sports co-hosts Casey Mabbott and Bryant Knox to preview and predict the games for you, feel free to review their questionable insights below.
Without further ado, here is this week’s lightning round!
1. Which winning team from the divisional round are you most surprised to see playing for a spot in the Super Bowl?
(CM) Honestly? The Saints. I really thought Nick Foles was going to dig the Eagles out of a hole in the final two minutes last week. Even if Alshon Jeffery makes the catch, it doesn’t guarantee anything, but who can say what might have happened. The other three games were not in doubt after the opening quarters so it would be difficult to say I’m surprised to see the Rams or Patriots or Chiefs in the mix. Saints QB Drew Brees dug his team out of an early hole but still left some room for doubt late in the game. I hope they give the Rams a much bigger fight this week and play all four quarters like their season depends on it.
(BK) Although it may make me sound certifiably insane to go against Tom Brady and Hoodie Bill, I would’ve said the Pats had the least likely shot of these four teams to make it this far. Despite making the Conference Championship round for what feels like 187 straight seasons entering these playoffs, they also gave us reasons throughout the year to doubt their Super Bowl-contending special powers. Alas, they’re here, and they look good. Proving once and for all that all Brady needs to access extra mojo mode is a matchup against Philip Rivers.
2. Both of the conference championships are rematches from earlier in the season. In your opinion, does that give an advantage to the team that won the first matchup?
(CM) I really believe it gives the runner up from the first game the better shot. If you won the first game, you might have a false sense of confidence going in, especially if you’re the Saints and you played and beat your opponent on your home turf once already. Now the Rams know where they need to play at in order to win, and they have a key player back that wasn’t around for the first matchup. In the case of the Patriots, they narrowly survived a shootout on their home turf and now have to travel to arguably the toughest road venue in the NFL. The Chiefs have proven they can win games without scoring 50 points, and will do their best to put pressure on Tom Brady to show us that his offense can thrive without a legitimate deep threat while facing a team with a pulse.
(BK) Agreed, Casey. It’s the loser who has the biggest advantage in a rematch—especially if they lost by a significant margin—because they are the ones who can make adjustments. They know the opposition’s blueprint to success; the opposition doesn’t know what approach you’re going to take in Round 2. That’s why Los Angeles is the team to watch this weekend. The Rams, having lost by 10 to the Saints in the regular season, will have a new wrinkle to their game we’ll see at some point. And that’s a scary thought considering how dangerous this team already is.
3. Both home teams carry a significant advantage playing across the country from their opponent. Should these games be played on a neutral field?
(CM) They probably should be at a neutral site this late in the season. Let division winners host a playoff game in the wild card or divisional round and then lets move on to neutral sites, ideally indoors. I would hate to see any of these teams struggle due to elements or distance, let’s put the game in a halfway point in a controlled environment and see who the better teams really are. I think the travel distance is difficult enough, you throw in tough weather conditions and it may be an unfair advantage.
(BK) I’d personally be disappointed to see anything other than a Super Bowl on a neutral field. Teams that found enough success in the year to earn home-field advantage throughout should be able to reap that benefit. That, plus football teams have the luxury of being able to fly into their next location almost a week in advance of the game. Not to say mammoth human beings are 100 percent comfortable on flights, but they don’t fly coach on commercial airlines, and they’re not traveling nearly as much in the postseason as the NBA and other professional leagues.
4. All QBs in the conference championship games are or were at one point in the discussion to win league MVP. If voting extended in to the playoffs, would the divisional round have swayed your view of the rightful MVP?
(CM) Regardless of what time in the season you choose, it would be tough to take the MVP away from Patrick Mahomes. He didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff the stat sheet in his win over the Colts, but he continually showed why the country is enamored with him – he can make throws in situations that should be difficult, and he makes them look far too easy. His size, arm strength, field vision, and mobility make me wonder what John Elway would have looked like running Bill Walsh’s offense in San Francisco in the 1980’s. This kid is too good and if he wins on Sunday, he’s officially matchup proof.
(BK) I’m with Casey. The MVP goes to Pat Mahomes and although it would be disrespectful to the other candidates to say “it’s not even close,” there’s no doubt Showtime has earned it regardless of how everyone else is playing in the postseason. Because while a recency bias is always going to impact the subjectivity of the voting process, the entire body of work must be taken into consideration.
5. Which two teams do you see moving on to face each other in the Super Bowl?
(CM) Call me boring, but I’m picking the home teams and top seeds to face each other in Atlanta next month. You really can’t find a bad matchup from the four teams remaining, but I am struggling to see how the Rams and Patriots advance. No matter who wins, after three duds in four games last week, I just want to see a couple of really competitive games that prove why we waiting all year for these two games. It’s going to be two weeks before we see another NFL game and then six more months after that, so we really need to see some fun games this weekend.
(BK) Okay…so I’ve already admitted I counted out the Patriots once. I’ve learned my lesson, right? NOT SO FAST! I’m going with Rams-Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Truth be told, I’m having a very hard time saying the Saints won’t make it—but I feel confident this is the beginning of the end we’ve all been waiting for in New England. Plus, I just really want to see the Rams and the Chiefs square off in what could be one of the most entertaining Super Bowls of all time. The 54-51 showdown on Nov. 19 was legitimately the most fun I’d had watching a football game in a very long time. Sign me up for that Super Bowl. Then sign me up for it again for the next 5 years.