Tricky Pats, Favored Seahawks, and Finished Peyton (?) — Divisional Recap

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A wild and crazy Divisional weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including Belichick’s deception, the Seahawks’ outlook, Dez Bryant’s catch, the future for Peyton Manning, and the most entertaining potential Super Bowls.


AP Photo/Elise Amendola

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

DerekWhat are your thoughts on all of this deception stuff from the Patriots-Ravens game?

Will: I have absolutely no issue with it whatsoever. Everyone agrees that the moves New England pulled were legal, right? And John Harbaugh is just salty because his team wasn’t ready for it and lost, right?That’s the whole story here, right? John seems to be taking a page out of Jim’s playbook, which is to say that he’s being a bummer. I am no Patriot defender, but I am all the way on their side here.

Is there anything more to this, or is the Harbaugh family the sort that would start a shouting match over a game of Yahtzee?

Derek: Yeah, I don’t really get John’s beef. It was deceptive, but deception is a pretty big part of football. Is he going to get pissed when other teams run playaction? Misdirection? Surprise onside kicks? Flea flickers? Fake punts or field goals? Disguised blitzes? I know I haven’t listed them all. It’s deceptive, but so what? Opposing coaches are trying to deceive you. That’s their job. As you say, it was very Jim-ish, which is oddly delightful. Rooting against Jim Harbaugh was an interesting experience that I will probably miss. Now you Ohio folks get to have all of the fun. If John also starts doing choreographed dances when he is displeased, it will partially fill the void. I hope it continues.

Do you still consider the Seahawks the favorites to win it all?

Will: I do, by a fairly wide margin. Aaron Rodgers and his gimpy leg were brilliant against Dallas, but you’ll forgive me if I’m wary of backing an injured quarterback in a notoriously difficult road stadium against a famously good defense. In an era when precious few defenses, and especially secondaries, are truly imposing, the Seahawks are a throwback. Kam Chancellor looks like he belongs in the ’90s, not the ticky-tack touch foul twenty-teens.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

At this point, any of these teams could pull it off. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been here before, and Andrew Luck is following his career track as expected. Each of those QBs could go nuclear and take their team to the title. Or some previously anonymous player could have a David Tyree moment. Every team has a shot here, but I think Seattle is shooting with the biggest gun.

It’s been fascinating for me to monitor your confidence level vis-à-vis the Seahawks this year. Where does it stand now? Are there any hidden weaknesses lurking for the blue and green? Of all the quarterbacks left, does Aaron Rodgers make you the most nervous, even with a bum wheel? How you feelin’?

Derek: Pretty good. I was pleased with their performance against the Panthers, and I’m glad the Packers won. I may regret saying this, but I was more scared of the Cowboys than I am of the Packers. I don’t want to step on the toes of our upcoming Friday picks, but the Packers are 4-4 outside of Lambeau and Rodgers struggled mightily against the Seahawks in his last two meetings — back when he didn’t have a ripped up calf. Remember what happened the last time the Packers went on the road against a good defense?

(And let me just say, God bless the Buffalo Bills. If Green Bay won that game, the Seahawks would have probably been the #3 seed, with Green Bay as #1 and Dallas as #2. The Seahawks could be out of the playoffs or visiting Lambeau this weekend. Thanks again for the parting gift, Apex Predator Kyle Orton!)

So, as weird as it is to say, Rodgers is probably the remaining quarterback that scares me the least. As I said, I could rue the day I made that statement, as Rodgers looked great in the second half of the Cowboys game. But his QB rating in both of his 2012 and 2014 games in Seattle was 81.5, with a QBR of 51.8 in 2012 and 47.9 in 2014. He’s still Aaron Rodgers, though. He may scare me the least, but he still scares the hell out of me.

Speaking of Rodgers and Green Bay, did the Cowboys-Packers game live up to your expectations? Any comment on yet another controversial call at the end of a game?

Will: It was a fantastic game, nearly worthy of the hype it received—I only say nearly because I was not on board with FOX calling it “Ice Bowl II.” I get why they went that route, and if I were a producer I probably would have done the same, but it doesn’t fly for me. Let the original be the original, and this one be this one. Is that too much to ask?

I digress. It was a superb football match, and Rodgers and Romo were excellent. The only play that really bears discussion, of course, is the overturned Dez Bryant catch. As great a catch as it was, and as fun as it would have been for Dallas to score there, I understand the call. It’s a classic case of a dumb rule applied the right way, like being ticketed for running a red light when there are no other vehicles within a square mile.

AP Photo/Matt Ludtke

AP Photo/Matt Ludtke

It sucks for Dallas, but the karmic implications are too great not to enjoy after winning on the strength of a blown call last week.

Do you feel bad for Cowboy fans, or did they get what was coming to ’em?

Derek: Yeah, kind of. Referee shenanigans are no fun. Winning after referee shenanigans isn’t fun and losing after referee shenanigans is even worse. I guess it was fitting for the Universe to have them lose in such a way after last week, even though the Universe doesn’t have a great track record after letting the 2005 Steelers completely off the hook.

The catch was awesome, though, and it probably should have counted just on the basis that it was a great play. It reminded me of a similar play made by Earl Thomas the day before, which was also overturned. I imagine we’ll have a rule change this offseason.

I wasn’t on board with the “Ice Bowl II” stuff either. Wasn’t it just barely below freezing? Seeing as the temperature at the Ice Bowl was -15 degrees (-36 wind chill) and it was only a Divisional playoff game, the Ice Bowl stuff was a bit forced.

Let’s jump into a question that seemed unthinkable to ask just a few weeks ago: should Peyton Manning retire?

Will: Hoo boy, this is a juicy one. Peyton was bad Sunday. He was real, real bad, and now he’s said to have been playing with a torn right quadriceps. I don’t know if that makes the idea of him hanging up the cleats more or less palatable. On one hand, he may feel that his body is giving out and he should walk into the sunset while he can still walk. On the other, he may feel like he would be 100 percent after an offseason’s worth of rehab.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s weird to think about him retiring, and I don’t think he’ll do it. He has two years left on his contract, and I think he’s more of a competitive a-hole than we would ever give him credit for.

But man, he was bad Sunday. Do you think we’ve seen the last of him?

Derek: Not yet, and it’s precisely because he was so bad. I can’t imagine him going out when he played so incredibly poorly in his final game. Then again, it can always get worse, as anyone who witnessed the sad fall of Jake Delhomme can tell you.

What’s arguably more interesting to me is the question of whether he’ll finish out his contract with another team. John Fox is gone, and Manning could be peeved if the Broncos don’t promote Adam Gase. The Broncos notably jeopardized their future with their big spending last offseason, and it’s fair to wonder if they’ll also want to “mutually part ways” if the Broncos want to save money and Manning doesn’t like the new coaching staff.

In fact, PFT already posted something speculating about him playing for a different team. We’ve had Johnny Unitas on the Chargers, Franco Harris on the Seahawks, and Brett Favre on the Jets/Vikings. How does Peyton Manning on the Cleveland Browns sound?

Now that we’re down to the final four, which two teams do you think would make for the most entertaining Super Bowl?

Will: There isn’t a bad matchup to be had. Every team is compelling by itself. The Seahawks are the defending champs. The Patriots are long-time contenders and among the league’s contemporary flagship franchises; same goes for the Packers. The Colts are the least exciting of the bunch, but Andrew Luck alone makes them intriguing.

This is how I imagine Roger Goodell is thinking about the possibilities:

Given my druthers, I would like to see the Pats and Packers face off. It’s a bland choice, but the Super Bowl is sort of bland by nature. It has too many easy storylines not to like: Rodgers vs. Brady, two of the finest offenses in football, good-looking jerseys, a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI, Bill Belichick playing mind games until Mike McCarthy swallows his own tongue. It’d be great.

I imagine you disagree. What matchup would you pick?

Derek: I do! But only slightly. Here are some biased rankings:

1. Seahawks vs. Patriots

My Seahawks love aside, this would be a fascinating matchup. Pete Carroll would face his old team while trying to be the first defending champions since … the Patriots. The Seahawks had an excellent gameplan for the Broncos in the Super Bowl last year, and Belichick is Belichick. That would be a lot of fun. Plus, these two met in Seattle in 2012 and it was an awesome game. Richard Sherman tweeted “U Mad Bro?” at Tom Brady after the game, and Braylon Edwards made an incredible, game-saving touchdown catch. Sounds like a great Super Bowl to me!

2. Packers vs. Patriots

For all of the reasons you mentioned above. I would be curious to see if the Packers could win again on a neutral site.

3. Seahawks vs. Colts

Luck vs. Wilson would be fun. Again, these two teams met in Indy in 2013 and it was an awesome game. It’s also typically a good game when a favored #1 seed plays a hot lower-seeded team that had to win three straight to make it.

4. Packers vs. Colts

The least likely potential Super Bowl is also the least interesting. Don’t get me wrong, it would still be fun. Rodgers vs. Luck would make a good storyline, and they also played an excellent recent game.

So really, we can’t lose. Well, I could. I could have my hopes dashed by a crippling backbreaker of reality, as I angrily watch Aaron Rodgers limp around the Arizona and wonder what it would have been like to root for a team that won back-to-back Super Bowls. “We could’ve challenged Tom Emanski’s AAU teams!” I’ll say, as I silently weep into a watered-down glass of Scotch.

Can’t wait!

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