|Preach, Son, Preach|
If Denver wins, we are going to literally drown in the schmaltz-filled ending of Peyton Manning's career, and the parallels to when John Elway walked away. Manning will be on your television, endorsing every product, for the next five years, provided he doesn't engage in something spectacularly criminal, a Super Bowl win and walk into the sunset will be seen so often that you're going to want to claw out your eyeballs. And I am, for the record, Not A Manning Hater. But if the guy wins his next two games, it will be the defense that has so much more to do with it.
If New England wins, Boston Fan is going to reach supernova level of hatefulness. It will be proof that cheating works, that playing in a cake division and conference where you only have to win a couple of toss-up games a year is the best way ever to be called a dynasty, and that running the most and best offensive pick plays while having an accurate QB is the living nuts. It will enter the Patriots into the conversation for Best Team Ever, which is entirely fitting for an era where dominance is rare, and just getting the better of the officiating and turnover count is mistaken for genius.
If Arizona wins, one of the worst states in the country for racial relations, along with an ownership family that's been synonymous with horrifying decisions and embarrassing behavior, finally breaks through and gets their parade. They'll do it in a home stadium that's named for a rapacious corporation that preys on the dreams of the underclass, for a coach that might have been a coin flip away from the boner loss of the century, and potentially give rise to a new dynasty for a fan base that sells their tickets to road fan more than any other. Seriously, Arizona is the worst.
Oh, and if Carolina wins, one of the five worst owners in the NBA gets a Super Bowl ring. The annoying dapping thing will live for years longer that it should, the league will try to copycat with oversized running QBs that defenses will not be allowed to hit, and we'll be told that the Panthers were only able to be this good because they like Creed, or Jebus, or whatever.
All of these teams belong here in the final four. Two of them will make for a good matchup in two weeks. They'll just do it by reminding you that you probably should stop caring about football.
And with that... on to the picks!
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New England at DENVER (+3)
The case for New England: Best coach / QB combo in their generation, and maybe ever. TE Rob Gronkowski has ruined the Broncos for years, even more than other teams. WR Julian Edelman shook off he rust last week, and should be better at moving the chains this week. QB Tom Brady gets rid of the ball so quickly that rushing the passer seems pointless. WR Danny Amendola is playing the best ball of his career for this team, and got away with a suspension-worthy offense last week, because LOL Patriots. The team is never outcoached, has one of the better defenses of their recent history, and almost always beats Manning when they really want it.
The case against: No real running game to speak of, as the top RBs are long gone due to injury. Brady has had real problems in Denver in his career, along with a losing record. Team staggered down the stretch, with massive line issues. Defense is more or less pliable, and you have to wonder if, at some point, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will call in all kinds of favors to make sure he doesn't have to deal with these reprobates at the Super Bowl again.
The case for Denver: Home field matters at this stage a lot, especially with altitude. Best defense in the conference, and by a fairly large margin. Running game got on track when they needed it last week, and the passing game might have had their bad game already, with a great deal of untimely drops. K Brandon McManus has been money.
The case against: Manning is clearly on his last legs, and was lucky to avoid crippling INTs last week. Special teams aren't particularly great, and the home crowd is pretty quick to lose their patience.
The pick: Broncos 24, Patriots 23. On a number of shaky calls, to the eternal whine of Patriots Fan.
Arizona at CAROLINA (-3)
The case for Arizona: Complete team, especially on offense, where WR Larry Fitzgerald has been playing out of his mind. Likely to move the ball even on the road against a good defense. Playmakers on both sides of the ball, with aggressive coaching and a QB in Carson Palmer who may finally relax in the playoffs, seeing as he's finally got a win to his credit.
The case against: Could have missed getting here if only they don't win the coin flip last week. Defense can get gassed, and the pass rush isn't up to the rest of their standards. Special teams have been shaky.
The case for Carolina: QB Cam Newton has been the best in the game this year. RB Jonathan Stewart showed a lot of burst in his return from injury last week. TE Gregg Olson is every team's biggest concern, and yet he keeps breaking games open every week. Defensive front seven is the best in the game, and CB Josh Norman has been phenomenal. Home field.
The case against: Bad with a lead, and the WRs are some of the worst to ever get this far into the playoffs. Secondary can be had, and coaching has been shaky. For a 16-1 team, surprisingly pliable in a lot of games, and they played a poor second half last week and still got here. Newton has seemed different when the game is close now.
The pick: Panthers 31, Cardinals 27
Last week: 1-2-1