Two rather different considerations encapsulate Sunday’s NFL championship games, the final gateway to the Super Bowl. One involves the fate of a dynasty. The other involves a damaged left calf.
The dynasty in question belongs to the New England Patriots of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the league’s most dominant team of this young century and heavily favoured to defeat the Indianapolis Colts and stamp their ticket for North America’s biggest sporting event for the sixth time in the last 13 years.
But a new pretender is at the gate. Last weekend in the AFC divisional series young Andrew Luck, the Colts’ nascent quarterback superstar, led Indianapolis to an upset win over the Denver Broncos. That game is already being seen as the passing of a generational baton, as Luck outgunned the Broncos’ legendary Peyton Manning in a contest that could prove to have been the final act in the career of arguably the NFL’s greatest ever quarterback.
A mere stripling at 25, Luck however marches onward and upward. But the oddmakers unanimously predict the Colts will be crushed by the all-round power of the Patriots, equal masters of passing and rushing games, and where Brady is but the brightest jewel in a brilliantly studded crown that also includes Rob Gronkowski, the NFL’s most formidable tight end.
Add to that the Colts’ dismal recent record against New England (defeats by 20 points or more in their last three meetings), and you could plead no contest. Playoff games, however, obey no reason. For all his sustained excellence this season, Brady, at 37, is only a year younger than Manning. Could this be the moment time catches up with him too, and a dynasty starts to crumble?
But if the Colts have it tough, Green Bay surely have it even tougher in the NFC championship game against Seattle. The Patriots may be the team of the century, but the Seahawks are the team of the last couple of years – never more so than in their 43-8 slaughter of Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII last year.
When it comes to championship games and Super Bowls, the Packers are almost always there or thereabouts, and so it is this time. But they go into Sunday’s game in Seattle as seven-point underdogs. Whether they can pull off a shock depends on one thing: that damaged left calf.
The calf in question belongs to the Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s best in his position, the all-but-anointed heir to Manning and Brady. For weeks the injury has been the prime topic of conversation among the Green Bay faithful. Last weekend, after a sluggish start, Rodgers was magnificent – his mobility diminished but his passing from the pocket otherworldly as he led the Packers to a come-from-behind triumph over the Dallas Cowboys.
Seattle, though, will be another matter. Rodgers will play, but the injury still bothers him. Like the Colts against the Patriots, Green Bay have had a horrible recent record against Seattle (including a 36-16 rout in the 2014 regular season opener), even when he has been fully fit. One statistic tells the story. Against other NFL teams Rodgers throws a touchdown on 7 per cent of his passes. Against Seattle, that drops to barely one per cent.
The Seahawks boast not merely Russell Wilson, like Luck a standard-bearer of the next generation of quarterbacks, but also one of the toughest, most suffocating defences in the league, including star cornerback Richard Sherman. It positively feeds off interceptions and sacking opposing quarterbacks.
If the form book holds, Super Bowl XLIX will be a classic, between the two best teams in the NFL. The last franchise to win back-to-back were the Patriots in 2004 and 2005, early in the Belichick/Brady era. If they get past Green Bay, the Seahawks would be poised to match that. Dynasties fade, and dynasties are born.Reuse content