The Super Bowl will feature the two number one seeds for the third year in a row. This might seem common, but in NFL history, the two best teams (by the numbers) face off in the Super Bowl as much as expected. In fact, since the current playoff format was established in 1990, there have only been 11 Super Bowl match ups featuring the two best teams (42 percent).
Championship Sunday featured two upsets. One because the team nobody expected to win came out victorious, and the other because it was supposed to be close.
Broncos upset Patriots (20-18)
I was preparing for the NFC Champions against the Patriots, so, naturally, I am surprised by the outcome of this game. I’m still surprised. I thought Tom Brady would come out and methodically chip away at the number one Broncos defense. Instead, Tom’s evil twin brother, Tim Brady may as well have played at QB today.
I have never seen Tom Brady crumble under pressure like that. Brady has always been a guy who plays well in big situations. I’ve seen his team get dominated. I’ve seen his offensive line get dominated. I’ve seen his defense get dominated, but I’ve never seen Tom Brady personally get dominated. Brady lost this game in part due to two ugly interceptions. The only thing Brady needed to do was to play smart. One pick led to a score, and one pick led to bad field position for New England and a punt.
The other guy who has been clutch for the Patriots is reason number two that they lost this game. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point since 2006, and it would come back to haunt the Patriots. Tom Brady, more Brady-like than earlier in the game, drove down the field and scored to make the game 18-20 in the closing seconds. If Gostkowski made the field goal, they go to overtime. Instead, the Patriots were forced to go for two, and did not convert.
Reason number three that the Patriots lost: Bill Belichick? Well, blame Belichick, OC Josh McDaniels, or the players’ execution, because the Patriots had three opportunities to win or tie this game. The biggest, perhaps, was a failed fourth down conversion in field goal range. That’s right, if they go for one there, the Patriots are most likely going to the Super Bowl, but hindsight is annoyingly 20/20. After failing the first two, the defense immediately bailed the Patriots out both times. Nobody gets three chances, but the Patriots did, and they still managed to fail the two point conversion.
How about that team who won though? I still think Peyton Manning is the Broncos’ biggest weakness, but he had a couple of good reads to Owen Daniels for two touchdowns. He also didn’t turn the ball over, which was huge. Manning’s most impressive drive was his first as he found Owen Daniels for the first touchdown of the game.
The real winner of the day was the Denver defense. Making Tom Brady look like Tim Brady is no easy task, but the Broncos made it look easy. Von Miller was jumping the snap count with fury on almost every play, chasing both Brady and a new contract next year. Miller also had an interception on the day It was a strong front-to-back performance, and they stayed strong on two HUGE fourth down stops. I’ll say it again, nobody wants to play this team.
Palmer folds, Newton soars (15-49)
Luke Kuechly is the best linebacker in the league (yay or nay @eddiechisham). He might be the best defender in the league, but we’ll get to that.
I really hate to say it, but Carson Palmer might be the new Andy Dalton in the playoffs, or is that the other way around? I thought maybe after limping by last week, he would show some poise and look like the great Carson Palmer of the regular season. There’s just no way around it, he threw four picks and lost two fumbles (some were garbage time). On a positive note, he started to make it interesting toward the end, but it was too little, too late. Better luck next year, #3.
This year, the Panthers have had a few games with huge numbers in the first half, and nothing in the second. Not today. All game long the Panthers drilled into the Cardinals for three scores on the ground and two in the air. Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, and Ted Ginn Jr. all had big plays on the ground including a reverse to Ginn for a 22-yard touchdown. It will be interesting to see who prevails when the best offense collides with Denver’s best defense.
Cam Newton averaged 12 yards per throw today, and he made a couple of throws that scream MVP (back foot to Greg Olsen and sideline to Ted Ginn Jr.). He is running without fear and making quick decisions in the passing game. With the Cardinals making a final push, Newton put them away with a powerful rushing touchdown.
Back to Kuechly. To put the nail in the coffin, he had a late pick-six. This whole season Kuechly has looked like Ed Reed in pass coverage, and Brian Urlacher in run stopping. He has a knack for being at the right at the right time as he also had a fumble recovery.
Finally, the Arizona discipline looked nonexistent. Patrick Peterson muffed a punt at a critical point in the game, when the Cardinals were still in it. The defense refused to make tackles the whole game, and Tyrann Mathieu was sorely missed.