By Rick Pedone
And so we have arrived at the AFC and NFC championship games, and by grace or good fortune, we couldn’t ask for better matchups.
Unless you are a Dallas fan.
Even without the Cowboys, who were the best team in the NFL this season (except for one play with 10 seconds left against Aaron Rodgers last week), the NFL’s elite have advanced to the championship games.
Pittsburgh and New England have dominated the AFC since the turn of the century, and the Patriots have put together a 15-year run with Tom Brady and Coach Hoodie that is historic. There are going to be an amazing number of eyeballs on that game Sunday night.
The Packers are the most storied franchise in NFL history (the Bears have fallen off the screen for the past 30 years) and they have the best quarterback in the game today in Aaron Rodgers. And that’s saying a bunch when Tom Brady is still flinging passes.
The Falcons are the interlopers here, a team with a scant history of success (one Super Bowl loss), but one that has plenty of firepower and is a legit entrant into the final four.
It’s no coincidence that four of the game’s best quarterbacks, and three Hall of Fame locks, are playing today.
Brady has a strong case for being the best quarterback in NFL history, win or lose Sunday.
Rodgers is what happens when you mix the best of John Elway and Johnny Unitas together.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a throwback gunslinger with two Super Bowl wins who is as clutch as anyone in the fourth quarter. But, he is beginning to show the effects of the bazillion hits he has absorbed over the past 13 seasons.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan doesn’t yet belong in the same conversation has the previous three, but he isn’t far off. If he can spark the Falcons to a Super Bowl title in a couple of weeks he’ll belong on the on the same platform as his contemporaries.
It’s possible to win a NFL championship without a great quarterback, but the odds increase dramatically in your favor if you have one.
One startling statistic from the pregame analysis shows that 15 of the past 16 AFC Super Bowl entrants have been led by Brady, Roethlisberger or Payton Manning. Baltiimore’s Joe Flacco, who is no slouch, was the other AFC QB, and he won it all in 2012 for the Ravens.
Can you remember who the AFC Super Bowl quarterback was before the Brady-Roethlisberger-Manning train left the station?
Hint: he is a former Tampa Bay Bucs No. 1 draft pick – Mr. Trent Dilfer, who won the Super Bowl with the 2000 Ravens.
Sunday should be a tremendous day for NFL football and a great way to wrap up the season.
What, you say? We’re forgetting the Super Bowl on Feb. 5?
No, we’re not. But everyone knows that the Super Bowl is about star power and extravaganza, with a football game tossed in there somewhere. Many Super Bowl viewers will know Lady Gaga better than the game’s participants.
But, that’s OK.
Real NFL fans have two great championship games to enjoy on Sunday.
The Mighty News-Gazette Divine 9:
No. 1: Aaron Rodgers (The best QB in football, hands down). No. 2: The Pats. No. 3: The Pack. No. 4: Terrible Towelmen. No. 5: The Falcons. No. 6: Le’Veon Bell. No. 7: The Cowboys (Your Super Bowl champs next year). No. 8: Our Bucs (A playoff team next season). No. 9: The Pro Bowl (Coming live to Orlando next week!)
To the picks:
Green Bay at Atlanta (-4): The last time the Packers won the Super Bowl, after the 2010 season, their path led through Atlanta, where they did more damage than General Sherman. Atlanta is much better this time, and probably has a better overall team. But, it doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers. Pack by 3.
Ken “Big Game” Jackson says: Both QBs hot enough to combine to burn down the Georgia Dome (which would probably help the city; they’re building a new stadium). “Take the Pack to Win Every Week” didn’t work much in September and October, but since then … Packers 27, Falcons 24
Pittsburgh at New England (-6): It’s tough to make a good case for Pittsburgh to win this. The Steelers don’t have a legit No. 2 receiver, so the Pats league-leading defense can concentrate on stuffing LeVeon Bell and taking away Antonio Brown. And, Tom Brady is playing, and the Steelers have never won in New England against a Brady-led Patriots team. The Steelers ray of hope would be the absence of New England’s all-world tight end, Rob Gronkowski. Pats by 4.
Big Game Jackson says: Evil Empires haven’t made out too well of late — ask Nick Saban. To quote Dark Helmet from Spaceballs: “Evil beats good because good is dumb!” Well, Antonio Brown wasn’t real smart with his phone the other day, was he? Patriots 17, Steelers 12.
Brian “Big Man” McBride’s Super Sniffer Upset Special: Pack by 3.