If you're a business man in this scheme called the NFL, you really can't ask for anything more than what is lined up on January 19th 2014:
3 pm/et Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots & 6:30 pm/et Seattle vs San Francisco
The cliches, the quotes, the drama, the ratings. The money that will be raked in this upcoming weekend will be beyond remarkable and both games should shatter the record 47.1 million viewers that witnessed this decades version of the Ice Bowl two weeks ago with Green Bay and San Francisco.
Let's set out the platter for Sunday shall we?
In the AFC (the non smoking section):
- [Hors D'Oeuvres] Both teams have a combined 12 Super Bowl appearances between them (7 for New England, 5 for Denver) and 5 championships combined (3 for New England, 2 for Denver). These are two of the best AFC teams over the history of the entire league.
- [Salad] This will be the second matchup between the two this season (Week 12) where New England won in comeback fashion as they had one of the best 3rd quarters in NFL history and made one of the biggest comebacks in sports history against the best offense in NFL History.
- [Main Course] Brady vs Manning (4th ever meeting in the post season, 3rd in the AFC championship game where both are tied at one win a piece heading into this matchup).
- [Dessert] Both teams are clearly the best two teams in the NFL (Denver #1 seed, New England #2 seed) and Denver has shown no sign of slowing down, while Brady has finally got a running game to help his arsenal around him even though he doesn't have Gronkowski heading into this game.
In the NFC (the smoking section):
- [Hors D'Oeuvres] Both teams have a combined 7 Super Bowl appearances between them (6 for San Francisco, 1 for Seattle) and 5 championships combined (all San Francisco). This lopsided stat clearly means nothing heading into this matchup, but it is something to think about as San Francisco has an opportunity to jump Dallas in the overall history department for the most championships, potentially tying them with Pittsburgh. The Seahawks have also been the best team in the NFC all 2013 while the San Francisco 49ers have been the best team in the NFC in the since 2011.
- [Salad] This is the third matchup between the two teams this season and the fireworks should be more than powerful. In Week 2, the Seahawks won in a blowout in Seattle, while in Week 14 San Francisco won in a drag-down knock-out game in San Francisco. The game will be in Seattle where the home team has won in this rivalry the past 2 seasons but the last time a team won on the road was the 49ers in 2011 on Christmas eve.
- [Main Course] This is currently the best Rivalry in the NFL by a large margin. Both teams are heading into this matchup tied against one another all-time (15-15) and there will be no shortage of love lost between the two fan bases as they both absolutely hate each other. In fact, they hate each other so much, that people with California addresses won't be allowed to purchase tickets to the game at CenturyLink field. If you can't get up for this game as an NFL fan, you truly need to re-think your sporting preferences because there will be some serious spit spewed and some checks heading towards the league office that will need to mailed after this game is finished Sunday night.
- [Dessert] The two best young QB's in the NFL will be playing each other once again. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are both two of the most impressive young guns this league has to hang onto once Manning and Brady fade into the sunset, and they will quickly become the face of the league along with Andrew Luck. Colin Kaepernick will be heading into this game with a 4-1 record in the postseason and Russell Wilson will be heading in with a 2-1 record. The fact that this 6-2 record combination will be playing each other in the postseason, for the third time this season, in the NFL's currently biggest Rivarly in the sport, seriously couldn't get any sweeter.
With these 2 full course meals, you truly can't go wrong weather you like smoking or not. Either meal is going to be an instant classic and are going to get very high ratings.
With these two matchups, the anticipation of championship week, where the NFL sits in the status of health in this country. Is the ultimately the peak of the NFL? The two best QB's of this generation, the best rivalry the sport has seen since Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the late 2000's, how much higher can this sport get after this weekend and the Super Bowl on Groundhogs day 2014. This weekend culminates what the NFL wants and the matchups they dreamed of in August when the sun was still shinning brightly on the rest of the country. All 4 teams have 12+ wins, all teams have a form of swag that no other teams can match, this is the best final four the NFL has probably ever seen. So where does the bell curve drop when it comes to the NFL? I hate to burst people's bubble before this upcoming weekend, but I think it will be this offseason.
After this weekend, no matter what happens in the AFC matchup, one of these legendary quarterbacks will soon be contemplating retirement and wondering how much longer they can contribute. Peyton Manning is heading into the offseason speculating the status of his neck and may have to make an early decision to step down from the game in the next 12 months while Brady will be 37 by the time next season starts and we'll all be wondering how much he'll have left in the tank until his contract is up in 2017. Either way, one of these players will be gone very soon, and this matchup can't get any more hyped than it will be this weekend and maybe ever again.
In the NFC, we have the future, but with the amount of players in Seattle still on rookie contracts, the likelihood of that team staying together is highly doubtful as Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson will be looking for serious paydays along with other big named players on that roster. The 49ers may be the only team that can sustain their greatness with the players they have down the road, but even they might stumble as they have been at such a high level of success for such a time frame that maybe they will fall off the map here within the next couple of seasons. And, if they fall off the map with such a high energy coach such as Jim Harbaugh, the likelihood of him staying on the team could slip because I can see players falling out of love with him (when losing) very quickly.
Let's also factor in the state of the NFL. Yes, it is the most popular sport in America by a landslide, but how much longer can it stay at the top with where the rules are forcing the players to play at a powder puff level? QB's are beyond protected, Concussion protocols are ridiculous, tackling can only be between the numbers, and offseason two-a-day workouts while trying to expand the playoffs & regular season may only extend the league to having more leg injuries down the line (ACL, MCL, LCL, etc.) which could put the superstars of the league to rest relatively quickly. Also lets look at the status of the AFC and how bad their competition was this past season, they almost had an 8-8 team make it to the playoffs and were very close to seeing the San Diego Chargers go to the AFC Championship game instead of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
I'm just stating what is real and what could seriously hold up this league and how it's popularity could drop drastically over the next 2-3 years. With where the rules committee is going, and with the potential expansion of the season and postseason, players will be coming in less prepared (as they now have less practice time in the offseason), and injuries will be more prevalent making the slowly less and less enjoyable by the year.
As excited as I am going into this weekend, I dread the future of professional football and where the safety and rules could collide to turn this league potentially into a flag football division by 2020. Hence, why the peak of the NFL could be this weekend.
See you next week, and enjoy the unbelievable games!