LOS ANGELES, January 31, 2015 — The waiting is over. The sideshows are over. Now it is time for the National Football League to solely be about football.
Saturday brings the newest enshrines to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They receive gold jackets that let the world know they are the greatest individual players of all time.
Sunday brings the best teams, since football is the ultimate team game. The New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks are the two best teams. From 1994 through 2012, at least one top conference seed went down in flames short of the Super Bowl every year except 2009. Now for the second year in a row, both top seeds have advanced.
These teams are precisely evenly matched. Las Vegas odds makers have this game as a pick ‘em without a point spread for the first time in Super Bowl history. The halftime show has nothing to do with football, concluding all discussion of the halftime show.
The week brought everything from the Deflategate scandal to the question of whether Richard Sherman would miss the game for the birth of his child. Marshawn Lynch just does not want to get fined. All of that disappears once the ball is kicked off and bone-crunching hits are delivered. This is football.
How we got here:
The AFC Title Game was supposed to be a rematch from last year, with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots on a collision course for another epic battle between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Then the Indianapolis Colts led by Andrew Luck went into Denver and just hit the Broncos in the mouth. The next couple of years will tell if that game was a fluke or a true changing of the guard. In the actual AFC Title Game, the Patriots overwhelmed the Colts 45-7. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have already made NFL history by going to their sixth Super Bowl.
The NFC Title Game was a comeback for the ages that will be played a century from now. The Packers jumped to a 16-0 halftime lead and appeared to have the game wrapped up after Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception with five minutes left to play. The Seahawks trailed 19-7, their only points coming on a fake field goal. Somehow the Seahawks scored a touchdown with three minutes left, recovered the onside kick, and took the lead with 90 seconds to play. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to the tying field goal but Wilson redeemed himself with the winning touchdown pass in overtime. For the second straight year the Seahawks got to the Super Bowl after a brutal NFC Title Game.
The New England Patriots have first ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady at the helm. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is big and physical. New England now has a running game to take some pressure off of Brady.
The Seattle Seahawks have the Legion of Boom defense. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are all the best in the league at their positions. Russell Wilson can scramble, but he always looks to throw the ball first. Marshawn Lynch brings his punishing Beast Mode smash mouth running style.
Both coaches, Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, are master strategists raised on the defensive side of the ball.
Key injuries: Anyone not deceased is playing. Tom Brady has a cold. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are all nicked up. None of them will alter their playing style.
Both teams have to be able to run the football, especially Seattle. Rob Gronkowski has to be able to out-muscle his coverage and go Gronk on the defense. Bobby Wagner has to bring the pressure that forces Brady into errant throws.
Prediction: Unlike last year, this game will live up to its billing. With three minutes left the Patriots will be trailing by four but Tom Brady will have one more chance. He will lead the Patriots down the field. Then Seattle will bring pressure when it matters most. Somebody on the Legion of Boom will get the interception and return it the distance for the Super Bowl dagger. The MVP will be whoever gets that interception. For sheer entertainment value, it will be Richard Sherman. Later that night he will be cradling the ball in one hand and his newborn son in his other hand. Seahawks 31, Patriots 20.