It’s funny how things always come back to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the AFC.
No matter how wild the NFL playoffs get, it can almost be taken as gospel that the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation will be involved at the end — most likely against each other. Yet again, teams led by Brady and Manning will face off, and all that’s on the line is a trip to the Super Bowl.
In the NFC, by contrast, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer will look to silence doubters who have said neither QB would ever win the big one, for one reason or another.
Meanwhile, NESN.com appears to have a postseason miracle in the works. Two weeks into the playoffs, our last-place finisher in the regular season, Ricky Doyle, is neck-and-neck for the playoffs picks lead.
Check out how our crew has done so far:
Mike Cole: 5-3 (Last week: 2-2). Still atop our leaderboard, although it’s tight.
Ricky Doyle: 5-3 (Last week: 3-1). Could he have been saving his best for the postseason?
Michaela Vernava: 4-4 (Last week: 2-2). “M” is for Michaela … and “middling” after another .500 week.
Ben Watanabe: 2-6 (Last week: 1-3). What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just this guy, stinking up the joint.
Now let’s predict the title matchups. (All lines courtesy of OddsShark.)
AFC Championship Game
(-3) New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Ricky: Patriots. Denver’s home-field advantage makes this a scary pick — neither Tom Brady nor Peyton Manning has defeated the other quarterback on the road since 2007 — but New England’s offense has all of its horses. If Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who’s been dealing with a bum shoulder, remains nicked up, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman could be in for a big game. Denver also will have its hands full with Rob Gronkowski, seeing as how a healthy Edelman and Danny Amendola will prevent the Broncos from doubling the hulking tight end all day.
Ben: Patriots. Edelman, Amendola and Gronkowski presumably will all be on the field for the entire game, which wasn’t the case the last time these teams met. More than a field goal, I’d lean toward Denver, but at three even, give me the better all-around team. Good news for Pats fans, though: Brady is 5-1 SU (2-3-1 ATS) when favored by at least three vs. Manning.
Mike: Patriots. The New England offense versus the Denver defense is a fascinating matchup. The Patriots were among the league leaders in yards after catch, whereas the Broncos were among the best when it came to limiting YAC. That could be where the game swings, and if that’s the case, you have to figure the Patriots’ playmakers make a big play late to send them to Cali.
Michaela: Patriots. I’m still not convinced the Broncos are better off with Peyton Manning back in the saddle. More importantly, when the Pats lost at Mile High in Week 12, they were without Edelman, Amendola and Jamie Collins, to name a few. Dont’a Hightower and Gronkowski went down during the game, too, and even then Denver’s defense couldn’t stop the Patriots from sending it into overtime. Those guys all figure to be back now, with the possible exception of Collins. Enough said.
NFC Championship Game
Arizona Cardinals at (-3) Carolina Panthers
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Ricky: Panthers. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis might be the NFL’s best linebacker tandem, and they’ll need to step up against the Cardinals given the surplus of weapons Arizona can deploy against a Carolina defense that lacks cornerback depth beyond Josh Norman. Ultimately, however, this game comes down to Cam Newton versus Carson Palmer, and I trust Newton to thrive in the big moment more than Palmer. Carolina’s 12-game home winning streak is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Ben: Cardinals. Flip a coin. Neither team seems obviously superior to the other after both survived wild games in the divisional round, so this feels like a lazy push.
Mike: Panthers. These teams are pretty even when it comes to overall talent, so give me the home team. Sorry, but I just don’t trust Carson Palmer after a two-pick performance last week that could have been a lot worse had Sam Shields hauled in another one or two.
Michaela: Panthers. Carolina is as loaded on defense as Arizona is on offense. The Panthers are just too hot at home. Come to think of it, the Panthers are hot anywhere. Newton is dancing his way to Santa Clara.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images