Neil Reynolds reflects on Denver and Seattle securing Super Bowl berths
After Denver and Seattle book Super Bowl spots, Neil Reynolds picks his six from the Championship games.
By Neil Reynolds
Last Updated: 20/01/14 4:22pm
And it has all the makings of being your classic offense versus defense match-up as the Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos boast the highest-scoring offense in NFL history and led the league across the board on that side of the ball.
But standing before them will be a Seahawks defense that is physical and unsurprisingly led the NFL this term. The contest also marks the first time since the 2009 season that we will see the top seeds from each conference clash in the Super Bowl.
It should be a mouth-watering contest and there will be much to talk about in the coming weeks. But first, let's take a look back at Sunday's action as the AFC and NFC Championship Games kept us entertained for a wonderful seven hours on Sky Sports.
Sherman walks the walk
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman makes a habit of talking the talk before a big game and then walking the walk with outstanding play on the field. He did things the other way around on Sunday night as Seattle booked their second trip to the Super Bowl with a 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Inside the final minute and driving, the 49ers made the mistake of going after the best cornerback in football. I know Colin Kaepernick had Michael Crabtree manned up in single coverage, but it still meant taking on Sherman. I didn't like the 49ers odds in that battle the moment the football was thrown.
Sherman batted the ball back for his trailing defender - Malcolm Smith - to make the game-sealing interception. Sherman then shocked the American sideline reporter after the game by calling Crabtree "a sorry wide receiver." Sherman later took to Twitter to further attack Crabtree after the Niners receiver tried to suggest the Seahawks star was a fake and that game film would prove as much.
I'm not buying that. Sherman could win with a little more class, but there is no doubt he is an elite defender in the NFL. And some might even suggest his brutal honesty is refreshing in a world where every opponent is "great" and too many platitudes are served up to the media at every press conference.
Love him or hate him, Richard Sherman is going to be impossible to ignore once the world's media descends on the Big Apple.
Rough ending for Kaepernick
I thought Colin Kaepernick was outstanding for large portions of the NFC title game as he threw for 153 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 130 yards. But I did not like his decision-making in that final minute and I think San Francisco were asking for trouble in attacking the aforementioned Sherman.
And there is no getting away from the fact that - with one of the biggest games of his young career on the line - Kaepernick turned the ball over on three series in the fourth quarter to hand the win to Seattle.
But I cannot solely stick the boot into Kaepernick for those turnovers. I think he deserves a great deal of credit for putting up a good fight against the number one defence in the gridiron world. Kaepernick is a breath-taking and exciting talent, who showed he can hurt a defence with his strong arm and his long-striding speed. He was far from perfect, but it was hard to take your eyes off him - his touchdown strike to Anquan Boldin was a thing of beauty and his decision-making will only improve in the coming years.
Sunday marked contrasting styles at the quarterback position as veteran pocket passers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning went head to head in the AFC title game, while young, scrambling improvisers Russell Wilson and Kaepernick met in the NFC.
Now, I don't think for one minute that the likes of Brady and Manning are a dying breed because you still have to be able to throw from the pocket to win in the NFL. But if Wilson and Kaepernick are the so-called "future of the NFL" I can live with some of their style as well because, while it may not be quarterbacking for the purists, they sure are fun to watch!
Calls go against the Niners
I thought the NFC Championship Game had some missed calls that went against the San Francisco 49ers, catapulting head coach Jim Harbaugh into the kind of tantrums that send red-faced two-year-olds to the Naughty Step.
Harbaugh needs to do a better job of controlling his emotions because it is rare to see other coaches around the league getting as worked up as he does on Sundays. But I can understand why he was annoyed at times on Sunday night.
The most annoying call for me came when Navorro Bowman clearly ripped the football away from Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse down near the goal-line. Bowman tore his ACL in the process but showed the toughness to keep hold of the football.
Yet, somehow, that was ruled a Seattle ball and could not be challenged because possession plays like that cannot be looked at in the field of play. Yet it could have been reviewed had Bowman made the play in the end zone. That makes no sense to me. I'm all for keeping games around the three-hour mark and understand the worry about making everything reviewable, but that play showed that game-changing moments like that have to go under the microscope and be looked at.
One final note on the brutal NFC title game, I do hope Bowman makes a speedy recovery from what looked a sickening injury. It was sad to see the best linebacker in the sport leave the field on a cart.
Peyton puts on a clinic
It certainly looks like Peyton Manning is going to ignore all the chatter about him not being able to win the big playoff games and power through this post-season. He put on an absolute clinic in leading Denver to a 26-16 win over New England in the AFC Championship Game.
To put it simply, Manning made the big throws when called upon to do so and Tom Brady didn't. While Brady struggled against a fast-improving Broncos defence, Manning threw for an even 400 yards and two touchdowns, compiling a quarterback rating of 118.4.
The Broncos are playing at a supremely high level on offense and I'm not just referring to the skill position players. Denver's offensive line has been dominant in the past two games, restricting the San Diego Chargers and Patriots to one solitary hit on Manning and no sacks.
Without ever wowing us on Sunday, the Broncos put up another 500 yards of total offense. They are machine-like in their offensive production and punter Britton Colquitt has kicked the ball away to the opposition just once in two playoff games. That is outstanding considering these are supposed to be the toughest games of Denver's season.
Welker puts the hurt on his old team
Wes Welker made just four catches for 38 yards as Denver advanced to the Super Bowl, but the former Patriots wide receiver certainly did some damage to his former team.
Depending on how you view the play in question, Welker either collided with Patriots defensive back Aqib Talib while clearing out on a crossing pattern in the first half or he took his former team-mate out. No penalty was called on Welker, although his former coach called it "one of the worst plays I've seen."
Either way, Talib left with rib and knee injuries and did not return. That changed the way the Broncos play defence because Talib is their most physical player in the secondary and was the man charged with slowing Denver's big and powerful wide receiver Demaryious Thomas.
With a free run off the line of scrimmage for most of the night, Thomas could not be contained and he caught seven passes for 134 yards and one touchdown. He was too much for the Patriots on Sunday night but may not enjoy quite such an easy time of it in the Super Bowl.
Stories aplenty in Super Bowl
There are a great many football stories to keep us entertained ahead of the Super Bowl on February 2, but two of the biggest tales about to be told - over and over again - will focus on the human interest angle for the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning underwent four career-threatening neck surgeries in 2011 and was out of football for an entire year. Less than two years after returning to football with the Broncos, Peyton is bidding to become the second-oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at the age of 37.
And what about the turnaround in the fortunes of Broncos head coach John Fox? In November he was lying on the operating table undergoing open heart surgery to repair his aortic valve. He was sidelined for a month and has returned to lead his team to the biggest game of the year.
Those are just two storylines to follow as we draw ever closer to the big game in the Big Apple. And rest assured, there will be plenty more where those two came from.