The best NFL matchup this weekend doesn't include the Patriots

January 13, 2014|Mike Preston

Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady. It used to be the NFL's ultimate matchup because it featured the modern era's top quarterbacks.

But it doesn't have the same pizzazz anymore. In fact, more attention should be given to the NFC championship game because it's old school. It's the San Francisco 49ers at the Seattle Seahawks, two teams with strong running games and really good defenses.

Now that's football.

Some fans love this new-age stuff, the NFL's version of touch, powder-puff football in which defense isn't played. That's what you will get Sunday when the New England Patriots play the Denver Broncos.

Manning has set all kinds of records this season while throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. Brady doesn't have as impressive of a surrounding cast, but he still has thrown for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns.

The problem is that neither team plays much defense. The Patriots are No. 26 in total yards allowed, with a regular-season average of 373.1. And they had the 30th-ranked run defense, allowing 134.1 yards per game.

Denver allowed 254.4 passing yards per game, which ranked 27th, and was 22nd in average points allowed at 24.9.

So, another giant buildup of Manning and Brady is expected, along with a shootout.

I want a slobber-knocker like Seattle-San Francisco. This is history, like one of those old Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins or Pittsburgh Steelers-Oakland Raiders games in the 1970s. The Seahawks and 49ers don't like each other, and there will be a lot of trash-talking.

During the regular season, Seattle's defense was ranked No. 1 in average points allowed (14.4), total yards (273.6) and passing yards (172), and topped almost every red zone category. The Seahawks have a great nose tackle in Brandon Mebane and a dominant linebacker in Bobby Wagner. In the secondary, the fastest defense in the NFL features cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

San Francisco counters with linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks on a defense that was No. 3 in points allowed (17), No. 5 in total yards (316.9) and No. 4 in rushing yards (95.9).

Both teams like to run the ball — Seattle has Marshawn Lynch, and San Francisco counters with Frank Gore. Obviously, something has to give, so this game promises to be more brutal than the arena-type game played in the AFC.

Some prefer the prima donna QBs. I'll settle for blood and guts.

Complex Jim Harbaugh

One of the things I admire, yet despise, about 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is that he just doesn't give a darn what others think about him.

There he was acting like a goofball Sunday, running out on the field and drawing a penalty for challenging an official's call. Then he called a fake punt late in the game, when the Carolina Panthers had no chance of catching up.

The last move will come back to haunt him, but old Jimbo doesn't care. He isn't a fraud, and if the opportunities are there, he will do the same idiotic things next week.

He is who he is.

Line is greener

The divisional round showed the significant difference in the offensive lines of playoff teams compared with that of the Ravens.

Denver was really impressive on the right side, especially in combination blocking. Guard Louis Vasquez and tackle Orlando Franklin repeatedly blew the San Diego Chargers off the line of scrimmage.

Patriots left guard Logan Mankins was a real treat, especially pulling or trapping down the line of scrimmage.

One other thing (hope you are reading this, Joe Flacco): Did anyone notice how many times Manning was able to draw the Chargers offside? That rarely happens with Flacco's monotone cadence because he doesn't appear to stagger the count.

What took so long?

San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, a former Ravens tight ends coach, is expected to be a hot candidate for several head coaching jobs, but you have to wonder why it took until the fourth quarter for him to open up the Chargers' offense.

At the half, the Chargers were down 14-0, had only 1 yard passing and had thrown just one pass to a receiver.

To get back in the game, they had to go with the no-huddle early in the fourth quarter, and it worked. They also got better pass protection, but the Chargers just didn't look to go downfield much in the first two quarters.

Luck on the run

Does any other quarterback throw a better touch pass on the run than the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck?

Seattle's Russell Wilson is elusive, but he throws moon balls on the run. The right-handed Luck puts them on a good projectory even when he is rolling to his left. Receivers rarely have to wait for the ball because he drops it to them in stride.

Slow finish for Gates

San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, who just finished his 11th season, had 77 catches for 872 yards and four touchdowns.

But he looked really slow coming off the line of scrimmage on several plays Sunday, and it was painful to watch at times.

Sometimes legends go slowly.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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