IT’S NOT OFTEN I decide to open an American football column with a Jane Austen quote but it’s hard not to think of her this morning after the most predictable playoffs in recent NFL history.
“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”
For just the second time in 20 years, the top two seeds will meet in the Super Bowl — the Colts and Saints in 2009 being the other — after a postseason of few shocks; the Chargers beating the Bengals so convincingly in Cincinnati being, perhaps, the biggest.
So in two weeks’ time, we’ll have the AFC’s best team face the number one seed in the NFC with a whole host of storylines to keep me and everyone else who makes their living spending 20 weeks drinking too many cups of coffee and going to bed far too late.
Super Bowl XLVIII will, inevitably be billed as a battle of great offence and great defence, good (the come-back-from-heart-surgery John Fox) and evil (Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom) and the legend (Peyton Manning) versus the young pretender (Russell Wilson).
While I’ve doubted the Broncos all season, back in September I confidently predicted that the Seattle Seahawks would win the Super Bowl but they left it late to book their place last night. By the way, I would boast much more about that prediction if I hadn’t stated their opponents would be the Houston Texans. You know, the first pick in the Draft, 2-14 Houston Texans.
So while I’ll probably never get a job replacing Mystic Meg in writing horoscopes, Pete Carroll’s men have repaid my faith despite not performing at 100%, particularly on offence. When crunch time came, their defence stepped up, forcing three fourth quarter turnovers.
Out of the ether, Russell Wilson — who really has not been anywhere near his best this postseason — pulled out a 35-yard pass on fourth down that ultimately proved to be the winning points. Of course, Marshawn Lynch had his usual 100-yard game to help with the win, but the Seahawks pass game will have to step it up a level in two weeks.
In Sunday’s early game, the Broncos coasted to the AFC Championship with a masterclass in time of possession (35:44) and third down (7/13) offence keeping an increasingly frustrated — and completely out of sorts — Tom Brady on the sidelines.
Manning threw for over 400 yards but his performance significantly improved after Aqib Talib left the game in the second quarter. 2013’s inevitable MVP was 9/14 (64.3%) for 125 yards while Talib was in the game but went 23/29 (79.3%) for 275 yards and two touchdowns after he left.
Of course, the Broncos would probably have won regardless of Talib’s absence but it does prove just how good a job Belichick has done with a team basically held together with sticky tape this season. That said, anything other than a Denver win would have been incredibly unfair after the Broncos’ incredible season.
So, after 20 weeks of twists and turns, upsets and shocks, we have the least surprising Super Bowl in recent years and I, for one, can’t wait.