January 17, 2014

Ranking potential Super Bowl matchups

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

FOX must be delighted at how the NFL playoffs have turned out. Any way you slice it with these four teams left, the network is going to get one hell of a Super Bowl matchup.

It really says something when the least desirable team – Seattle – finished with tied for the best record in the NFL this season.

In the Patriots-Broncos matchup, we have Tom Brady facing Peyton Manning for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. That’s a no-lose scenario.

In the Seahawks-49ers matchup, you have two of the best defences in the league facing off in perhaps the best rivalry in the game today. Whichever team makes it to New Jersey will have bragging rights over the other for the next year.

You could also have intriguing storylines like Seattle head coach Pete Carroll facing his former team in the Pats, Tom Brady playing the team he grew up rooting (San Fran) and don’t forget that both NFC contenders tried to sign Manning before he chose Denver.

With two weeks of buildup, there will be no shortage of features on the two Super Bowl combatants coming after Sunday’s games. Good thing they should all be interesting.

So, in order, here are the definitive rankings of best-to-worst potential Super Bowls coming into championship weekend.

1. New England vs. San Francisco – Brady chases his fourth ring to equal Montana against the team he grew up rooting for.

2. Denver vs. San Francisco – The Niners try to cap their build to a championship against the league’s undisputed MVP.

3. New England vs. Seattle – Brady chasing No. 4 vs. Carroll, who isn’t exactly loved for his time in New England.

4. Denver vs. Seattle – Manning tries to cap his MVP season against one of the rising teams and league’s best defence.

As for the picks for who will be playing in New Jersey, the lines are from BOVADA.

New England at Denver

It’s Manning-Brady CXIV! OK, maybe the tally isn’t that high – and I’m not complaining about it either – but these two are pretty regular combatants.

But this game isn’t really about the guys that are playing, but the ones that aren’t. Each side has been hit hard by the injury bug this season, especially late on. Both defences are missing their top two players and many more role players. The Broncos offensive line is missing several starters while the Pats have had to adapt with Rob Gronkowski again. So it really comes down to which coach is better at adapting and playing the ‘next-man-up’ game and that’s something that Bill Belichick may be the best at in the NFL.

But here’s the rub: Brady and Belichick always gets the best of Manning in the big games.

And I hate to be THAT guy, but isn’t there no way that if the Broncos win, it won’t be by more than a field goal? Take the points.

Pick: Patriots +5.5

San Francisco at Seattle

I’m sure there was no shortage of experts that had this picked as the NFC title game back before the season started, which is a testament to just how good these teams are and how they’ve lived up to expectations.

Their defences are as advertised: Tough as nails and not willing to give an inch. There’s nothing gimmicky about them either; both teams rely on solid fundamentals and simply outplaying the other side, making this matchup a bit of a wash.

There are two X factors that will no doubt decide this game.

1. The Seahawks immense home-field advantage. The 12th Man factor in Seattle has been widely talked about and can throw an offence into wide disarray. When you can’t call audibles effectively, it limits what you can do offence.

2. Michael Crabtree. Since the Niners top receiver has returned from his Achilles injury, San Fran’s offence has looked as dangerous as ever. He adds that one extra dimension that allows the rest of the pieces to operate at 100%. He’s big, physical and can get open and any range – exactly the type of receiver you need against the Seahawks.

But what I think this game comes down to is one thing: Can the Seahawks offence put up enough points to win? I say yes. One thing about the Seahawks offence that people aren’t talking about enough is the fact that Marshawn Lynch seems to be the one back that runs effectively against the Niners.

With a steady diet of power rushing and crowd, the Seahawks should be punch their ticket to the swamps of New Jersey.

Pick: Seahawks -3

Last week: 2-1-1

Playoffs: 2-3-3

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