1. I think I would like to take you back to a simpler time. The year was 2015. A first-class postage stamp cost 49 cents, Donald Trump was still best known as the guy with the reality TV show catch phrase (“I regret to inform you that we will have to terminate your employment, though we wish you the best in your future endeavors!”) rather than the next Commander-in-Chief of the United States, and football fans everywhere were still breathlessly awaiting the Wells Report, which would prove to be worth every penny of the $2,500 the NFL spent on it. (Wait, they paid what?)
And in Glendale, Ariz., the Seattle Seahawks were on their way to winning Super Bowl XLIX. Slot corner Jeremy Lane had just picked off Tom Brady at the goal line. Fourteen yards later, Julian Edelman went low for the tackle, upending Lane, who suffered a torn ACL and, as he braced his fall with his left arm, a compound fracture. Or, as one gentleman recently described it: “Injured his arm.” (You know, he was like, Guys, my arm feels weird, maybe I slept on it wrong, or maybe it’s my ulna and radius bones snapping like Slim Jims and ripping through my tendons, muscles and skin.)
To that point, the Seahawks had relatively little trouble matching up with the Patriots’ skill position players (with the exception of Gronk, who can only be stopped with a minimum of six defenders, at least one of them sitting on the shoulders of a teammate with a trench coat draped over them in order to sneak a 12th man onto the field). As one very knowledgeable Patriots season-ticket holder who I happen to share two parents with said: “That game came down to who had the better fourth corner.” The Seahawks sent Tharold Simon out to replace Lane, and blood was in the water. It seemed that if Julian Edelman ran that whip route against Simon 1,000 times, Brady would connect with him on 999 of them. The mismatch gave New England just enough to overcome (and, of course, their own No. 4 corner sealed the game).
So what was the point of that long, uninteresting recap? This: Jeremy Lane is back, he returned in Week 12 (mercifully supplanting Cary Williams) and has solidified a Seattle secondary that had become a legitimate weakness. DeShawn Shead received valuable experience while Lane was out and is now capable of holding down the No. 3 spot, and second-year man Marcus Burley gives them legitimate depth. That is why the Seattle Seahawks are the best team in football again. They have their work cut out for them; a road to the Super Bowl that would involve three road games (frigid Minnesota on Sunday, then Carolina, then most likely Arizona, where they just destroyed the Cardinals). In my (completely meaningless) opinion, they’ll do it. If they don’t, it won’t be because of their defensive backfield.
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2a. I think I’d like to emphasize something our Andy Benoit says every now and then: “Game manager” is not a pejorative term. If you have a good team, and a good game manager at quarterback, you have a chance to win a Super Bowl.
That, of course, brings us to Alex Smith. The Chiefs are a small-market team fueled by a dominating defense; thus, they don’t draw a lot of attention on the national stage. But here’s why they’re my pick to come out of the AFC: First, Justin Houston is back. You could make the argument that when Houston is 100 percent healthy, he’s the best defensive player in football not named J.J. Watt.
And then there’s Smith. He has played in three postseason games, and his teams have averaged 32.1 points per game in those games. In his playoff debut, he outdueled Drew Brees at Candlestick (a bonkers game that involved four touchdowns in the last 4:02), giving his Niners the lead with 2:11 left by capping off a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 28-yard TD run. After the Saints re-gained the lead with 1:37 to go, Smith took the Niners on a seven-play, 85-yard drive, hitting Vernon Davis from 14 yards out with the winning score with nine seconds left. If not for a couple of Kyle Williams fumbles a week later, it would have been Smith facing off against Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLV.
In his only playoff game with the Chiefs, he went into Indy, threw for 378 yards (and ran for another 57) and four TDs with no interceptions while Jamaal Charles was sidelined by a concussion suffered during the first series. The Chiefs put 44 points on the board. The defense gave up 45. For his career, Smith has a 9-to-0 TD/INT ratio and 108.6 passer rating in the playoffs.
So if you need Alex Smith to put up points in a playoff game, it’s been proven: Alex Smith can put up points in a playoff game.
2b. Before you read on, I must insist that you read the Jenny Vrentas feature on Smith we ran earlier this week. If you haven’t read it (and really, if you don’t read everything Jenny Vrentas writes) you’re doing yourself a disservice. Go ahead, the rest of this column will still be here when you get back.
My only criticism of Jenny’s piece is that, any time you refer to Andy Reid and quarterback play, you must include the following clip.
I remember the day that clip aired, because it’s the only time I’ve ever spit-taked while watching an NFL game. He’s 13 years old there! I still insist that, at some time when he was in his mid-30s, Andy Reid mastered time travel in order to return to 1971 and have his revenge on those kids. (And then, realizing that no man should play God in this manner, he destroyed his time machine.)
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3. I think I’m going to demand a commission if Peyton Manning leads the Broncos to a Super Bowl title. Nine weeks ago, in a column read only by my closest friends and relatives, I suggested the Broncos give Manning the same innings-limit treatment the Mets gave Matt Harvey: Bench Manning for a chunk of games during midseason, and get him as healthy as possible for the games that really count.
O.K., so this probably wasn’t exactly how they planned it. But the regular season could not have played out better for the Broncos. It was clear from his play over the last two seasons that playing Manning 16 games then expecting him to carry you through three playoff games was not feasible. Now, they get both home-field throughout the AFC playoffs, an added advantage for an already dominating defense, and their geriatric (in football terms) franchise quarterback in the best physical shape he could possibly in.
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4. I think, looking ahead to free-agency, there are two Eagles I’d pluck in a second if I were an NFL GM.
First, Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly’s offense, with all those deep crossers, had him hanging in the pocket for seemingly an hour-and-a-half on every play. And he hung in there, took a ton of hits while throwing, and then usually had a pass bounce off of a receiver’s hands. I think he’d have a chance to thrive in an offense that asked him to get the ball out of his hand quickly (and also one with receivers who don’t subscribe to the just knock it down! philosophy).
Second, Vinny Curry. He’s always been something of a square peg in a round hole for Bill Davis’s scheme, but Curry can rush off the edge or, like all the kids are doing these days, from the interior. Of course, with 32 teams desperately trying to collect pass rushers, he might get paid despite only 3.5 sacks in 2015.
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5. I think, as I read over the Rams’ relocation proposal, I was unclear whether the team is situated in current-day St. Louis or perhaps Dresden circa 1945.
I understand you have to write these proposals with a certain amount of drama and urgency. I’ve read my share of civil suits (even a few that weren’t brought against me) and this isn’t the exact same thing, but it’s in the same family. And for Stan Kroenke, painting St. Louis in the most negative light possible is necessary since St. Louis has stepped up with a pretty sweet (for the Rams, certainly not for the city) stadium proposal while San Diego and Oakland have not. His proposal couldn’t be: “I would really, really… really like to own a team in Los Angeles... really I do. Please and thank you.”
But this line?:
“Any NFL Club that signs on to this proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the League will be harmed.”
Come now, that is a bit much. The city of St. Louis is offering heavy public financing to build a billion-dollar stadium. You could line the seats with horse manure, offer promotions like handful of loose shards of glass for the first 5,000 fans through the turnstiles! and guarantee Nick Foles and Case Keenum as the team’s only quarterback options in perpetuity, and you would not manage to be “well on the road to financial ruin” in this lifetime.
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6. I think this tweet, by long-time NFL defensive lineman Shaun Smith, is a dumb tweet for so many reasons.
But more than anything: Shaun Smith is a 6-foot-2, 325-pound former professional football player. If he ever confronted a Twitter turd, it would be like… well, remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoon when Bugs boxes The Crusher? It would look a lot like a real-life version of the first three minutes of that (before Bugs comes back and outsmarts him… sorry, should have given a spoiler alert).
It’s like, imagine you’ve just punched a 600-pound grizzly in the back of the head. (Why? Don’t know. Maybe he said he was on board with the Lovie Smith firing.) The bear spins and rises up. Oh no, that bear is going to maul me! is truly a lateral move from Oh no, that bear is going to maul me!... And he’s got a gun!
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7a. I think I feel somewhat obligated to make some playoff picks. But really, what’s the point? I don’t know anything more about this weekend’s outcomes than you. So I brought in a special guest, someone who bested me in family pick ’em: my 3-year-old daughter Kelly.
My wife and I weren’t crazy about the prospect of having our child’s photograph in such a public place on the internet (literally tens of people read, or at least accidentally click on, this column). So rather than run a video, Kelly volunteered to provide a madcap self-portrait (which will be explained over the course of the video) to give you a visual while she makes her picks.
So enjoy, and please note that the first voice you hear—high-pitched, nasally and with a tenuous grasp of the english language—is actually me.
And if any of these scores are correct, I’m taking her to Vegas.
7b. Alright, alright, I’ll make some predictions: Alex Smith plays mistake-free ball and the Chiefs pull away in the second half of what was a defensive struggle (Kansas City 27, Houston 17). AJ McCarron can’t solve Pittsburgh’s variety of zone blitzes, and Roethilsberger gets just enough despite the Bengals neutralizing Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh 20, Cincinnati 14). The Seahawks have no fun trying to drag down Adrian Peterson in the sub-zero wind chill, but the Vikings can’t keep red-hot Russell Wilson off the field quite enough (Seattle 27, Minnesota 19). And finally, Washington, with their middling group of cornerbacks, can’t take advantage of Green Bay’s fatal flaws at wide receiver. The Packers pull one out, though a week later it will prove to be another fool’s gold performance (Green Bay 31, Washington 28).
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8. I think, while you’re counting down the hours to kickoff, you should spend some time with The MMQB Read of the Week: Tom Verducci on the impact of the Cleveland Browns hiring Paul DePodesta of Moneyball fame.
We actually had a stellar week here: Robert Mays on three offenses riding the deep ball into the playoffs, Jenny Vrentas’s aforementioned Alex Smith piece, the big boss had a truly must-read Monday column, as packed as any I can remember, and Andrew Brandt picked up where he left off with his first Business of Football column of 2016. And, oh yes, Kalyn Kahler hustling to pull together the always innovative MMQB Awards.
But when the best baseball writer on the planet stops by to sound off on one of the most unique NFL hirings I can remember, that’s tough to beat.
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9. I think we all enjoy a good Jim Mora clip this time of year. But in my house, it’s become a tradition (well, for the past two years) to watch the following clip before each of the four games of Wild-Card weekend. Charlie Day always kicks things off right for Wild-Card weekend.
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10. I think, at 4:28 p.m. ET Saturday, and again at 12:58 p.m. ET Sunday, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…