Ahead of the Curve
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"(Ball) Street"

These guys are just greedy.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are back at it again, in the AFC title game after pushing everyone else outta the way in hopes of getting to another Super Bowl, not content with the spoils they've already claimed that stuff their wallets and crowd their mantles.

I should clarify: theirs is a good gluttony. The kind of voracity that drives one to excel on a level playing field.

Not to be confused with bad greed. Throw a pebble any direction and you're sure to hit a greedmeister: PED pinheads, ticket snobs (Bowlen (DEN) & Allen (SEA): NFL should query), nearly any business enterprise, from profit (healthcare), to not-for-profit (higher ed.), to those compelled to run-up scores against unsuited opposition. As Herm Edwards says, "You play...to win...the game," not burn your opponent into a chard cinder.

Even if you're not in their cheering section, take special notice of these two walking legends as they stroll out onto the gridiron Sunday, for both, while hardly showing sign of fade-out, are necessarily coming closer to the end of their long, illustrious playing careers.

"We may never pass this way again (Seals & Crofts '73)."

So think good weather and may the best team win in what should prove yet another memorable duel between these two titans of turfdom. And for god's sake, somebody on that snooty Patriots' squad, give Tom a friggin' high-five already and get over yourselves. Geez, Louise!

Cherry Best

Can't say exactly when I began tuning it out, but safe to say, I've been spending more time lapping-up the thrills & spills of "Puppy Bowl" in recent years than I have the over-baked ham that has become NFL Super Bowl Sunday.

Maybe it started when the big-wigs delayed the game an extra week to build suspense & boost sales. Good for cufflinks, bad for players in their groove and if that old adage 'absence makes heart grow fonder' is what NFL'ers had in mind, Joe 6-pack might beg to differ.

I might've started losing faith when half-time turned teeny-bop (Nipple-gate), delaying the game, going gonzo in the greed-grab and bumping what used to be a great reason to go fill-up, empty-out or just relax between the halves: the marching band.

And when the commercials started taking center stage in many people's minds, I knew that the passion, the visceral football feeling were gone, the Vandals & Visigoths had broken through, swarming the Coliseum and turning it into a Sodom & Gomorrah of economic orgy.

If the game's a good one, as many are today, I'll watch-it-in-style on "NFL Replay (NFLN)."

But it's the AFC / NFC Conference title bouts that are the high-water mark of the NFL season. That's when playoff pedestrians (WC) and serious challengers (DIV) have been selected-out in football's evolutionary process, leaving fans with only the 'fittest' of the species, the creme de la creme, as it were, with but just half the wait and 1/10th the hype.

And this championship card is a doozey, featuring familiar contenders from last year's playoff parade: New England @ Denver (1-19 3:05 EST), San Francisco @ Seattle (6:35).

Blount & To the Point

LeGarrette Blount has come a long way from that troublesome night on 9-3-09.

After his Oregon Ducks suffered a crushing season-opening loss to regional rival Boise State, Broncos' Byron Hout instigated a melee by bounding up to Blount and verbally taunting the back into throwing a punch slightly grazing the linebacker. Long story short, LB was thrown under the bus by UO, suspended most of '09 season and moved onto the NFL where he's divided four seasons between the Bucs and Patriots.

There was no "playground justice" for LeGarrette in 2009 (Zidane knows that pain), but the worm may've finally turned for the former Duck who's forging a new image for himself in Foxborough as a big-game money-back, leading the way to victory against the plucky Colts Saturday night (44-22), scoring four TDs and racking up 166 yards in rush.

'Head-on-a-Swivel' Alert

While the AFC battle will showcase two five-star field generals under center in Brady & Manning, the NFC fisticuff features QBs still a tad wet-behind-the-ears in Russ Wilson & Col. Kaepernick.  'Baptisms by fire' could describe their young, challenging careers to this point, but still much trial & error ahead for both fleet-of-footers.

The QBs will play pivotal roles in the junior conference grudge-match, but it's the stick-men in the senior-circuit slugfest who will set the tone and ultimately decide its fate. And in that department, these two teams are loaded to the gills.

The visiting 49ers feature a top linebacker trio in NaVorro Bowman (RS: 118t / 25a / 5s / 4ff / 2i), Ahmad Brooks (52t / 8.5s (2.5 (CAR)) and perennial All-Pro Patrick Willis (82t / 22a / 3s / 2ff), with backfield motion from Eric Reid & Donte Whitner, while the home 'Hawks are youthful & well-stocked in safeties Earl Thomas (75t / 25a / 5i), Kam Chancellor (61t / 32a / 3i), 2nd year tackle-machine Bobby Wagner roaming the mid-section (71t / 48a / 5s / 2i) and "a chance (Carroll)" capable K.J. Wright might play (foot) (46t / 34a).

Cherry Picks: Blue Ribbon Variety w/Western Flavor

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos: 1-19 CBS 3:05 EST

Think Tebow's regretful? Sure. Tight-end was a cinch, given his past, skill-set & Patriots' needs. Water & bridges.  Tom's got top run-tandem (Blount / Ridley) which may beat a solo-superstar (AP / JC) who can get jammed. NE short on corps (w/#3 an RB (Shane)), chilling Tom's comfort-zone. The D's OK (C+), w/ big-play potential (IND: 4i / 3s).  Denver (W12 NE 34-31) is even-Steven, w/ dual-run too (Moreno / Ball), defense OK (C), cool QB, nice kick.  Game-changers: Bronks' deeper WR-corps, home-turf; Patriots Belichick (+), Brady edge and Harris loss dicey for mustangs.  New England wins.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks: Fox 6:35

Another near mirror-image match-up. Both stage top-tier D-schemes (if 'Hawks can shelve 'prevent-D' late (ATL '13), flash-QBs, stout (Gore) to swift (Marsh) carry men, kick (+ / punt SF (Lee)) and both building nice PS resumes (SF 3rd NFCT ('12)). Game-changers: like Bronks, home a Seattle (+), but rather than edge on corps (SF slight +), Seahawks get coach advantage. Jim's a winner but Pete lunges for the tape. Seattle wins.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line

Photo: Tom Brady & Peyton Manning (Google Images (?))

January 14, 2014  11:24 PM ET

Great pick up in Cole today, and Rodgers-Cromartie cleared, could spell trouble for Brady. Best defense he's faced since implementing the run! Deep coverage and a run stop, did Denver finally get a D?!?!

January 15, 2014  12:52 PM ET

"the Vandals & Visigoths had broken through, swarming the Coliseum and turning it into a Sodom & Gomorrah of economic orgy."

That is classic!

 
January 15, 2014  11:04 PM ET

SteveG3: Don't know about "Great," but Cole prudent "pick-up" by Fox (per Harris). Strange rostering for Marq & NE in '13 (sign & cut x3), at least from fan's perspective. Must rent his pad mth-to-mth, huh? And R-C "cleared" would be a plus, though his '13 #s just fair (29t-6a-3i).

Smart Alec: Thanks, I liked that one, too. Wild days, the 400s (?).

Thanks both for reading & comments.

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