And then there were four.
Thirty-two teams started this National Football League season and the best four are left standing.
In Seattle, the Seahawks' first-half defence was outstanding . The New Orleans Saints offence only managed 34 passing yards for Drew Brees and just 42 rushing yards. The Seattle defence conceded no points in the first half and held tight end Jimmy Graham to not a single reception until the game's final minute. Russell Wilson did not have a dominant game, but the starting 11 without the ball won the game for Seattle.
And so did Marshawn Lynch . Of all the running backs in the league, I don't think there is another who gives a greater effort than Marshawn Lynch, play after play. It is impressive for me watch his willingness to absorb physical punishment for an extra yard or even less. Logic says it can't last, that his time is coming or maybe he just has a body type impervious to what normally slows and limits other running backs. In any case, he is not the fastest, quickest or even most skilled, but he never gives up on a play or any opportunity with an intense disregard for possible injury. Marshawn Lynch is a great running back.
Seattle has a combination of speed, attitude, confidence and resolve . The intensity of the NFC championship San Francisco at Seattle will be a battle of wills as much as any skills.
In New England, the Patriots went with 42 running plays and just 25 passing plays.
The play-calling served a dual purpose. Firstly, when you run that much, you dictate aggressive energy to an opponent. After a while, you can wear a defence out because, like all human beings, you get tired of hitting. So, in a moment where you lose emotional concentration at "point of attack," what would normally be a two or three-yard play becomes a 70-yard touchdown run like LaGarrette Blount's 73-yard run in the fourth. Understanding football is one thing, but understanding the psychology of hitting is really unique. You can wear people out and the Patriots achieved that.
The second part of that dual purpose was keeping the ball away from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. If you don't limit the his time with the ball and his number of plays, Andrew Luck is going to beat you. It is not as if Luck has a great team around him, quite the opposite, but he is a classic example of a player as a quarterback who makes those around him look better than they are. Once the Colts protect Andrew Luck with a higher degree of consistency, he will be as good as any quarterback on any team in the NFL.
As for the Patriots, Logan Mankins at left guard was outstanding and Jamie Collins at linebacker is the next defensive star in New England. Without Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Jerrod Mayo and Tommy Kelly on defence, the Patriots should not be in the AFC championship game, but here they are.
It was an emotionally heated game in Carolina between the Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, especially early on, and it has been a while since I have seen that much confrontational talk and verbal exchanges. It seemed like on every play, someone was threatening someone elseabout something . I am sure that all week, the Panthers grew intensely tired of hearing how tough and physical the 49ers were and made a collective agreement to not allow any intimidation, but be the aggressor and not the participant.
Now, I don't think Carolina backed down for one moment, but seven plays inside the five-yard line and only three points means that, in the toughest part of football - short yardage and goaline plays, the Niners won. In playoff football, the smallest of mistakes mean the biggest of consequences and the Panthers gave the 49ers four first downs on penalties in the first half and it seemed that all four were the result of excessive emotion. The Panthers will learn from this and, if they find themselves in the same position next year at this time, they will not make the same mistake of losing self-control.
After a last-minute win over the Arizona Cardinals to close the season, a win over the Packers in the brutal cold of Green Bay in the NFC Wild Card playoff and a tough, physical win over the Panthers, right now, no team believes more in each other than the San Francisco 49ers.
In Denver, the one word to describe the Broncos' win over the San Diego Chargers is "methodical." I think the Charger made one key mistake to lose the game and Denver made the opposite to win .
By the end of the third quarter, the Chargers had 79 total yards. In the fourth quarter alone, they had 180. I guess common sense says to play the time of possession game again for San Diego to win, but it was not working . I wonder what would have happened if the Chargers took their fourth-quarter approach all game long and just went for broke, because when they did in the fourth, the game became a game because of it. San Diego was simply way too conservative.
With Denver, they did to the Chargers what the Chargers did to them back on that Thursday night game. Manning must have completed 80 per cent of his passes within the first 10 yards down field. They just incrementally kept moving down field with the shortest of distance created using a series of line of scrimmage screens, five-yard crossers, and check downs - no big plays, just little little plays of success and result.
One interesting question that has already been asked is, in one game to win it all , who would be your quarterback - Brady or Manning? Given history, I would say Brady, but given ability to control a defense pre-snap, I would say Manning. To pick between that pair is a never-ending discussion.
The season began with 32 and now it is down to four and, giving consideration to all discussion and analytical evaluation, it truly is the best four.