While there are only four teams left in play today, every team’s fan base is watching. The NFL is the greatest thing going. In no other sport do you have the amount of 9 to 5ers that invest so much time into studying next year’s prospects, staying up to midnight for free agency (in past years), and watching training camps and OTA’s, all in anticipation for the kickoff to another NFL season that they hope will end with their team as the last one standing.
It’s true that there are only four fan bases left that still cling to that hope for this season, but all the other fans aren’t about to invest all year in a sport and then not watch to see how it plays out. That’s what makes the NFL playoffs so spectacular; fans from every city will watch see how it all ends. The casual NFL fan hasn’t likely followed teams not in their media market closely throughout the year, and that’s why the NFL needs need story lines to get them hooked. After today’s games the media will have to fill two weeks of hype leading up to Super Bowl XLVI with stories of the two teams involved in hopes that it will draw the casual fans’ interest. No matter which of the two teams advance today, there will be plenty of stories.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens
- A rematch of the Harbaugh bowl. It’s almost like the NFL has been begging for this all year. They love this type of story. The NFL has wanted an all Manning bowl since Eli was drafted but they would gladly settle for two brothers coaching opposing teams in the Super Bowl.
- After hearing all season that the age of “defense wins championships” is dead, it would be almost humorous to see the #4 defense of the 49ers take on the #3 defense of the Ravens in the Super Bowl. The aging linebacking core of Baltimore, led by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs vs. the man who has been called the next Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis and his counterparts, Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Then there are two of the best and most versatile 3-4 defensive linemen, Haloti Ngata and Justin Smith.
- You would also have two of the most scrutinized quarterbacks drafted in the 1st round, Alex Smith and Joe Flacco. Interestingly enough, if either are injured in this game they would be replaced by their rookie backups, Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor.
New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
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- Obviously, I don’t think anyone has forgotten about the perfect season gone wrong. Many fans would love to see the rematch of the David Tyree Super Bowl game, the game that ruined New England’s perfect season. This was the game that spawned the debate over whether Eli is an elite QB or not. Which takes me to my second point….
- Everyone is asking if Eli Manning is elite and if his name belongs up there with the greats like Montana, Elway…Brady. Well, what if Eli beats Tom Brady head to head in not one but two Super Bowls? Both Eli supporters and haters’ heads would probably explode as they watched the final seconds tick off, but what if Brady shreds Eli while playing with a much worse defense as his supporting cast. What then?
- Lots of talk about Bill Belichick being one of the greatest head coaches of all-time and the Eli-Brady matchup too, but what if Tom Coughlin knocks off Belichick in two Super Bowls? The water cooler discussions would certainly be entertaining.
San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots
- How great of a chess match would it be between a rookie head coach and Bill Belichick? Could Captain Handshake knock of the Genius in the most important game of the year? Belichick would be facing Harbaugh’s in back to back weeks. Could John give Jim the tips he needs to knock of the Patriots and win a title? It would be ironic if the guy who hired Josh McDaniels the week of the Patriots-Broncos game got upset because he heard that John was flying out to San Francisco to visit his brother for 2 weeks before the Super Bowl!
- The question would rise to the top. Does defense win championships or does Tom Brady beat defenses to win championships? The team of the 80′s face the team of the 2000′s…well, not so much, seeing how Montana and Rice are replaced by Smith and Crabtree and Tom Brady doesn’t have video of what the defense will be running.
- The greatest 6th round quarterback selection of all-time against what many thought was one of the biggest 1st overall quarterback pick bust of all-time. If Alex Smith could beat Tom Brady in a Super Bowl, it would shine light on how important it is to be in the right system and with the right coaching in the pros. It would also get the monkey off of Smith’s back from being the quarterback selected first overall in the draft that Aaron Rodgers slid, especially if he beat the same Giants team that knocked Rodgers out of the playoffs this year, to get to the Super Bowl.
- Vernon Davis vs. Rob Gronkowski & Aaron Hernandez. San Francisco has talented linebackers, but stopping two talented tight ends is harder than stopping the one. Vernon Davis would cause problems but he would be the central focus for the horrific New England defense. Just think about the problems Antonio Gates causes Belichick defenses. Brady could stretch the field with Wes Welker and force the linebackers to solely cover Gronkowski and Hernandez.
New York Giants vs. Baltimore Ravens
- Rematch of the Ravens Super Bowl win 11 years ago. It would be a story book ending for Ray Lewis to repeat the highlight of his career by beating the New York Giants in a Super Bowl…again. For an added bonus he can bring Ed Reed along for the celebration this time. Hopefully he doesn’t stab someone before this game (allegedly).
- If the Trent Dilfer / Joe Flacco comparisons weren’t extensive enough, let Joe Flacco beat the Giants in a Super Bowl and we will hear it for the rest of our lives. This could be the only Super Bowl game that Eli Manning participates in where all the talk about whether the “starting quarterback is elite” isn’t about him.
- A defensive battle? This could be a role reversal as Eli will have to see what opposing quarterbacks have been facing when he sees the constant pressure coming at him on every drop back. Flacco shouldn’t expect a break as I’m sure the young, athletic Jason Pierre-Paul will head a Giants pass rush similar to New York’s last Super Bowl appearance.
Of course I’m putting the cart before the horse this week but in case you were struggling with who to pull for today, hopefully this will help you decide. You’re going to have to listen to one of these story lines for the next two weeks, so pull for the stories that are most interesting to you. Enjoy the games!
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Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You can also catch Jayson on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew every Thursday at 10:30am ET. You may email Jayson directly @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock