Who here didn't see this one coming?
While my Brandon Spikes Edition of my "Silencing Hank" series came as a total surprise, this week's installment was as expected as it gets. In all honesty, I probably could have written 80% of it the day Wes Welker signed with Denver and it would still hold water. New England at Denver for the right to go to the Super Bowl was written in the stars this year, and now that the game is only a few days away, Hank is out and he's on a rampage. In his defense, he's making some pretty good points this time around, as most of the time he's completely irrational and way off base. However, anyone who has been watching the New England Patriots this season and truly appreciates just how much this team has done has virtually nothing to worry about regarding the AFC Championship Game, for any number of reasons. And because of that, it's time to Silence Hank.
Shut up, Hank. Yes, not having Gronk is huge. And yes, Julis Thomas is going to be a tough guy to cover. It's also hard to ignore what a huge shift in momentum losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was after he got hurt just before halftime in Week 12. But the Broncos will also be without Von Miller, who wreaked absolute havoc during the last meeting, and without Chris Harris, their best cornerback. And while I agree that New England still comes out of that exchange on the losing end, I think we are all officially at the point where we can't get worried about injuries anymore. Every team left in the playoffs is significantly healthier than New England is, and that's all there is to it. Is hasn't stopped them yet, and if the O Line keeps playing the way they are, I like our chances.
But Alec, Denver is a really tough place to play! And it isn't even going to be cold!
Shut up, Hank. Did you really think that the football gods were going to cut the Patriots a break and call for a cold day in Denver? When is the last time the football gods did anything to help New England out? Good, I say; let the weather be uncharacteristically balmy and pleasant. That way, if we beat the Broncos, the narrative surrounding Manning's playoff exit won't have anything to do with his ability to play in cold weather and will instead be focused on how he consistently comes up short in the postseason. I promise you: if the Pats lose this game, it won't be because of the weather. It will be because the team that played better won. And yes, Denver is a tough place to play. But that's the MO of this season. Nothing will come easy. Every single victory will be an exercise in determination and mental toughness. The most difficult possible route is the only route available. And the Patriots are marching down it arm in arm.
Shut up, Hank. Of course the Broncos beating the Patriots to send Peyton Manning to the Super Bowl is a nightmare scenario. And of course it's going to hurt should the Pats lose on Sunday. But let's be honest here: will a loss this Sunday really be that bad? Will the Pats dropping a game on the road to the best offense in the league be some massive upset? Absolutely not. We as Pats fans have already experienced the worst possible playoff heartbreak we will ever experience; nothing is ever going to compare to the pain of the 2007 Super Bowl. Because of that, losses like this one - especially considering New England had to scrape together a string of miracles to even get this far - really won't stick with us for too long. Hell, a loss on Sunday probably won't even hurt as bad as the regular season 4th and 2 game back in 2009, to be perfectly honest. The bottom line is that the Patriots have absolutely nothing to lose at this point. They have been finding a way to win each and every week, and there is no reason why they should stop betting the house on 00 until the wheel stops spinning. Don Banks wrote a great piece over at si.com (which you can read here) about how the Pats have absolutely no business in the AFC Championship game, yet somehow they have found a way to once again be within one game of the Super Bowl. If it was any other team - literally ANY OTHER TEAM - in the National Football League who had done what the Patriots have done this season, the amount of praise and admiration they would be receiving from every possible media outlet would be off the charts. There would be ESPN documentaries and NFL Films specials on this team. Disney would option the rights to this season and make a movie out of it starring Billy Bob Thornton as Belichick and Ryan Reynolds as Brady. However, since it's New England, 12 wins and a deep playoff run is simply par for the course - it doesn't matter how many injuries they have or how successfully the coaching staff has been able to get the most out of a roster comprised almost exclusively of castoffs and rookies. You can't lose sight of that. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is just another Patriots team, because it isn't. Just keep enjoying the ride, don't buy into the hype, and be proud as hell of these guys.
But Alec, I won't be able to handle all the Manning talk if he goes to the Super Bowl!
Shut up, Hank. There's a very easy solution to that problem: just don't read it. Think about how much more work you'll get done! I know it's all but impossible to ignore all of the Manning love that has been going around this season - and let's be honest, the man deserves it, he is having a season for the ages - but it's still doable. If the thought of a two week long Manning party is too much to stomach, you can always simply tune out until the Super Bowl. And plus, think of it this way: no matter what happens on Sunday, you are definitely going to have a vested rooting interest in the game. There is definitely one team you will really want to see win. And while it's always nice to be able to just relax and enjoy the festivities and overall vibe that surrounds the Super Bowl, the game is definitely more fun when you care about it.
But Alec, think about all the gloating and rubbing it in Broncos fans will do if they win!!!
Shut up, Hank. Contrary to popular belief - and contrary to the way a fair amount of Broncos fans are acting - Denver did not draft Peyton Manning and have not been rooting for him for the past 15 years. Peyton Manning is not a product of Denver, he didn't make his name in Denver, and when he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, he will not be doing so as a Bronco. The Broncos inherited this rivalry. They were not there for the start of it, and they were not there for most of it. The argument that this is one of the more major Brady/Manning showdowns of all time comes exclusively from the fact that this game is for the AFC Championship and has significantly less to do with the fact that Manning now has a horse's head on his helmet instead of a shoe. It's true that Denver and New England have a decent rivalry going, but would anyone be hyping this game so much if Manning wasn't under center? So don't be fooled, and let the Broncos fans that for some reason want to proudly claim Manning as their product, as someone that their team mentored and built, do so. The real Broncos fans care significantly more about winning this damn game than they do about how history will remember these two quarterbacks and could care less who is throwing the ball as long as it gets them a Lombardi Trophy. And I guarantee you - those fans won't be saying a word should Denver find victory. After all, there is still another game to play.