And just like that, the playoffs are here.
A lot of Patriots fans (half)jokingly refer to the first 17 weeks of the year as "the preseason," and to a degree, I get where they are coming from. When you support the New England Patriots in the 21st century, the only thing that's an unknown coming into the season is whether or not the Pats will have a first round bye. Other than that, it's pretty much Super Bowl or bust as soon as mini-camp starts.
This year, however, has been a bit different. For almost a full year now, things have been happening, both on and off the field, that have made it significantly more difficult for any rational Patriots fan to be dissatisfied with anything but a Lombardi Trophy. Starting with the loss of Wes Welker, then Aaron Hernandez, then pretty much every offensive and defensive weapon this team has, there hasn't been a whole lot to cheer about around New England as of late.
Other than the 12 wins, a first-round bye, and another very legitimate shot at the Super Bowl, that is.
Somehow, some way, the Pats are in it, two games away from a trip to East Rutherford and a shot at a fourth ring. At the moment, three teams potentially stand in their way, the first of which being the Indianapolis Colts. Indy comes to town this weekend for a Saturday night game in what looks to be cold, wet temperatures; while Indy is by no means a pushover and Andrew Luck proved last week that you should never underestimate or count him out, if the Patriots play their game and limit their mistakes, they should come out on top. I don't want to jinx anything, and by no means am I overconfident here (I have never been one to look ahead, an adage that rings especially true this season), but out of all the possible scenarios for the Divisional Round, Indy at New England and Chargers at Denver represents my ideal layout. At the end of the day, I think that the Patriots are the better team and match up very well against the Colts; they should walk out of there with the W.
And so, it's the second game I want to focus on today. A matchup between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos is certainly intriguing from a Pats fan's perspective. Who should we all be rooting for? On paper, it seems easy: Peyton Manning is playing, and I always root against Peyton Manning. But when you look a little deeper at the potential that accompanies the next few weeks, I find myself at a loss regarding who I'll want to win should the Pats take care of business on Saturday.
There is a good case to be made for both teams, and I haven't quite made up my mind yet regarding which way I'll be leaning. So I decided to lay out all the facts and let you guys decide. Which team would we like to see if we beat the Colts?
Why I'll be rooting for the Chargers: I'm not embarrassed to admit it - I want the Denver Broncos out of the Super Bowl hunt. I don't care how they go, when they go, or why they go, I just want them playing golf as soon as humanly possible. As it turns out, this weekend's game against San Diego presents what is in actuality a sneaky good opportunity to get Peyton Manning out of our hair and off of every single media outlet currently in existence for a few blessed months. Of all the possible matchups for Divisional Weekend, I think that San Diego represents the best threat to beat Denver at home. Sure, seeing Andrew Luck attempt to unseat Manning for a second time would have been great, but the Chargers have already gone into Denver and won this season and have the pass rush to give Manning fits. Plus, if the Chargers do beat the Broncos, Manning will have gone one and done for two consecutive seasons and will still have less playoff wins with the franchise than Tim Tebow, which will make my insides tingle. Not only that, but should the AFC Championship Game come down to the Patriots and Chargers, I really like our chances; New England has historically owned Philip Rivers, especially at home, and to have Diego win three straight cold weather road games is a tall order. Not having to travel to Denver is a huge plus as well. And even if San Diego did walk out of Foxboro with the win somehow, it would once again result in a Super Bowl I can easily live with. Personally, I want to be doing one of two things every Super Bowl Sunday: either sweating through my couch while watching the Patriots play, or gorging myself on pounds of deep-fried deliciousness as two teams I don't really care about duke it out. Having to root hard for whoever is playing against Peyton Manning isn't overly enjoyable, and if the Chargers can just go ahead and take that option off the table this weekend, I certainly won't begrudge them for it.
While I'll be rooting for the Broncos: Something else I'm not embarrassed to admit - the NFL is a better place when Peyton Manning is playing, and it is at its absolute best when he is playing against Tom Brady. Brady vs. Manning is the greatest QB rivalry of all time and it isn't even close, and to have the opportunity for one more classic matchup - this time for the right to head to the Super Bowl - is something that any football fan worth his salt should pine for. Neither Brady nor Manning have more than a few years left in this league, which means that we only have a small handful of Brady vs. Manning games left to enjoy. We should all relish the opportunity to see these two legends on the field together as many times as possible, and seeing as how this may in fact be the last time we see them in the playoffs, I think it would be foolish of me not to hope for it. Plus, if the Pats can go into Denver with a roster held together by undrafted rookies and duct tape, stifle the most explosive offense in NFL history, and be the team responsible for Peyton Manning standing alone as the losingest playoff quarterback of all time - I can't think of many things better than that. Of course, the flip side is that the Broncos go to the Super Bowl while simultaneously sending the Pats packing, but the way this season has gone, even the sting of losing to Peyton will be lessened significantly by the fact that this team has done so much with so little and still came within a game of the Super Bowl. It seems as if the Patriots were destined to head to Denver for the AFC Championship Game the day Welker signed with the Broncos, and while the thought of my worst nightmare playing out is enough to keep me up at night, sometimes you just have to let destiny play out. This has already been a miracle year for the Patriots, and what a chapter to the 2013 season beating the Broncos at home to go to the Super Bowl would make.
First, obviously, is taking care of the Colts. But admit it - you're all already thinking about who you'd prefer to play the following week. So who will you be rooting for? San Diego or Denver?