And the AFC finale is a foregone conclusion: call it Cannabis Bowl 2013.
Brady vs. Manning + AFC championship game + legal weed = Greatest weekend ever. #Patriots— Obnoxious Boston Fan (@realOBF) December 30, 2012
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the NFL drug policy prohibiting marijuana still applies for players in Washington and Colorado despite recent votes in each state legalizing pot.
But that still might not stop the Patriots, who already have had three players (Brandon Bolden, Aqib Talib - partly before his arrival and Jermaine Cunningham) who served suspensions for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy this season. Brandon Spikes also served a suspension during his rookie season in 2010.
We're leaving a big fat rail of coke and a shot of Jack for Santa this year… cookies and milk will just slow him down. #SimpleTruth— brandon spikes (@BrandonSpikes55) December 25, 2012
No one on the Patriots has been suspended for smoking pot this season, which would be a violation of the league's performance-detraction drug policy.
But a trip to the aptly named "Mile High City" and the pressure of having to stop Peyton Manning on the road in the AFC title game on Jan. 20 might be too tempting. Of course, if Bill Belichick ever gave a press conference after spending a few hours in a Denver smoke-shop/cafe, we'd never be able to tell the difference. It might actually fire him up a bit. This game would also add new meaning to the term "let's pack for the trip."
No truth to the rumors they plan on bringing Robert Parish and Bill Lee along for the inspirational and instructional purposes.
There was something in the thin air in Denver before voters there voted to legalize pot. The two most shrewd business moves in America - aside from selling your Apple stock a month ago - took place in Denver in 2012.
In May, John Elway banked the future of the Broncos on Manning over Tim Tebow, flying across the country to lure Peyton to the AFC West. Elway outbid everyone else on the 36-year-old QB coming off neck surgery and a season in rehab. The Broncos signed Manning to a 5-year, $96 million deal, about $40 million of which is guaranteed.
Then in October, just two weeks before voters in the Rocky Mountain State decided to make relations with Mary Jane legal, Manning purchased 21 Papa John's pizza franchises in the Denver area.
That's genius unrivaled in the NFL West of I-495.
As 2012 comes to a close, let's take a quick look at some of the teams who didn't make the playoffs this year - including the Giants, Jets, Bears, Cowboys and Steelers. Quick enough. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger being chief among the elite QBs who will be watching the postseason from their couch. And that head you see rolling down the street belonged to one of the multiple coaches and GMs who were fired today:
HCs to be fired today include Andy Reid, Pat Shurmur, Norv Turner, Romeo Crennel.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 31, 2012
Here's a quick thought - since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl, three of their six playoff runs have been ended by a Manning. The Jets, Broncos and Ravens ended the other three.
This season's playoff picture looks as sharp as ever in terms of interest and excitement. While the AFC appears to be a pick-em between Brady and Manning, the NFC is wide open.
Will the Seahawks and their rookie QB Russell Wilson be able to win a big game on the road against the Redskins and their rookie QB Robert Griffin III? One thing is for sure, RGIII is the most popular Republican in the Nation's Capital these days. Speaking of genius - Pete Carroll and Mike Shanahan will be matching wits in that one.
The Vikings beat the Packers Sunday so that the Vikings could play the Packers next week. The Falcons have the top seed in the NFC but haven't won a playoff game in nearly nine years.
Then there are the 49ers, who beat New England two weeks ago and will be the likely winner at about 6:15 p.m. on Jan. 20 when the NFC title game concludes on Fox.
We have to get the disclaimers out of the way in the AFC. Yes, the Texans are indeed softer than Josh Beckett's belly, but they should be able to handle the Bengals at home next weekend. That leaves us with the expected rematch between New England and Houston in two weeks. While a 77-0 rout is possible, recent history offers a bit of caution. The Jets eliminated New England 28-21 in Foxborough during the AFC divisional round after the 2010 season just six weeks after the Patriots had dismantled Rex Ryan and Co. 45-3 at Gillette. The Texans have the talent to come into to New England and beat the Patriots in two weeks, it's unlikely they'll have the hearts or minds.
This year's Patriots' team, especially the defense, has solidified during the course of the season. Save for the first half and last couple of plays against the 49ers, New England's defense has incrementally improved each week - with the Patriots pulling players like undrafted free-agent Justin Francis (who had three sacks against the Dolphins and four tackles against the 49ers) out of the NFL ether. The hip injury to Rob Ninkovich looms as a threat, but the bye week might be enough for him to heal. Given the integrity of those injury reports coming out of Foxborough, no one will know for sure what Ninkovich's status is for sure until he's either inactive for the divisional playoff game, suits up or actually plays.
As far as the rest of the AFC, the Ravens present the greatest threat to a New England-Denver championship game because their defense is still laden with veteran stars. The Broncos handled Baltimore fairly easily two weeks ago, which may or may not matter if they play again in two weeks. (See Patriots-Jets-Texans above.) The most intriguing matchup this weekend will be the Ravens and Colts. The Ravens are all about the past on defense (Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice) while the Colts are all about the future on offense (Andrew Luck and next season Wes Welker ?). The comeback of Chuck Pagano was epic and awe-inspiring.
Finally, we get to the Patriots. New England is the most scrutinized and criticized 12-win team in the NFL. For the better part of the last two seasons, fans, media and even players have been keenly focused on everything that's wrong - starting with an inability to beat the Giants. Thankfully, the Giants won't be around to kick them anymore this season.
Then there are the haters. If things don't go up in smoke in Denver and the Patriots manage to win Super Bowl XLVII, the haters can still add asterisks for the PED suspensions and the fact that they didn't beat the Giants.
This season's No. 2 seeding and the all-important bye week that comes with it was a late and unexpected Christmas gift for the Patriots. Tom Brady is 35. Time is winding down on that fourth Super Bowl ring. This may be his last best shot. Even the likely visit to Denver is not an insurmountable obstacle on the road to New Orleans. Brady has been playing as angry as ever of late. And we learned that Rob Gronkowski's one arm was better than Miami's 22 arms Sunday. With a couple of weeks of practice and a warm-up game against the Texans, a Brady-led offense featuring a healthy Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd as receiving threats and either Stevan Ridley (assuming he doesn't fumble) or Frodo in the backfield, would be formidable even for Von Miller and Friends at home. 2013 may be the Year of the Hobbit indeed.
So as long as the defense plays as well as it has of late and Brady and the offense can play turnover-free football, establish the no-huddle earlier, not leave things up to the kicker and get out of the first quarter without having to play from behind, the playoff run should be a breeze.
Much easier said than done.
You might want to spark one up just in case.
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