We thought we knew how these conference championships were going to go, didn’t we? Sure, the Patriots were going to ride Tom Brady’s right arm and Rob Gronkowski’s exquisite ability to squeeze through the most swarming defenses right to Santa Clara. The Panthers, meanwhile, were going to keep pounding on the Cardinals until this season of destiny was at its final endpoint. Maybe that would have presented the best possible matchup for the majority of football fans, but the football gods would only cooperate so much. And honestly, the best kind of reality TV happens when there’s only a bare-bones script lurking somewhere beneath the superficial madness. You give a general direction and let the rest work itself out.
And so here we are with the Denver Broncos who, despite their status as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, managed to pull off an upset at home over Brady’s Pats and advance to their first Super Bowl since being blown out by Seattle two years ago, 43-8. Their opponent will, in fact, be those clearly destined Panthers, who destroyed Arizona and will play in their first Big Game since 2004. In Santa Clara, we’ll be getting Cam Newton, the league’s presumptive MVP, going up against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Peyton Manning, now the first quarterback to ever start four Super Bowls for four different head coaches (and who could possibly be playing in his final NFL game?), going up against a vaunted Carolina defense that boasts four Pro Bowlers.
There’s a good chance Carolina blows out Denver, say, 37-13. There’s maybe an equally good chance Denver keeps it close and wins a tight one, perhaps 24-20. The next two weeks of hype and prognostication are going to convince all of us that either is a perfectly reasonable and likely outcome. I don’t doubt that. I just wish we could skip all the madness and get right back to playing football because Sunday’s doubleheader was about as fun as the NFL can be these days.