Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) runs with the ball in the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos beat the Chargers 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Blount and Patriots Run Wild All Over Colts, 49ers Advance to Third Consecutive NFC Title Game, and All of NFL Divisional Weekend—The Monday Morning Realist

Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the weekend’s NFL action in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @Li495Akiem.

BeastQuake Part Deux: The Sonic Boom

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) scores a touchdown against New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis (28) during the second half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks defeated the Saints 23-15. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Beating the Philadelphia Eagles last week despite cold temperatures at Lincoln Financial Field is one thing.

Being able to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle is another.

Yes, last week was a step forward for the Saints whose previous record in road playoff games was less than stellar. In fact, their record outside of the Mercedes Benz Superdome in 2013-2014 was less than stellar. The Superdome plays host to a SuperTeam, but remove them from the friendly confines of The Big Easy, and the Saints’ road is anything but easy.

Even without Pierre Thomas, Drew Brees and the Saints got a surprising victory over the Eagles last week thanks to a game-winning field goal from Shayne Graham. The Realist heard plenty of “Why couldn’t he have done that for us!” bellowing from Houston after that field goal, as he was a former Texan.

The last time the Seahawks’ cleats met turf was when they defeated the St. Louis Rams in Week 17 to clinch the NFC West, a first round bye, and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Which, of course, was big because Seattle’s “12th Man” is just as ferocious as its “Legion of Boom” defense. The Seahawks only lost once at home this season—a 17-10 L at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals.

Seattle was favored by many heading into this game given that it was another matchup on the road for the Saints, and the Saints are still “Aints” on the road, compared to how they play at home.

After the National Anthem was sang by Belinda Carlile (whom The Realist got confused with Go-Go’s lead vocalist Belinda Carlisle), this one got under way in rainy conditions. Yep—an Emerald City kind of day in Emerald City weather.

Seattle’s defense forced a three and out on the first Saints possession. The Seahawks scored on its first on a 38 yard field goal from Steven Hauschka. 3-0 Seahawks.

They would get another field goal on their next drive, although it was a little more difficult for Hauschka this time around. He did make it, though, from 49 yards out into the rain and wind. Hawks 6-0.

Two plays in on the next Saints drive, Mark Ingram fumbled and it was recovered by Seattle’s Michael Bennett at the New Orleans 24 yard line.

Two plays into that short drive, it rained water (and Skittles) at CenturyLink Field as the Seahawks got its first touchdown of the game via a 15 yard run from Marshawn Lynch. BeastMode was in full effect all game long for Seattle.

Two Seahawks drives later, it looked as if they would end this game early as they looked like what a number one seed is supposed to look like at home—and the Saints look like what the Saints have been on the road. They got to the New Orleans 3 yard line before the Saints defense stopped Lynch for a loss of 5 yards to the 8. The result was Hauschka’s 3rd field goal of the game—this one from 26 yards out to increase the Seahawks’ advantage to 16-0 going into the half.

Seattle was clearly dominating, but settling for field goals instead of getting touchdowns on a Drew Brees-led offense is not a recipe for any team to feel comfortable. Not helping the Seahawks’ cause was that Rob Ryan’s defense clearly made adjustments at halftime, and it caused Seattle’s offense to be completely anemic for most of the second half. Even on the one drive in the 3rd quarter where the Seahawks started with good field position at their own 44, they couldn’t advance the ball to midfield.

Meanwhile, the Saints were beginning to move the ball well as the weather conditions in Seattle were more conducive to Brees throwing the football. Their first scoring drive of the game began in the third quarter and ended in the fourth quarter with a one yard TD run from Khiry Robinson. 16-6 Seahawks. That became 16-8 on a Mark Ingram two point conversion attempt.

Two New Orleans possessions later, they were moving the ball effectively on the Seahawks again—in another game where they were playing without Pierre Thomas at runningback. They drove all the way to the Seahawks’ 32 yard line setting up Graham for a 48 yard field goal attempt in a rainy and windy Seattle.

Wide left.

And on the next Seahawks possession, they took advantage of New Orleans leaving points on the field when Lynch went BeastMode again for 31 yards and his second touchdown of the game.

The Realist’s Seattle weather forecast: Cloudy with a chance of Skittles. 23-8 Seahawks.

The plan for the Saints now was simple—get a touchdown, then recover an onside kick, then another touchdown. They completed their first task on their next drive when Brees connected with Marques Colston for 9 yards and a score. 23-15 Seahawks.

Then, Colston was able to recover the onside kick, resulting in a resounding “gasp” throughout the Puget Sound when the game looked over. With 26 seconds left, a hail mary was still in the cards. But that ended on a 3rd and 2 when Brees threw to Colston, then Colston tried to throw an illegal forward lateral to Travaris Cadet. The game was over after that as the flag resulted in a 10 second runoff with only 2 seconds on the game clock. Seahawks won 23-15.

No doubt that the Seahawks did not play their best game, especially given how dominant they are at home—and when Percy Harvin is out for the majority of the game that will happen. Their defense (once again) got the job done for Seattle.

Oh, and that BeastMode fella too.

Russell Wilson was only 9 for 18 with 108 yards. Lynch rushed for more yards than Wilson threw for—140 on 28 carries. Doug Baldwin caught two passes for 30 yards. Jermaine Kearse only had one reception for 25 yards while Harvin had three for 21 yards.

Brees was 24/43 for 309 yards. Robinson had 13 carries for 57 yards. Ingram carried the rock 10 times for 49 yards. Colston, prior to his late game misadventure, had eleven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. Robert Meachem also caught two passes for 69 yards

If it Looks and Runs Like a (Oregon) Duck…

Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get to who the Oregon Duck, let’s rewind back to last week…and Luck.

Really, Kansas City Chiefs? REALLY? You do know that you were ahead 38-10 on the Indianapolis Colts, right before you allowed The Comeback to go down. 38-10. Thirty Eight to Ten!

38-10. The Realist has a hunch that the phrase 38-10 may be treated as a four letter word in Kansas City for the remainder of 2014. How many aficionados of the Chiefs in Kansas City, Missouri/Kansas have had nightmares ever since last Saturday night?

The Realist’s guess is “plenty”.

After that game, many in Indianapolis wanted to work on the spot on erecting Andrew Luck’s statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium. He had earlier comebacks this year against two of his division foes (Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts) and had previously beaten the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, and Seattle Seahawks in the regular season.

Needless to say, the Colts became giants again by originally being “giant-killers”.

And given last week’s shocker in the Hoosier State, some were even picking the Colts to defeat the Pats in New England in the Divisional Weekend. These Patriots last played Buffalo during the regular season before their bye week in the first round of the playoffs.

But, just as defeating the Seahawks in Seattle is one of the hardest tasks in football, so is beating the Pats in Foxboro. Early on, the Colts would know exactly what this was about. Luck was intercepted early in the Colts’ first possession of the game when he found New England’s Alfonzo Dennard on a pass intended for Lavon Brazill. It was nearly converted into a Pick 6 before Dennard was stopped shy of the goal line.

Giving the Pats the ball when they shouldn’t have it won’t help you win football games—and the Patriots proved this again. The following would become a theme of this game: LeGarrette Blount for two yards and a TD. 7-0 Pats.

An Indy three and out would be followed by a more conventional New England drive—again resulting in a 2 yard touchdown run from Blount. 14-0 Patriots.

“It’s about the time New England’s running game get some of the credit for this team’s success!”—The Realist.

But, just as this one seemed to be getting away from the Colts early, they came back on their next possession with seven points of their own when Luck threw Brazill for 38 yards and a touchdown. Now, it was 14-7 New England.

But, on the final Patriots possession of the first quarter that extended into the second quarter, they went on yet another scoring drive. They made it to the two yard line and decided, once again, to hand the ball off to Blount.

Why not, because he scored again. 21-7 Patriots for his 3rd touchdown of the game.

21-7 became 21-10 when Luck and the Colts following possession also resulted in points, albeit three as opposed to seven. Former Patriot Adam Vinatieri drilled a field goal from 36 yards out to bring Indy to within 11.

If any play represented a potential momentum shift heading into the half, picture the following. New England couldn’t convert on a 3rd and 2 from their 49 yard line. They punted, but not before being penalized, costing them 5 yards. On the punt attempt, the snap was over Ryan Allen’s head. Allen recovered it at the 3, then fumbled, and the ball was knocked into the end zone, and then out of the end zone. This safety made it 21-12, even though Dan Dierdorf (who was calling his last NFL game, by the way) thought it would’ve been better for Allen to take a sack.

At risk of that safety becoming a touchdown, after all…

Then, Luck (who was a pick machine this game) threw his second of the game) when looking for Stanley Havili, but instead throwing to Dont’a Hightower at the Patriots 39 yard line.

Out of the half, the Pats were forced into a three and out. Indianapolis drove all the way to the Patriots’ 3 yard line on their next possession before having to settle for another Vinatieri field goal—this one from 21 yards out. 21-15 New England.

Then, the Patriots righted the ship on their next possession when Stevan Ridley ran for three yards and a touchdown. He also converted on the New England two point conversion attempt. 27-15 Patriots became 29-15 Patriots.

Usually, this is where the Patriots enter “Finish Him!” stage, but the rules of Mortal Kombat apparently don’t apply to the Indy Colts. Indianapolis still hung tough with New England when Luck found Brazill again, this time for 35 yards on a throw and catch that looked similar to last week when Luck threw to T.Y. Hilton to move the Colts ahead against the Chiefs. 29-22 Patriots.

The first play of the fourth quarter for the Patriots would be emblematic of how the rest of the game would play itself out. Their first play was a run play to Blount from their 27 yard line.

Blount handled the other 73 yards by himself on that one play. It was his fourth TD of the game, which became a Patriots franchise record for the playoffs. 36-22 Patriots.

On the next Colts possession, Luck was again intercepted as he was looking for Coby Fleener. Luck, instead connected with Jamie Collins deep in Indianapolis territory at the 15 yard line.

Once again, the Pats took advantage of the gift from Indianapolis with another rushing touchdown—this time from Stevan Ridley from one yard out. It was their SIXTH rushing touchdown of the game—a new franchise record for any Patriots regular season or playoff game.

A Tom Brady-quarterbacked team routing a team with the ground game. We’re in Bizarro World, Realists.

With less than a minute to go, one more interception of Luck would put an exclamation point on this game as he once again was picked off by Dennard while looking for Brazill. This one was emphatically over. 43-22 Patriots.

Who (from outside New England) called the Patriots routing the Colts with six rushing touchdowns, and four from LeGarrette Blount?

All of you with your hands up are from New England. And the other two with your hands up were students at the University of Oregon when Blount was a Duck.

Indianapolis has nothing to be ashamed of even with this loss. After all, losing Reggie Wayne was a huge loss that ended any Super Bowl aspirations they may have had. The Realist ponders how this game may have been different if Wayne was healthy.

Brady was 13/25 for 198 yards, and no touchdowns. Blount rushed for 166 yards on 24 carries and 4 touchdowns. Ridley carried the ball 14 times for 52 yards and 2 touchdowns. Julian Edelman had six receptions for 84 yards. Danny Amendola caught the football three times and got 77 yards.

Luck was 20/41 with 331 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. Donald Brown carried the ball 17 times for 63 yards. T.Y. Hilton was Indianapolis’ leading receiver with 4 catches and 103 yards. Fleener had 74 yards on 6 receptions. Brazill had two receptions for 73 yards. Griff Whalen also had 67 receiving yards on 5 catches.

Kap-ing Off Carolina’s Campaign

Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) celebrates a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers are one of these teams that has certainly been a surprise team of 2013-2014. Their story has been well chronicled given that they started the season at 1-3 to win a division championship in the NFC South at 12-4 (primarily through defense and the rise of Cam Newton) to clinch a first round bye in the NFC’s playoffs. The only loss came on the road to New Orleans. They defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the regular season to clinch the division crown, and have catapulted head coach Ron Rivera to the penthouse suite of the Coach of the Year discussion.

During their bye week, which the Panthers won by leapfrogging the Saints who were in that position for most of the year, the fifth seeded San Francisco 49ers were in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field against the Packers where the temperatures dipped down to single digits.

It may have been cold on the field, but the ice that was in the veins of Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers must’ve been even colder. They defeated the Pack 23-20 via a game winning field goal from Phil Dawson to set themselves up for a trip to Carolina the following week in the divisional round.

Dating back to the regular season, that victory was the seventh straight for the 49ers, with the big difference being the return of Michael Crabtree from injury. His return has San Francisco looking like last year’s team that won the NFC and nearly won the Super Bowl.

The Niners began their offensive “gold rush” on their first possession when a long drive resulted in a Phil Dawson field goal from 49 yards out. 3-0 San Francisco.

They scored again on their next possession, again with six from a 33 yarder from Dawson after reaching the Panthers’ red zone. 6-0 49ers. That possession, by the way, started with such good field position for the 49ers because Cam Newton was picked off by Patrick Willis at the Panthers’ 45 yard line on a pass intended for Brandon LaFell. Carolina had a chance to put its first points on the board towards the end of the first quarter as they were in a 1st and goal situation from the 49ers’ six yard line. They couldn’t convert on three downs, so they went for it on 4th and 1 before Newton was stopped by the San Francisco defense. Goal line stand. Music to the ears of a defense and the eyes of a defensive coordinator.

On the next 49ers possession, they were deep in their own territory due to the Panthers turning the football over on downs. Carolina’s defense did force a three and out, allowing for them to get the ball again on offense. A Ted Ginn, Jr. punt return ended up at the 31 yard line of San Francisco. On the next play, Newton took advantage when he threw to Steve Smith for 31 yards and a touchdown. 7-6 Panthers lead.

The following Panthers possession would once again lead them to the San Francisco one yard line, but they couldn’t convert into the end zone when it mattered. They had no choice but to settle for Graham Gano’s first field goal of the game—from 24 yards out. It increased the Panthers’ lead to 10-6.

Then, San Francisco happened…and happened…and happened.

Carolina’s 10-6 lead would be the last time they would be in the lead this game. On the following San Francisco possession, they took the lead 13-10 just before the end of the half when Kaepernick threw to Vernon Davis for a one yard touchdown. The play was originally ruled an incomplete pass because it was thought that Davis didn’t get both feet in bounds. The replay showed that he did and the referees awarded the Niners the score.

In addition, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh blew a typical Harbaugh-esque gasket on the sidelines, to the point where he even was on the field Mike Tomlin style. This gets you assessed a 15 yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.

That momentum from that last drive carried over into their next one which occurred after forcing a Panthers three and out to start the second half. San Francisco extended their lead to 20-10 on a 4 yard run from Kaepernick. Even worse for Panther fans, the defense of the 49ers was penetrating the Carolina offensive line and getting to Cam Newton.

The Panthers’ offense was anything but roaring.

San Francisco would get possession of the football back right before the end of the third quarter and into the fourth. They got into the red zone, but only increased their lead by 3 thanks to Dawson’s third field goal of the game. The 34 yard conversion made it 23-10 Niners.

If there was any point in the game where Newton needed to put on his Superman cape, it was now, down 23-10. Their following drive was productive as they got all the way to the 49ers side of the field and were moving the ball effectively. But, one pass effectively ended the game and the season for Carolina. Newton, on a pass intended for Greg Olsen was picked off by Donte Whitner at the San Francisco nine yard line.

The Panthers were clearly frustrated as evidenced by them getting into common scuffles with 49ers players. One was flagged for taking a swing at one of the San Francisco players. They had not been in such a precarious position since the New Orleans game and were not used to losing as they were young and had previously won eleven of their last twelve.

49ers won 23-10 to advance to the NFC Championship game in Seattle against their arch division rival Seahawks.

For San Francisco, it’s their eighth consecutive victory, and another sign that this is a team that looks like it is peaking at just the correct time. Carolina has nothing to be ashamed of as no one outside of the Carolinas even picked them to be in the playoffs at the outset of the season. There is a contract issue involving Cam Newton, but this looks like a team that is getting younger and has a ferocious defense that will be scary for their NFC opponents in 2014.

Colin Kaepernick was 15/28 for 196 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 15 yards on eight carries. Their leading rusher was Frank Gore who had 84 yards on 17 carries. The ever boisterous Anquan Boldin led the San Francisco air attack with eight receptions for 136 yards.

Cam Newton was 16 for 25 with 265 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He also was the team’s leading rusher with 54 yards on 10 carries. Mike Tolbert carried the football eight times for 20  yards while DeAngelo Williams was also well contained—only getting 13 yards on five carries. Ted Ginn, Jr. caught the football four times for 104 yards. Steve Smith also had four receptions, but for 74 yards and a touchdown. Olsen also caught four passes—for 55 yards. Brandon LaFell, as well, caught four passes for a total of 34 yards.

Bolo, Oh No

As if the San Diego Chargers’ rise out of nowhere wasn’t enough of a story for the media, a new element of accessories was added to it last week.

Details soon, but you probably already know.

Thanks to a 13-3 record, the Denver Broncos also clinched a first round bye in the AFC playoffs in addition to home field advantage throughout. The previous time this team was on the field, Peyton Manning was padding his stats against the Oakland Raiders as he broke the single season records for touchdowns (55) thrown as well as that for yards thrown (5477). The previous record of 50 (Brady, 2007) was broken the week before in Houston against the Texans at Reliant Stadium.

There was a short lived review as to if the record should stand, which this Realist says was a waste of time for the NFL.

While the Broncos were on their bye week, The Chargers had come out of nowhere to claim the sixth seed in the AFC as they had everything go their way in Week 17 (Miami loss, Baltimore loss), including something that wasn’t supposed to go their way.

In that Week 17 game against the Chiefs in Qualcomm Stadium, Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a field goal that would’ve won the game for the Chargers, putting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. A further review by the NFL said that a penalty flag should have been thrown on that play, which would’ve given Succop another opportunity for a game winning kick.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda, Realist.

They followed that up with their first playoff game of this season which took them to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati and the Bengals. Cincinnati was 8-0 at home prior to their matchup against the Chargers. That home record was rendered meaningless when Andy Dalton threw interception after interception after interception en route to a 27-10 victory for San Diego.

That set them up for a divisional round playoff matchup against their division rivals from the NFC West—the Denver Broncos. Since the third seeded Colts completed that comeback of comebacks the day before, this meant that the Colts automatically would face the second seeded Patriots in the divisional round.

Indy was blown out 43-22.

The Realist, though, was taken aback by a good bit of the pregame buildup to this one, especially as it involved Peyton Manning. Most of our brethren in the press were tagging this one as a “legacy game” for Manning given his record in the playoffs.

Uh, hello? Did these same people with media credentials suddenly forget that Manning already has won a Super Bowl and that he played in another. Why are “experts” with media credentials still trying to pick apart the legacy of #18 as if this is still pre-Super Bowl XLI before he picked up his first ring and his first and only Super Bowl MVP?

Honestly, “experts” with media credentials. The Realist has heard of some weird fetishes (ask Rex Ryan), but a fetish with someone’s football legacy? This one takes the cake. Wow.

Anyway, off the soapbox. There was a game to be played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver to determine the final team out of four that would play on Championship Sunday.

Denver got out to a promising start on its first drive of the game that lasted for seven minutes and a second. The result was Manning’s first TD pass of the game—two yards to DeMaryius Thomas for a 7-0 lead.

The Chargers were then forced into a three and out by the Broncos defense. The following Broncos drive would not last long as a 3rd and 2 from midfield resulted in a Manning pass to Julius Thomas who fumbled the football. It was recovered by Richard Marshall.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, their offense was struggling for the first three quarters of the game. San Diego could get a grand total of nothing done for 75% of this game. They couldn’t turn that turnover into points.

And, on the following Broncos possession, Manning found Wes Welker for a three yard touchdown to increase the score to 14-0 Denver.

The Chargers couldn’t get anything done on its next drive either, and it resulted in another punt. It landed at the Broncos 23 yard line and with Eric Decker. He almost returned it all the way for a 77 yard return for a touchdown, but slipped on the turf at the Chargers’ 30 yard line. The return was 47 yards and it also resulted in an injury for kicker Mike Scifres.

The ensuing drive the Broncos went on looked like it would be one that would put this game away at 21-0. They were in a first and goal situation from the Chargers’ 4 yard line. After failing to convert on first and second down, Denver would at least get a field goal out of this, right?

Not exactly.

Manning threw in the end zone on 3rd down looking for Decker, but it was intercepted by Donald Butler in the back of the end zone for a touchback. Not only was the pick impressive, but also Butler’s ability to stay in bounds. The score remained 14-0 Broncos going into halftime.

That pick by Butler gave San Diego new life. What also continued to breathe life into San Diego was that Broncos receivers, that are normally adept at catching passes from Manning, were dropping them all over the field. Those dropped balls were another thing that kept the game close—and the Chargers in the game.

In the third quarter, the Broncos would receive the opening half kickoff. This time, they did not leave points on the field as they did at the end of the first half. Their drive was stalled by the San Diego defense at the Chargers’ 27 yard line, but a 45 yard field goal from Matt Prater made the score 17-0 Broncos.

This is a classic case of not allowing the scoreboard to fool you. The scoreboard may not have said domination, but the play on the field screamed that it was all Broncos all the time in the Mile High City.

But then again, the scoreboard is the only thing that matters in the end. Football games aren’t won & lost “visually”.

San Diego wound up punting on its next drive and the Broncos would get the ball back. They were in a similar situation on their next drive where they had another chance to increase their advantage via a field goal from Prater. This one, though, was wide left from 47 yards out, keeping the score at 17-0.

After that, what was seemingly a Broncos coronation turned into a nailbiter in the Rocky Mountains. On the Chargers drive after the missed Prater field goal attempt, Rivers connected with rookie of the year candidate Keenan Allen on a 16 yard touchdown pass to cut the San Diego deficit to 17-7.

The Broncos responded on their next possession with a touchdown of their own—this one of the running variety. A Manning handoff to Knowshon Moreno for three yards resulted in a touchdown that upped Denver’s lead to 24-7.

On the ensuing San Diego possession, they drove down field again and Rivers would once again find Allen for another touchdown pass for 16 yards. This brought the Chargers to within 24-14. And without around 4 minutes left to play, the Chargers were thinking onside kick.

Success!

Their onside kick attempt was successful as it was recovered by Richard Marshall. This turned out to be a brilliant move by Mike McCoy as it kept Peyton Manning off the field and would allow the Chargers to cut into the lead even more and possibly tie the game.

Instead of the touchdown they had hoped for, they instead had to settle for a field goal from the foot of Nick Novak from 30 yards out. 24-17 Broncos.

San Diego was now clearly getting closer in Denver’s rear view mirror and they were only getting closer.

The Chargers could’ve decided to try another onside kick—one that would definitely have been defended and executed better on the Denver side of the required 10 yards. Instead, they gave the football back to Manning and the Broncos offense.

The Chargers had forced Manning into a 3rd and 17 play as it looked like Rivers would get the ball back one more time with a Chargers offense that looked like it was now operating on all cylinders. Manning found Julius Thomas near the right sideline for a 21 yard completion and a first down. Two more first downs later, the game was over and the Broncos had clinched their ticket to the AFC Championship Game in their stadium against the New England Patriots. They defeated the Chargers 24-17.

This means–yes, another Brady vs. Manning game (and a whole week of mega-hype from the sporting press).

Honestly, the Patriots had to be rooting for the Chargers as they watched this game. They know their record in Foxboro and that it’s almost impossible to defeat them in the January cold of the playoffs in Gillette Stadium. Now, they have to travel to Denver. But, the venue may not matter if they still drop passes like they did.

As for the Chargers, to come from nowhere to make the playoffs is a notable accomplishment. But, it’s another playoff loss for Philip Rivers. If anyone’s legacy needs to be put under a microscope by “experts” with media credentials, it’s that of Rivers—not Manning.

But, the Realist digresses.

Manning threw for 25/36 for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Knowshon Moreno carried the rock 23 times for 82 yards and one touchdown. Montee Ball also had 52 yards on 10 carries. Julius Thomas led the air attack for the Broncos with 76 yards on six receptions. DeMaryius Thomas caught the ball eight times for 54 yards and one TD while Wes Welker had 38 receiving yards on six catches and one TD. Decker also caught two passes for 32 yards.

Rivers was 18/27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Danny Woodhead ran the ball nine times for 29 times. Ryan Mathews only had five carries for the game for 26 yards. Keenan Allen finished with 142 yards receiving on six receptions and two touchdowns.

To sum up, our Championship Sunday will include the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos from the Mile High City for the AFC Championship. Also, it will see a matchup of two division rivals from the NFC West with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks from CenturyLink Field in the Emerald City.

Only two more football Sundays left (three including the Pro Bowl, which sort of counts, I guess). Are those tears starting to well up in your eyes, Realists? I don’t blame you.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: NFL