The NFL playoffs kicked off last weekend, and the early returns were—to put it kindly—underwhelming. All four favorites won, all four favorites covered, and all four favorites held their opponent to between nine and 14 points.
But all that glitters is not gold, and likewise, all that rusts is not iron. The postseason got off to a yawn-inducing start, but that doesn't mean there's no hope on the horizon.
This weekend's divisional round features a couple of really good games, and if the right teams win, next weekend could be even better.
Here are the most intriguing potential matchups for the AFC Championship, NFC Championship and Super Bowl.
*Full bracket can be viewed here (h/t CBSSports.com).*
AFC Championship: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
These two teams have been on a crash course all year, and with all due respect to Houston and Baltimore, no other matchup would be a satisfying conclusion to the AFC's season.
There's history here on both team and personal levels:
So far as the teams are concerned, New England beat Denver 45-10 in the divisional round last year, blissfully ending TebowMania once and for all. It also played in the 2006 divisional round—this time in Denver—where the Broncos handed Tom Brady his first ever playoff defeat, 27-13. So in a weird way, this one would be fueled by revenge on both sides.
It would be another epic installment in the Brady-Manning series. Brady is 9-4 lifetime against his friendly rival, including a 31-21 victory earlier this season. But this is a different Broncos team than it was in Week 5—it hasn't lost since—and a different Peyton too. Plus, nobody has more playoff success against New England than quarterbacks named Manning.
This would also be a coaching rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII, where Bill Belichick's Pats topped John Fox's Panthers 32-29.
NFC Championship: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Okay, Packers: You wanted a rematch? Here's your rematch.
"Fail Mary" part deux would be a fitting coda to the NFC season, bringing together two teams that, in their last meeting, gave rise to one of the most controversial endings ever. The now-immortal game—officially recorded as a 14-12 Seahawks win—brought a swift end to "the replacement ref era," and in many ways might have been the straw that saved the NFL season.
Just don't tell that to the Packers, who are still bitter over the whole ordeal.
On top of that myriad of contextual factors, this game would also feature two of the hottest teams in football. Last week included, they've combined to go 15-3 since the start of November.
Watching Seattle's pass rush—which embarrassed Green Bay in Week 2—get another go at the Packers' well-oiled offense would be an absolute treat, as would watching a much-improved Russell Wilson take on a defense that held him to just 130 yards on 10 completions.
Any way you spin it, this game would be appointment viewing.
Super Bowl: New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
New England-Green Bay was a close second. The Super Bowl XXXI rematch would (arguably) feature the league's two best quarterbacks, and serve as much-needed tonic for what has been a soporific postseason.
But Seahawks vs. Pats was too juicy to pass up.
"The Return of Pete Carroll" alone would provide this game two weeks' worth of legs. Don't believe me? Check out what Grantland.com editor and noted Patriots fan Bill Simmons wrote about Carroll in 2010:
Carroll became the Patriots’ coach the same year I launched my www.bostonsportsguy.com website. He did such a dreadful job that a reader once e-mailed me, “Pete Carroll answers the question of why Fredo was never given control of the Corleone family,” followed by my immediately nicknaming Carroll “Coach Fredo” for the rest of his tenure.
As it turned out, the comparison was an insult to Fredo. It took Carroll two years to destroy a Super Bowl team, and after he left, it took the Patriots two years to win a Super Bowl. You couldn’t do worse. Even Fredo has “banged two cocktail waitresses” on his résumé.
Pete Carroll is anathema in New England, where even over a decade later, the region still harbors a grudge for the job he did between Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Once Eli Manning was eliminated this year, Carroll immediately became the guy Pats fans would most despise losing a Super Bowl against.
There's also the Week 6 rematch/Richard Sherman factor. The Seahawks mounted a fourth-quarter comeback to beat New England 24-23 in Seattle earlier this year—one of the season's most underrated games. Chatty cornerback Richard Sherman got in the face of Tom Brady after the game, and took it a few steps further on twitter.
If last week at Washington was any indication, Sherman's antics stand poised to reach newer, more garrulous heights in the playoffs. But if we know anything about Tom Brady, it's that he isn't afraid to push back against motormouthed defensive backs.
Just thinking about this game makes me giddy.