By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You know, people are awfully negative these days. “This thing stinks,” they may say. “That person’s a real nincompoop,” they may even add. “Everything is rotten,” they may throw in for effect.READ MORE: Hurricanes Roll Past Bruins 7-1
But me? Buddy, I’m as chipper as a chicken. Peppy as popcorn. I am brighter than a moonbeam.
Even if that’s an out-and-out lie, I will say that while sports media may thrive on controversy and in-fighting and over-the-top criticism and hot takes, there are occasional opportunities to sit back and soak in some quality goodness. Sunday night is one of those times.
As you surely know by now, the Tompa Bay Bucs will make the trek to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints, with a trip to the NFC title game at stake. Remarkably, it will be just the eighth meeting between the 43-year-old Brady and the now-42-year-old Brees. (Happy birthday, Drew! See? Told you I was Captain Positive!)
Because of the worst non-call in NFL history, this will mark their first-ever postseason meeting.
And because Brees will likely call it a quits after this season, it will also be their final meeting.
Call me an old fuddy-duddy, call me corny, call me a GOOF if you must, but I feel like celebrating this moment. They don’t come around too often.
That is to say, it’s not every day that you get the guys who rank first and second in all-time passing yards and touchdowns going tit-for-tat in the playoffs. It’s not altogether often you see a 43-year-old football player performing at a high level (or any level at all, for that matter), and it’s an even rarer sight to see a 42-year-old on the other side.
Peyton Manning was kind enough to play Brady twice in the playoffs as a bucking Bronco before his body gave out on him, winning both matchups to gain some level of retribution for the early-career bullying he experienced at the hands of the Patriots. And when that rivalry ended after 17 matchups (Brady won 11), an irreplaceable hole was left in the NFL schedule in the years that have followed. (Fun story: After that memorable regular-season Patriots comeback/Broncos muffed punt in OT game in 2013, Manning thought he was done with his postgame press conference when I asked him a question along the lines of, “Even after all this time, are you ever surprised to see Tom Brady do things like that? He did that steaming-miffed face and gave a generic, non-specific answer. He was so mad. If I were a negative person instead of an eternally positive person, I’d probably chuckle at that little memory. Alas.)
The Brady-Brees showdowns don’t carry the same weight as the Brady-Manning sagas, but from a sheer historical perspective, it won’t get better than this for a very long time.
Man, being positive feels nice. I should try it more often. I won’t. But I should.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
GREEN BAY (-6.5) over Los Angeles Rams
It’s always difficult on divisional weekend, when you’re looking at a team that you just saw win a big playoff game going up against a team that you haven’t seen for two weeks. Human instinct drives you to want to ride the hot hand.
In this case, though, it’s probably the right move to not just not overthink things. The NFL’s top scoring offense, the NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers, a team that hasn’t lost at home since Nov. 1, a six-game winning streak and an 8-1 record to end the year. It’s a bit overwhelming.
The one way the Rams might neutralize things is if Jalen Ramsey can lock down Davante Adams. The Rodgers-Adams connection has been straight out of a video game this year, with Adams accounting for 32 percent of the Packers’ receiving yards and 38 percent of the Packers’ receiving touchdowns. He’s likely a rather large part of the game plan for the home team, so if Ramsey can go nuts, anything can happen.
— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) January 13, 2021
It’s possible that things go haywire. Sure. But the Packers should win this one without too much resistance.
(NOTE: This entire pick would’ve changed if John “The Wolf Man” Wolford was able to play. I love that guy!)
BUFFALO (-2.5) over Baltimore
Nothing shows how quickly things can change in the NFL more than this matchup.
On one side you have the team that absolutely dominated the AFC a year ago, absolutely pounding their way through everyone en route to a certain Super Bowl appearance. The Ravens were 14-2, the top seed in the AFC, boasting the MVP quarterback, the No. 1 rushing attack, a top-five defense, and an unmistakable attitude.
But … then they got run over by Derrick Henry, and their season ended without a playoff victory. Womp womp.
This year, they kind of fell asleep in the middle of the season, Lamar Jackson’s passing numbers dropped precipitously, and they had to scrape and claw just to get to the divisional round.
On the other side you have the Bills. Last year, they almost beat the Patriots in September, but didn’t. They almost beat the Patriots at Christmastime. But they didn’t. And they almost beat Houston in the wild card round. Alas, they did not. Josh Allen was not good enough, nor was Sean McDermott, and the Bills were just the Bills.
Then they added Stefon Diggs. Then their offense went from 23rd in points and 24th in yards to second in the NFL in both categories. Josh Allen improved his completion percentage by more than 10 points. And now they’re hosting a Saturday night playoff game as the favorites.
Things change fast, is what I’m trying to say.
What I’m also trying to say: The Bills rock.
KANSAS CITY (-10) over Cleveland
Anything is possible, sure. But the Chiefs probably aren’t going to yank the first snap of the game into their own end zone, and Patrick Mahomes is unlikely to just hand the game away in the moments that follow.
That just doesn’t feel likely. The Chiefs are a buzzsaw.
Tampa Bay (+3) over NEW ORLEANS
There’s an old cliche in the NFL that “it’s hard to beat the same team three times in a season.” It’s incredibly wrong. By my super technical calculations (I looked at a January 2018 story and added one to it), when teams have met in the playoffs for their third matchup after one team won both regular-season matchups, the two-time winner has become a three-time winner 14 of 21 times.
That’s … 66.6666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666667 percent of the time. Not that hard if you ask me.
So here’s a new cliche: It is absolutely, positively, supremely difficult to beat Tom Brady three times in one season.
You understand, Tom Brady has gone through four entire seasons without losing three times. (I’m repeating that for emphasis: In 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2016, Brady and the Patriots only lost two games all year.)
So to beat the man three times? At this point of his life and career, when he’s not only playing as well as ever but is also at the point of his psychotic football career where he has absolutely no patience for wasted efforts?
I’ve seen enough of that fella to go ahead and like his chances as an underdog.
Obviously, there are countless influences to a final score that don’t involve the quarterback. And it may ultimately prove to have been inadvisable to pick the Buccaneers to win any playoff game. But in a situation like this (and without 74,000 insane people from Louisiana there to influence things), I can’t go against The Terminator. I simply cannot.
Last week: 3-2-1
Regular season: 126-126-4