AFC and NFC Title Game Best Bets

I'll be honest. As I type this, I'm still reeling a bit from Cardale Jones's decision that he announced Thursday afternoon to stay in school, return to Ohio State and compete for the starting quarterback job next season.

It was all going to be so simple -- a top-five-in-the-draft talent decides to enter the draft after a three-game body of work, he shows enough in the combine and pro days to maintain the intrigue, but the league still lays off in the first round. Then the Texans take him with, say, their second round pick, and by 2016, VOILA! Franchise quarterback.

As plans to get a franchise quarterback go, the Cardale Plan was just as viable as any plan that any of you can come up with. It actually would've been fun having the rest of the league jealous of the intrigue that would've existed here. Relevance would've been cool.

But now it's back to the Ryan Mallett drawing board.

I hate football right now. But I think I'll like it enough by Sunday to watch the AFC and NFC title games, the battles for the right to head to Phoenix for Super Bowl XLIX. It's my contention that we have the four best quarterbacks in the game playing this weekend, and that there's no argument that can be made to crack this foursome.

If Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson were an actual Mount Rushmore, there's nobody else's face you could come up with to sand-blast onto the monument in place of one of them. If you need to win a big game, your first four names that you come up with are these four names, in some order.

In short, I'm willing to debate the order (for me, all things being equal, it would go Rodgers, Brady, Wilson and Luck, by the way) of these four, but not the replacement of any of the four. These are the four best. And that's why Sunday has the potential to be so awesome. All four have different things at stake, different questions to be answered:

AARON RODGERS: For all the talk about how great Rodgers is (and he is great), this is only the second time since becoming the starter in 2008 that he's made the NFC title game. Can he beat a good team away from Lambeau?

TOM BRADY: It's too easy to go with the "Brady hasn't won a Super Bowl in a decade...WHAT'S WRONG?" angle. More recently, the Patriots have had their season ended on their home field in three of the last five seasons. Can they protect this house?

RUSSELL WILSON: Wilson has won at least one playoff game in each of his first three seasons. If the Seahawks go on to win the Super Bowl, is he this generation's Troy Aikman, great QB who just needs to steer the ship with a killer running game and suffocating defense?

ANDREW LUCK: This one's easy -- is he ready to join The Club? (The Club being active QB's to win a Super Bowl.)

Like I said, lots of legacies at stake, let's bang out some quick picks on these two games...

SEAHAWKS -7.5 over Packers If someone held a gun to my head and said, "You can only pick one of these two favorites to cover the spread and win by double digits. Who is it? Hold still! WHO IS IT?!?" (gun talk), I'm taking the Seahawks and it's really not even a consideration. Say what you will about the difference between Home Packers and Away Packers -- offensively, it's about 17 points per game -- but to me, it boils down to the simple fact that Aaron Rodgers can't run right now with the calf injury! Repeat: HE CANNOT RUN. Rodgers's mobility is a huge part of his game. In the Cowboy game in the divisional round, there were at least a half dozen instances where a healthy Rodgers scrambles for 10 or 12 yards easily. If he can't do that to keep the Seahawks defense honest, life becomes harder for everybody. Receivers get blanketed, Eddie Lacy has no room to run, Rodgers has to throw from the pocket. The Packers haven't had a really good road win all season. Oh, also these two teams met in the season opener and the Seahawks destroyed the Packers, 36-16. SEAHAWKS 27, PACKERS 13

PATRIOTS -6.5 over Colts These two teams met earlier this season, and like the Packers-Seahawks regular season matchup, this one ended in a blowout as well with the Patriots winning 42-20 in Week 1. However, just showing how quickly things can change, in that game, Jones Gray rushed for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns. He was inactive last week. Also, in that game, The Colts' Daniel Herron played one offensive snap. He's now the Colts' lead running back. This game will be decided by which of the two quarterbacks is able to feed their tight ends -- Gronkowski against whomever the Colts throw at him, and Fleener/Allen against the Patriots linebackers and safeties. The Colts secondary has covered very well the first two weeks of the postseason and should hold up against Edelman/LaFell/Amendola. The Pats' highly paid corner duo of Revis and Browner struggled against the Ravens, but are being paid to lock down a group like TY Hilton, Dante Moncrief, and Hakeem Nicks. Andrew Luck is due for a game with a few sloppy turnovers. I'm banking on it here. PATRIOTS 30, COLTS 17

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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