AFC and NFC Title Games: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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If there were ever a four-team homage to the propensity of the average sports fan to overreact to early-season results, it would've been this season's AFC and NFC title games.

The Green Bay Packers started the season 1-2, including a season-opening blowout in Seattle in which Richard Sherman wasn't thrown at a single time by Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. The Colts started out 0-2, and were actually two games behind the Texans at one point this season. No, really. That actually occurred.

Then there are the Seahawks and the Patriots. Seattle was 3-3 at one point this season after losing to the St. Louis Rams in a game where Jeff Fisher "kitchen sinked" them, and the Patriots were left dead and buried, Hank Schrader-style, at 2-2 after a 41-14 loss to Kansas City on Monday night in Week 4.

And so appropriately, here we are, heading to Phoenix for Super Bowl XLIX, with the Patriots set to take on the Seahawks. The team of the past decade and a half against the team of the future. It should be awesome.

Yesterday, there were other winners and losers. Let's find them!


4. LeGarrette Blount Eleven weeks into the season, Jonas Gray was coming off of a 201-yard, four-touchdown effort against these very Colts on a Sunday night. LeGarrette Blount was in the process of getting discarded in Pittsburgh. Just two months later, Blount is the bell cow back for a team that is favored (as of Sunday night, Patriots -1 is the line) to win the Super Bowl. Sunday evening, he was a slightly less fortunate man's version of Marshawn Lynch, running for 148 yards and three touchdowns, and playing the role of "guy the Colts had no answer for," a role that had been reserved for Rob Gronkowski, but usurped by Blount.

3. Dwight Shrute In case you missed it, the Texans made a promotion this weekend in their front office. In an effort to make sure they didn't lose two key people in their front office (Mike Maccagnan is now a week in as GM of the Jets), the Texans promoted Brian Gaine from Pro Personnel Director to Director of Player Personnel, which has an uncanny similarity to the promotion of Dwight Shrute from Assistant to the Regional Manager to the position of Assistant Regional Manager...

Congrats, Brian! (And yes, this absolutely makes Rick Smith the Michael Scott of this scenario.)

2. My employer! In this day and age of DVRs, Hulu, Netflix and On Demand, live programming whose commercial inventory is immune to the fast-forward button is rare. Sporting events are one of the last bastions of such live programming. The only problem for networks is that most of the packages of live sports content are locked up into the next decade. The one exception (until Sunday) was the NFL's Thursday night package. However, coming off a season with record ratings and unparalleled cross-promotion, the NFL saw fit to renew the Thursday package with CBS. Like last year, CBS and the NFL Network will simulcast the first eight weeks of the season, and partner on a couple of late-season Saturday games. The deal will be for one year with a league option to renew next season. (It's the LeBron James of live content contracts, renewable every year!) As an employee of CBS, I am excited about the content our parent company will be carrying, but bummed out that this means my crappy microphone in our studio is probably not in the budget to get replaced now. Sad face.

1. Marshawn Lynch We started the "Winners" section with a somewhat surly, overly bruising running back and we finish the "Winners" section the same way. Russell Wilson is, no doubt, the Seahawks' most valuable offensive player because of the importance of the quarterback position. However, on Sunday, Marshawn Lynch proved that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he is the Seahawks' best offensive player. Without the benefit of any game breakers on the outside in the Seahawks offense, Lynch ran for 157 yards and the touchdown that put the Seahawks up late in regulation. Lynch hates talking to the media, so the Super Bowl media day should be fun. Who cares? The Seahawks will go as far as Beast Mode will carry them.


4. Brandon Bostick When you're a third string tight end on the "hands team" in a situation where you know the other team is kicking an onside kick, you truly have only one job to do, and if you don't do it, you get an "F." Well, Brandon Bostick...

....you get an "F". (It turns out that Bostick's one job was to actually block on the play, so it turns out that he didn't do his job poorly...he actually didn't even do his job at all!)

3. Packers opportunism This is going to sound weird, but the Packers fans should have been pissed their team was only up 16-0 at halftime, considering that the team started five straight possessions with the following field position: SEA 19, SEA 23, GB 44, SEA 33, GB 44. Russell Wilson threw FOUR interceptions and the Seahawks needed a fake field goal for a touchdown and a desperation heave across the field for a two-point conversion just to get to overtime. The Packers should have won this game. Handily. And they didn't. Aaron Rodgers, the best player in football, still only has one Super Bowl appearance (two NFC title game appearances) in seven seasons as a starter. Solid for most players, pedestrian for someone trying to be compared to immortals.

2. Andrew Luck Poor Andrew Luck. I mean, not "poor" in the traditional, literal sense. He makes a lot of money and reports are, he's about to make a whole lot more. But how must it feel to know that this is the management team that he's tied to (for now). Ryan Grigson the GM, Jim Irsay the owner. A front office that has not exactly done a great job surrounding their franchise quarterback with a roster that can win at the highest level. It turns out the Colts were a big phony this season, beating up on the AFC South in the regular season, then beating up on Andy Dalton and dilapidated Peyton Manning in the postseason. Tom Brady mined the truth for all of us. Andrew Luck will pile up big numbers for years, but until the front office gets its collective head out of its ass (or until Brady retires), Luck is on more of a Dan Marino path than a Tom Brady path. Of course, maybe the reason they lost was....

1. Deflated footballs These tweets, posted Sunday night by Indy beat writer Bob Kravitz, are presented without comment....

Not exactly sure what advantage deflated balls would give the Patriots over the Colts, but I think it's appropriate to remind everyone of the final score once again...the Colts lost 45-7.

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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