Sound Bite of the Week
“It would be as satisfying a victory as we’ve ever had to go into Denver and win this game.”
—New England quarterback Tom Brady, to WEEI in Boston.
Player You Need to Know This Weekend
Byron Maxwell, cornerback, Seattle (No. 41). The last time the Niners traveled to CenturyLink Field last September (for their second straight Pacific Northwest rout by Seattle), Colin Kaepernick was discombobulated by not having his favorite target, wideout Michael Crabtree, who was rehabbing his torn Achilles. Kaepernick threw three interceptions, no touchdowns, and had one drive all day longer than 50 yards. Now the Seahawks are down to their fourth corner, Maxwell, a sixth-round pick from Clemson who has been playing credibly since entering the lineup in early December. And San Francisco has a healthy Crabtree, so the Seahawks, as they did in the first meeting back in September, won’t be able to erase Anquan Boldin with Richard Sherman and not worry about the other wideout. Boldin and Crabtree together are as formidable a wideout duo as remain in the playoffs, and certainly more challenging, along with Vernon Davis at tight end, than Seattle faced last week in the 23-15 win over the Saints.
Richard Sherman explains why he has faith in Maxwell in his In This Corner column.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. Clash of styles. The old quarterbacks, Peyton Manning (37) and Tom Brady (36), playing the game the old-fashioned way—in the pocket—for the AFC title. The young quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick (26) and Russell Wilson (25), running around for the NFC title. Strange positioning of the games. The AFC goes first. Feels like the JV game. And it might be the last big one Brady and Manning ever play.
2. Percy Harvin. After suffering a concussion last Saturday in the divisional playoff win over the Saints, Harvin hadn’t been cleared as of late Thursday to return to practice. Seattle needs a lightning-bug difference-maker against the Niners D. Stay tuned. Even if he plays, Harvin’s been so fragile you have no idea how long he’ll last.
3. Auditioners for Cleveland. One head-coaching job left, and the Browns will have their pick of the interviews whenever these games are done. (Cleveland brass can talk to the losers anytime after Sunday’s games, and the winners during the week after the games, in the winner’s town.) The hot names: Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase and his San Francisco counterpart, Greg Roman.
4. The weather. A total non-factor from the forecasts early this morning. Denver at 1 p.m. Mountain Time: 59 degrees, 9 mph winds, zero percent chance of rain. Seattle at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time: 50 degrees, 3 mph winds, 20 percent chance of rain. Now, about that long-range Super Bowl forecast …
5. Legacies. I am not one to say Peyton Manning will be the 14th-best quarterback of all time if he loses this game, although there are some talk-show hosts, including one with a canine nickname with a canine-named radio channel, who would. I will watch the game first, then judge.
6. No Gronk. Seven receptions for 90 yards in the first meeting between Denver and New England for tight end Rob Gronkowski. And the possibility of no Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson either; both played in the first meeting.
7. GM stuff. Take your time, Miami. Relax, Tampa. No hurry. No consensus on the top personnel guys this postseason.
8. The concussion lawsuit. The judge in the case, Anita Brody, is skeptical that $765 million is going to be enough to cover 65 future years of damages from players who claim the NFL was careless in warning them about the dangers of head trauma. Scores of players agree with her. Look for the plaintiffs’ side to get out its best arguments and best actuarials this weekend to prove the money’s going to be enough.
9. Johnny Manziel buzz. The draft is three months and three weeks away, but in the past week, both Gil “The Godfather of the Draft” Brandt and Mel “The Godfather of Hair” Kiper have put the 6-foot, 202-pound Texas A&M quarterback No. 1 in their first mock drafts of the season. Could it be? Could the kid who has so much in common with Brett Favre, on and off the field, shock the world and go No. 1?
10. The Nickname. A prominent Washington player, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, said this week to Mike Hill of FOX that the team “probably should” change the nickname “Redskins.” Either Hall knows he’s not going to be around long (he is a free agent in March), he doesn’t care if he’s going to be around long, or he’s very brave.