|ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
By now, the championship game matchups have been broken down every which way and sideways. Tom Brady has been compared to Peyton Manning, while Colin Kaepernick has been measured up against Russell Wilson.
New England's offense has been contrasted to Denver's, while San Francisco's and Seattle's defenses have been dissected.
Conversation will continue all the way up until Sunday's kickoffs, 3 p.m. ET for the AFC Championship Game, 6:30 ET for the NFC Championship Game. Yet as much discussion as there has been about the four teams this week, it will pale in comparison to the debate surrounding just two teams over the next two weeks.
But why wait. Let's get it started it now with a look at what those potential storylines would be with any of the four potential Super Bowl XLVIII matchups.
• New England vs. San Francisco: This would be a matchup of two of the NFL's most decorated and winning franchises, the team from the 2000s vs. the team of the 1980s. Brady would facing his hometown team, chasing some of the records established by his boyhood idol, former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. And here would come all the stories of how the 49ers bypassed Brady in the 2000 draft, selecting Hofstra quarterback Giovanni Carmazzi in the third round with the 65th overall pick, 134 picks before the Patriots drafted Brady in Round 6.
• New England vs. Seattle: From 1997 to '99, the Patriots' head coach was Pete Carroll. But after he compiled a 27-21 regular-season record with a 1-2 postseason mark, New England had seen enough. It fired Carroll and hired Bill Belichick. So the Patriots' only two head coaches over the past 17 seasons would be facing off for a world championship. And it would give Belichick a chance to make history. With a win in Super Bowl XLVIII, Belichick would pass Tom Landry and his 20-16 postseason record for the most postseason wins by a coach in NFL history.
• Denver vs. San Francisco: A rematch of Super Bowl XXIV, one of the worst Super Bowls in history, when San Francisco obliterated John Elway and the Denver Broncos 55-10. This would be Elway's chance at revenge, his chance to add a Super Bowl as an executive to the two he won as a quarterback. But it also would be a chance for San Francisco to get revenge against Denver for signing Manning away from it. Just think how different the 49ers would be if they had landed Manning and not turned over their team to Kaepernick. Could have happened. Easily.
• Denver vs. Seattle: Two former AFC West rivals revisit what used to be one of the NFL's great underrated rivalries. These teams were probably the most popular preseason picks to meet in Super Bowl XLVIII. Interesting part is, the two squared off in August in what turned out to be one of the more intense and entertaining preseason games in recent memory. And just as San Francisco missed out on Manning, Seattle didn't even get a sniff. The Seahawks sent their private plane to meet with Manning, and he declined to even step aboard without a meeting set up in advance. But in this matchup, the Seahawks finally would get to meet Manning.
First-hand knowledge: For as much as everyone has learned this week about the 49ers and Seahawks, one man might know those teams' rosters better than any other. One man has had a hand in building each roster.
Scot McCloughan served as the Seahawks' director of college scouting from 1999 through 2005. He then moved over to the 49ers' front office, with the final job being general manager, until March 2010. A few months later he returned to Seattle as a senior personnel executive.
Personal issues forced him out of his job in San Francisco, but professional expertise helped land McCloughan back in Seattle, where the Seahawks knew his talents well.
During his first stint in Seattle, McCloughan helped draft 25 players who were on the roster that won an NFC championship after the 2005 season and advanced to the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh.
Later, McCloughan was instrumental in San Francisco selecting players such as running back Frank Gore, offensive tackle Joe Staley, and linebackers Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks, and signing players such as defensive lineman Justin Smith. McCloughan helped provide a foundation that current 49ers general manager Trent Baalke expanded on and grew into one of the top teams in football. This season the 49ers had eight players selected to the Pro Bowl -- six whom McCloughan brought in.
Then McCloughan joined Seattle, where he assisted Seahawks general manager John Schneider and was part of the decisions to draft players such as Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.
McCloughan is the tie that binds, the one man who has bridged the rivalry between the franchises. He knows the guts of these franchises as well as anyone. He has a well-regarded eye for talent and can figure out what players will rise and sink on draft day better than most.
Despite his fingerprints being all over the two best NFC teams that will square off in Sunday's conference championship game, McCloughan still has not gotten another GM job, at least not yet. The Dolphins called him about their GM opening, but the Seahawks denied McCloughan permission to talk, according to a league source. Tampa Bay has not even called McCloughan about its GM opening.
McCloughan very well may get another chance. But his resume speaks for itself. His resume will be on display Sunday, when the two franchises that have employed him since 1999 will battle for the NFC championship.
|LeGarrette Blount has become one of the Patriots' most important offensive players.|
Blount force in New England: During the past year, the running back trade that garnered the most attention was Indianapolis sending a first-round pick to Cleveland for Trent Richardson.
But during the April draft, the Patriots traded a seventh-round pick and running back Jeff Demps to Tampa Bay for running back LeGarrette Blount in a deal that has had a greater impact than the one that involved Richardson.
Blount has established himself as the Patriots' lead back and a football force. In the regular-season finale against Buffalo, in one of the great performances in franchise history, Blount racked up 334 total yards, a single-game franchise record that shattered the 51-year-old mark that Larry Garron set on Nov. 3, 1962.
In New England's next game, a Saturday night divisional playoff win over Indianapolis, Blount did something Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders never did. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards and four touchdowns in a postseason game.
The Patriots, once again, plucked off another player who had worn out his role in another city and revitalized him in New England, just like it had done with Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and others.
New England needs more from Blount, who suddenly and unexpectedly has become one of the NFL's biggest offseason pickups.