Happy MLK day to everyone. Here's hoping you got the day off. If you didn't, well, here's hoping you enjoy this mid-morning distraction.
From the "Talks too much" studios, what a great Sunday. Good times.
NFL conference title games — AFC
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, left, holds the trophy after the AFC Championship NFL playoff game against the New England Patriots in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 26-16 to advance to the Super Bowl.
That was an entertaining Sunday with Denver beating New England 26-16 and Seattle beating San Francisco 23-17. Peyton Manning's Broncos will face the Seahawks in the Super Bowl in 13 days. We know this.
What else do we know from the AFC title game?
We know that Manning was nearly perfect, going 32-of-43 for 400 yards and leading his team to points on six consecutive drives. We know that this game will be a major feather in the cap of Manning's legacy, considering he did that against his nemeses Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and he did it in the AFC title game. If Manning and Co. can win the Super Bowl, well, the argument that Manning is the best ever will be tough to counter.
We know that Manning, regardless of what happens in NYC in the Super Bowl, has had the greatest single season for a quarterback ever. In fact, if Manning and Co. win the Super Bowl, here's saying that this will be the best single season for an individual in football history and on the Rushmore of individual single-seasons in team sports history up there with Wilt averaging 50 a night (dude scored a lot... Thank you, thank you), Babe hitting 54 homers in 1927 (his total was more than every other AL team) and Gretzky (pick any of the early 1980s seasons, but likely 81-82).
We know that Tom Brady has played 26 postseason games and is 16-4 against teams with a non-Manning quarterback.
We know that the Broncos are a slight favorite in the Super Bowl and with Manning as the centerpiece, the hype will be monstrous.
NFL conference title games — NFC
The Seahawks will certainly be a small underdog according to Vegas and the official 'villain' team in this Super Bowl match-up for two reasons: 1) Peyton Manning; 2) The Richard Sherman smack-talk after Seattle's win over San Francisco.
Before we go any further, we must say the following facts in defense of Richard Sherman:
Point a: They shoved a microphone in his face moments after making the biggest play of the game — and likely in Seahawks history — that turned a potential game-winning TD pass into a Super Bowl ticket-clinching interception and we expected him not to be emotional? Really?
Point b: Everyone criticizes athletes and coaches for speaking in cliches and 'coach-speak' and now they are going to blast a guy for speaking with emotion and heart.
Point c: Sherman is a cornerback — the best cornerback in the league — and corners have to be a different bunch of geese when it comes to confidence. That is a group of cats that have to believe they are bullet-proof and 10-feet tall or they will get exposed and blistered in front of millions.
Point d: Sherman took to the Twitter afterward and said there was a ton of smack-talk before the game from both sides — which hardly seems like a stretch since these teams are division rivals and everyone this side of Jim Harbaugh mocked Cam Newton's 'Superman' move last week. (Side note: Sherman's Tweet, "A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of a sheep." was every bit as dominant as his play.)
Did Sherman go a step too far? More than likely, and certainly by touching Michael Crabtree after the game — surprised there was not a fight there all things considered. And yes, you can celebrate without rubbing the other guys' noses in it, so we are not endorsing Sherman per se, but we certainly are not going to blast him either.
AS for the 49ers, he fundamental truth is if those players do not like it, beat him. This is still sports and thankfully it is still more meritocracy than any other walk of life, so if you want to shut someone up, beat them. Period.
That said, the ups and downs of the 59:38 of the Seahawks win before Sherman made his amazing, game-saving, smack-talk-worthy play was great theater. The game was intensely physical and physically intense. It was dominated by defense, and that domination forced near-perfection for major offensive strides.
It also raised a slew of questions about whether Colin Kaepernick can be 'That' guy for the 49ers for years to come. He ran for 130 yards — 58 of that coming on one big first-half run — but managed just 32 rushing yards after the half. Forced to stay in the pocket after the adjustments at intermission, Kaepernick finished with three fourth-quarter turnovers that crippled the 49ers. In fact, Kaepernick finished just 14-of-24 despite not being blitzed once.
You have to wonder if the 49ers are willing to push in the $15-18 million that a bona fide starting QB demands considering it would cut into the team's salary cap and force major roster overhaul.
The paths of the UT Vols and the UTC Mocs men's basketball programs are currently on opposite trajectories despite roughly similar records.
The Vols are 11-6 and 2-2 in the SEC. They are confounding and plodding. The NCAA tournament appears within reach, but this is a senior-dominated team in a freshman-oriented game and that experience has helped the Vols only marginally. Here's TFP ace columnist Mark Wiedmer's view of the Vols' close-but-no-cigar loss http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/jan/19/are-vols-just-good-enough-to-fall-short/#comments at Kentucky on Saturday.
UTC is 12-8 and has won eight in a row. The Mocs are 6-0 in a subpar SoCon, but that's way better than anyone expected and way better than anyone could have dreamed, regardless of the status of the league.
Both the Mocs and Vols play hard, but UTC in Will Wade's first year, seem to be the more efficient and confident team, which is a credit to Wade and his staff and puzzling for Cuonzo Martin and Co.
The Vols should be better and they should be mentally tougher. They are not.
The Mocs should be struggling in a lot of ways and they would get a pass because of the newness of the system and the staff. They have not accepted either fact.
Strange times indeed.
This and that
— As all-around TFP ace Stephen Hargis tells us here, the Mocs now have 11 football commitments with a little more than two weeks left before signing day. There is nice balance in the class, too, as of the 11, there are four linemen (a potential fifth, depending what the future holds for former East Hamilton tight end and UTC commit Bailey Lenoir), three defensive backs and a running back. We feel sure the Mocs would like to add a QB and at least one WR, but the class has a good look for sure.
— Vandy hired Derek Mason — no, not that Derrick Mason — as its next head coach. The former Stanford defensive coordinator won the news conference over the weekend for sure. But we all know winning the news conference does not count for much in the grand scheme of things.
— Southern man don't need him around any how. Holy buckets, according to reports, Nick Saban did the Electric Slide and Lane Kiffin sang "Sweet Home Alabama" during a get-together Saturday night with recruits parents at Saban's home. If there was video of this, it would melt the internet. As good as this Alabama recruiting class is — and it's one of the best ever — if Saban and Kiffin spend more than one season together, the Tide's 2015 class could be sick.
— Side point from the NFL: Are we ready for a football world in which Pete Carroll could have a could join some elite company, joining Jimmie Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win a national title and a Super Bowl. And Carroll would be the only one with a BCS title and a Super Bowl. Yes Pete Carroll.
— That said, we know we can count on a few things in sports. And Phil Mickelson is one of them. Dude was in position to win the European Tour event he was in this weekend when he sprayed a driver wildly on the par-4 13th. It landed under a bush and Lefty tried to hit a right-handed punch out that he actually double-hit before taking a drop. He made a triple and lost by a shot. Afterward he said, "I've done some dumb s* in my career." Yes you have Phil, but in a sports world filled with craziness, you may be the most predictably unpredictable part of it.
Who won the weekend?
Did Manning's legacy change Sunday? Did Brady's?
How much would you pay to see the video of Kiffin singing Sweet Home Alabama?
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...