Go ahead. Amuse yourself with the Patriots’ prospects against the Ravens, Colts, or fraud Texans.
Not me. I’m jumping ahead to the main draw. I’m fast-forwarding to the game that destiny demands.
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship game.
It’s the game you want. It’s the game the NFL has wanted since Manning made “The Decision.’’ And now we are going to get it . . . in three weeks. When assorted Colts, Ravens, Bengals, and fraud Texans have been sent home.
Get set for an avalanche of clichés over the next two weeks. The Patriots will assure us that they have no preferred opponent for their second-round game Jan. 13 at Gillette. They’ll prepare for the Colts, Ravens, and Texans. Bill Belichick will tell us he probably won’t even watch the first-round games. He’ll just wait to hear who wins, then look at the film.
But does anybody think there is any way to prevent the dream matchup of Brady-Manning in the conference championship?
Not bloody likely. Brady-Manning is to Roger Goodell what Celtics-Lakers is to David Stern. It’s Yankees-Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. It’s Ali-Frazier IV. It’s Larry-Magic. Do you really think Matt Schaub is going to mess with the Dream Matchup?
Bring your popcorn. Brady-Manning at Mile High will be the 2013 version of the “1812 Overture.” It’ll be played one day before Inauguration Day and it’s guaranteed to get a better rating than the Obama-fest.
The Broncos are the No. 1 seed. They have won 11 in a row. They have the Wilt Chamberlain of quarterbacks.
But the Patriots have the Bill Russell of QBs. The Patriots are the third-highest scoring machine in NFL history. They went 6-0 in the Georgetown Cupcake Division. They have perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history and they are healthier than they have been at any time this season. They won nine of their last 10 games and are ready to unleash what colleague Greg A. Bedard calls their “turbocharged, no-huddle offense.’’
Think the NFL is indifferent about this one? Check out last Sunday’s TV lineup. The league and the networks made sure Manning and Brady played in the coveted 4:30 time slot (resulting in two snoozers, 28-0 and 38-3, thank you very much Les Moonves and Hef Kraft). The Ravens, Bengals, Colts, and fraud Texans were 1 p.m. chattel. Not taken seriously. And they will not be taken seriously in the next couple of weekends. They are a bunch of Washington Generals, waiting to lose as the league and the networks get ready for the big CBS game between the Patriots and Broncos — Brady and Manning — in two weeks and five days.
So, what do we make of the imposters standing in New England’s path?
Clearly, the team the Patriots would love to play is Houston. The 11-1 Texans were exposed in Foxborough last month and never recovered from their abject humiliation. They are the worst playoff team since last year’s 8-8 Broncos. In the second half of the 2012 NFL campaign, the Texans had to go to overtime to beat the woeful Jaguars and Lions. They were annihilated in “the biggest game in franchise history,’’ got smoked at home last week by the Vikings, then couldn’t beat an Indy team (another “biggest game in franchise history”) in a game in which the Colts had nothing to gain.
It’s pretty simple. The Texans are chokers. They are not ready for prime time. All Patriots fans should hope the Texans find a way to win at home on Saturday against the Bengals. Gary Kubiak’s guys could wear their letterman jackets to Foxborough for yet another “biggest game in franchise history.’’
More likely, the Patriots will get the winner of Indianapolis at Baltimore.
I love the Colts-Ravens matchup. Every Baltimorean over the age of 40 hates the Colts and owner Jim Irsay. Jim’s dad, the late Bob Irsay, was the man who moved the Colts out of Baltimore under the cover of darkness in 1984.
The Colts will be portrayed as a threat, but we know this isn’t true. The Patriots thrashed the Colts (59-24) here in November. It was a game that raised the issue of Belichick running up the score. Had it been Little League, the slaughter rule would have been invoked. Now it’s going to be a second-round playoff game. At Gillette?
The Ravens would seem to have a sliver of a chance to beat New England. Baltimore beat the Patriots by a point earlier this season and the Ravens have one of the few coaches who is not afraid of Belichick. But the Patriots of January 2013 and the Ravens of January 2013 look nothing like the two teams that played one another in Baltimore in September. The Ravens are badly wounded, lost four of their last five games, and are led by a suspect quarterback, Joe Flacco.
So, there you have it. Three teams with no chance to stop the Patriots on the road to Denver.
Brady-Manning. It is going to happen. January 20. Manning and the Broncos are the only folks with a chance to keep the Patriots from a return trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.