We are greedy. We don’t want the Patriots to simply embarrass the commissioner, make history, and win Super Bowl LI in Houston Feb. 5. We want to see the Pats settle old scores and beat the highest-profile opponents. That’s why the last two weekends have been a little disappointing as we watched the Giants, Seahawks, and Cowboys get eliminated from the tournament.
I know . . . first thing first. The Patriots have a pretty big game Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. They will be playing in their record sixth consecutive AFC Championship game, facing the ever-dangerous Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Beating Pittsburgh is going to be a lot harder than beating the Texans in the divisional round. (Oh, and Roger Goodell was in Atlanta Saturday, so he’s got to come to Foxborough, right?)
All that said, there’s a popular notion in these parts that no team in the AFC is going to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium this season. That’s what a 15-2 record does.
And right about now I’m dreaming of a Super Bowl matchup featuring New England’s defense against Green Bay gunslinger Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers at this hour is playing as well as any quarterback we have ever seen, and he led the Packers to a stunning 34-31 upset of the top-seeded Cowboys on Sunday. It was easily the best game of the playoffs thus far. With the Cowboys eliminated, the best Super Bowl matchup now looks like Patriots-Packers — a.k.a. Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers.
You start to think this way when your local team is as good as the Patriots. You look at the tourney bracket the same way you peruse a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates. You spend time thinking about which matchup is the sweetest.
Playing the Cowboys in Houston would have been a Lone Star-palooza. It would have been a TV ratings bonanza and set records for secondary-market ticket prices. It would have pitted Old NFL (Brady) vs. New NFL (Dak Prescott). It would have been Bob Kraft vs. Jerry Jones, the battle of klieg lights and high chairs. It would have been a duel of the most envied and hated teams in the NFL. Imagine Brady and the Pats winning their fifth Super Bowl at the expense of America’s Team?
Playing the Seahawks would have been almost as much fun. The Patriots could have avenged Brady’s only loss (31-24) of the 2016 season. We could have listened to Pete Carroll explaining the wisdom of the slant pass in Glendale two years ago. Malcolm Butler could have driven his MVP car (a gift from Brady) to Houston for the big game.
And the Giants? What would have been better than beating Eli Manning in Super Bowl LI? Receiving the Lombardi Trophy from a red-faced Goodell after a beatdown of the New York Football Giants would have been New England’s way of settling all family business.
Not now. The Cowboys, Seahawks, and Giants are all done. If the Patriots win next weekend, they’re going to face either Atlanta or Green Bay.
Atlanta brings almost nothing to the table in terms of story lines. There will be some local resentment if Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is named league MVP Feb. 4, but everybody around here likes Matty Ice. He was a stud quarterback at Boston College when the Eagles were ranked second in the nation (look it up) for a couple of weeks in the autumn of 2007. Old friend Scott Pioli also works for the Falcons. Pioli walked through the fires with Bill Belichick and Brady back in the golden days at the start of this century.
Patriots-Packers would be a better matchup.
The Packers are scaring the hell out of everybody at this hour. Green Bay has won eight in a row. The Packers smoked the staunch Giants defense, 38-13, on wild-card weekend, then stunned the Cowboys in the final seconds Sunday.
No quarterback is hotter than Rodgers at this moment. He made unworldly throws in his dissection of the vaunted Giants, then played even better against the Cowboys.
New England-Green Bay works on multiple levels. The Packers are the founding fathers of the Super Bowl. Vince Lombardi’s Packers won the first two Super Bowls back in 1967 and ’68 — before the game even had Roman numerals. There’s even Super Bowl history between the franchises. In January 1997, the Packers beat the Bill Parcells Patriots, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.
A Packers-Patriots matchup would produce endless Brady-Rodgers comparisons. Watching Brady win a fifth Lombardi Trophy at the expense of Lombardi’s former team would make for a nice story line.
Belichick is on to Pittsburgh. That’s the smart way to proceed.
I’m dreaming of Brady vs. Rodgers.