"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Friday, January 22, 2016

NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS: CLOSE PICKS AND BRADY-MANNING FOR A FIFTH TIME IN THE PLAYOFFS

New England (13 - 4) 24 @ Denver (13 - 4) 27: Is this the final time we'll see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the two best quarterbacks of their generation, facing off in a playoff game? It certainly feels like it, not because Brady is nearing the end, but more that Manning's physical abilities seem to be diminishing to the point that we can legitimately question whether he can return for another season. Certainly both the Broncos and the Patriots are fully capable of putting playoff caliber teams on the field for years to come. But it's doubtful that future Denver squads will be led by Peyton Manning. Overall, Brady holds a significant edge in wins over Manning. In the playoffs, however, both have won twice on their home fields. In this game, what Denver needs to do to get Manning to his fourth Super Bowl in pretty simple. They can't give Brady time to find TE Rob Gronkowski or WR Julian Edelman open for short passes, like they were able to do last week against Kansas City. On the other side of the ball, the Bronco receivers can't drop passes like they did against the Steelers. For the Patriots, they just have to do what they do, and that is to consistently find a way to move the chains on offense and make Manning sustain long drives, something he hasn't been able to do on a consistent basis. For me, I'm struggling with whether to make this pick with my head, or go with the heart. I'm a long-standing Manning fan, partially because he played for the Colts, the team that preceded the Redskins as my favorite NFL team. I was probably more a John Unitas fan than I was one for the team with which he played, and the same was true of Manning's time in Indianapolis. When he moved on to Denver, my allegiance followed. Now, nearing the end of his illustrious career, his long-time nemesis stands between Manning a a potential career-ending Super Bowl victory. If the Broncos can't get to Brady, his receivers are healthy and the Broncos make a mistake or two, then the Patriots will be headed to Santa Cruz for Super Bowl L. My head says that's more likely than not, but every once in a while things work out the way they're supposed to in sports and that would surely be Peyton Manning getting rewarded with a second Championship, a la John Elway. So the heart it is.

 Arizona (14 - 3) 27 @ Carolina (16 - 1) 31: Is there more pressure when you represent an entire state as opposed to just a city? And in the case of Carolina, it could be that they are carrying the hopes of a couple of states, even though they play in the northern one. Anyway, I digress. Regardless of geographical details, these two teams own the top records in the NFL. They both performed consistently well throughout the season, with the exception of Arizona's abysmal game against the Seahawks to end the regular season. The biggest concern for Panther fans is going to be their inability to hold some big leads late in games. It didn't actually end up costing them any wins, but eventually that can come back to haunt a team. For the other team, Cardinal fans should be concerned about the back-to-back lackluster home performances and now the team needs to find a way to go on the road and get back to the level of play they had during a nine game winning streak that included four victories over playoff teams, the same number the Panthers recorded during the entire season. Overall, these teams are very evenly matched, and the three point spread in Carolina's favor is due only to the home field advantage. As we saw last week, west coast teams heading east can be difficult, but the Seahawks had to be ready to play at 10:00 am PST. With the 5:40 pm start, the Cardinals have the advantage of a more normal kickoff from a body clock perspective. If Arizona can click again on offense and slow down Panther QB Cam Newton, they have a good chance at the win. But there is just something about this Carolina team that seems destined to get to the Super Bowl. Their defense is tenacious and even though Seattle got to within a touchdown last week, it never seemed as if the Panthers were in danger of getting caught. Did they get a little conservative on offense? Sure. Did they have a breakdown or two on special teams? Absolutely. But in the end, are they playing for a spot in the Super Bowl? Yes. Can they take the next step? I think so.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords