Take Peyton Manning for example. If his team is playing, and the forecast calls for cold weather, what are you going to hear about? If you said, “Peyton Manning can’t win in the cold,” or something like that, then you’ve been paying attention. Is it true? I don’t know. You can bet, however, that whoever is doing the talking will have statistics, those double-agents that lie for both sides, to back them up.
Me, I go by what I see. Streaks and ancient history don’t mean a lot to me. I stick with what I know, and, when it comes to Peyton Manning and cold weather, I only know two things.
The first has to do with last season’s AFC Divisional Playoff Game, played between the Broncos and Ravens in frigid conditions at Mile High Stadium. As the game wore on, Manning looked progressively worse. His passes seemed to lack the zip he had displayed throughout the season. Toward the end of the 4th quarter, the Broncos passed up an opportunity to drive to score the winning points in regulation, choosing instead to take their chances in overtime. During the coin toss before the extra session, Manning looked visibly miserable. Granted, this was Manning’s 17th game of a season in which he came back after multiple neck surgeries and a year away from the game. Manning has been phenomenal this season, and thus far has shown no signs of slowing down.
The other thing I know is something that I only discovered this week, and it is significant. Whatever you or I or the media think about the cold weather issue ultimately means nothing. However, what Manning thinks is another matter, and now I know that it bothers him. Listen to this short clip (specifically, from 0:38 to 1:10) from an interview with Manning after his Broncos whipped the Titans 51-28. When the subject is broached, he immediately becomes flustered and shows a bit of an edge. I was surprised by this. I’m used to Peyton the QB machine, the computer in cleats. As much as he might want people to believe that it doesn’t bother him, as much as he wants to believe it himself, his instinctive, unguarded reaction is very telling.
Will this become an issue in the playoffs? Manning has performed extremely well in the cold at Mile High this season. However, the Broncos’ upset loss to the Chargers this past Thursday handed control of the top AFC seed race to the New England Patriots. Foxborough, especially in the playoffs, is a whole different kind of cold for Manning. It’s in his head. I know it now.
Texans at Colts
Can the Colts regain the early-season form that had them looking like world-beaters, before injuries brought them crashing down, in time for the playoffs? Lately, there seems like no better cure for a team’s woes than to play the Texans. Winner: Colts
49ers at Buccaneers
Can the 49ers stave off the hard-charging Cardinals and make it back to the playoffs? Tampa will be a tough test, especially for a San Francisco team travelling clear across the country. The ‘niners need to keep their edge over Arizona, lest their Week 17 face off become a winner-take-all affair. Winner: 49ers
Seahawks at Giants
Will we be seeing this Seahawks team in New Jersey again in February? Seattle has the inside track for the top seed in the NFC, and are extremely tough to beat at home. The disappointing Giants are playing out the string. Winner: Seahawks
Eagles at Vikings
Are the Eagles poised to take the NFC East title? Philly currently holds a one game lead over Dallas. The Vikings may be without Adrian Peterson this week. Either way, I don’t think it matters. Winner: Eagles
Bills at Jaguars
If they decided not to play this game at all, would it matter? I mean, both teams are 4-9. They could simulate it on a video game, or play board games or something. It would save wear and tear on the players’ bodies. Haven’t there been enough injuries this season? Tie
Bears at Browns
Can Jay Cutler lead Chicago to a division crown? Somehow (OK, the Lions helped a lot) the Bears are still in the hunt for the NFC North title. They’ll be facing a Browns team coming off a “What just happened?” loss to New England. Winner: Bears
Patriots at Dolphins
Can Miami improve its playoff chances while taking a huge Dolphin-crap on the gift the Chargers handed the Pats by beating the Broncos? New England has been in this position before; win out, and the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough. Winner: Patriots
How will Washington react to the RGIII shutdown? Really, Kirk Cousins starting at QB is the only thing keeping this game from being relegated to the same status as the Bills/Jags clash. I’m going with the new blood. Winner: Washington
Chiefs at Raiders
Can the Chiefs stay healthy enough for a good run at the playoffs? Realistically, KC has no chance to catch Denver for the division lead, as the Broncs finish their season against Houston and Oakland. I still say that, healthy, this Chiefs team is a nightmare matchup for anyone in the playoffs, particularly with its top pass rushers in top form. Winner: Chiefs
Jets at Panthers
How will the Panthers bounce back after a tough loss to the Saints? Carolina will be just fine, thanks. As for Geno Smith, well, I envision a slew of turnovers, leading to an ugly loss. Winner: Panthers
Cardinals at Titans
Can the surging Cardinals keep pace with the 49ers? All Arizona can do at this point is handle their own business and hope for some help from one of San Fran’s opponents. Winner: Cardinals
Saints at Rams
Can the Saints make the Super Bowl without winning the NFC number one seed? Though the Saints are iffy on the road, this game’s in a dome, against an offence with not nearly as much firepower. Potential playoff destination Seattle will not be nearly as accommodating. Winner: Saints
Can the Cowboys catch Philadelphia in the NFC East Race? Is there any point to Aaron Rodgers playing again this season? Whichever team loses here is surely out of playoff contention. The Dallas defence will once again be without Sean Lee, so Tony Romo et al will have to shoot it out. I like their chances. Winner: Cowboys
Bengals at Steelers
Has everyone forgotten about the Bengals, and do they prefer it that way? Cincy seems to be peaking again at just the right time. How sweet would it be to drive the final (steel) nail into the coffin of Pittsburgh’s season? Winner: Bengals
Ravens at Lions
Are the Ravens going to be around to defend their title? If Detroit blows the NFC North, how many Lions will be arrested in the offseason? Ravens in a big, nationally-televised game vs. Lions in a big, nationally-televised game. Never go against your core beliefs. Winner: Ravens (Loser: Lions)