Football doesn't care about feelings. I learned that as a fan during the 2000 NFL playoffs. I probably should have learned it in the early 90's, when Jim Kelly and the Bills reached FOUR (!) straight Super Bowls, winning none. Sure would have been a nice story to have them win the last one and break the glass ceiling. But the Cowboys' dynasty was a great story, too. And I was young enough to be fascinated by "America's Team."
The rest of the 90's was filled with storybook endings. Steve Young emerging from Joe Montana's shadow, Brett Favre's validation as a top-notch QB (don't really like that one as much), and of course, Elway's redemption with two Lombardis in a row. Kurt Warner's rise from grocery store shelf-stocker to Super Bowl MVP was the perfect ending to a decade of storybook endings in the NFL. But it also set the table for what I was about to learn.
The Tennessee Titans came so close against the Rams. Kevin Dyson's catch over the middle, tackled by London Fletcher at the 1-yard line. Remember? He just couldn't reach far enough. But the best team won that season, and I was fine with it.
The next year, the Titans came roaring back. They still had Steve McNair, Eddie George and Kevin Dyson. They still had the great Jeff Fischer as head coach. They were a dominant 13-3 during the regular season. They won their final three games of the season by a combined score of 90-3. As I recall, the clear favorite to win it all. After all, the #1 seed in the NFC was the Kerry Collins Giants.
Then came the playoffs. If there was any justice, the team that came one yard shy of the Super Bowl the year before and got themselves back to this spot would win. Except football doesn't care about feelings. In the divisional round, the Baltimore Ravens, possibly the worst offense for a Super Bowl champ of all time, went into Nashville and out-toughed the Titans. I remember vividly a young Ray Lewis ripping the ball from Eddie George and returning it 50 yards for the clinching pick-6. I couldn't believe it. Until then, the best teams in the NFL seemed to consistently come through in the playoffs (in my lifetime, anyway). Yet the Ravens, led by Trent Dilfer, gained 134 yards total and won the game. They had just six 1st downs. Dilfer went 5-16 passing! But they played great defense. They were tougher. They were more physical. They won ugly.
By no means would I compare these Patriots to those Ravens. The defense for the Pats is obviously nowhere near the record-setting performance of Baltimore back then. But ask yourself this: Are the 2013 Patriots tougher than most teams? Are they a team that wins ugly? The answer to those questions is a resounding yes. And that's why I'm picking the Patriots this week to beat the Broncos on the road and head for the Super Bowl in the cold.
The storybook ending for Peyton Manning would be riding his Broncos into the sunset. He's on the best team. He set all kinds of records. He's getting close to the end of an illustrious career. He came close but got crushed by a bad luck hail mary last season (ironically, against the Ravens). The script says the Broncos should represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Except for one thing: football doesn't care about feelings.
Follow Brendan on Twitter @FITZonFOX25