Gene Collier: Brady vs. Manning? No, it's the X factor

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Though the feverish media ramp-up to today's AFC championship would have you think otherwise, sources have told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will actually be joined by several dozen other players on the field today in Denver.

Seriously; it won't just be the two of them.

What's more, several sources indicated, any of these "other players" could, in fact, determine the outcome of the game.

Honest to Pete.

In last year's postseason, perhaps you'll remember, we spent a week digesting the relative merits of Manning and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, only to have Baltimore's passport to the AFC championship game stamped by an obscure customs operative named Rahim Shaheed Moore.

It was Moore, a star-crossed Broncos defensive back, who lost contact with Ravens wideout Jacoby Jones, who scalded him for a 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in what became, at that instant, a 38-35 Baltimore victory.

Moreover, AFC championship game history is laced with instances of marginal players bearing late-game atrocities, such as -- random example here -- Tim McKyer letting San Diego's Tony Martin beat him for the 43-yard title-clinching touchdown that poisoned the Steelers 20 years ago this week, a heavily-favored Steelers team with its Super Bowl video already in the can, no less.

Oh, you'd forgotten?

So sorry.

The search for the results of the next chapter in this Brady-vs.-Manning narrative has been something of a fool's mission this week, as there's a slice of empirical evidence to tempt everyone's prejudice.

New England will win because Brady has beaten Manning 10 times in 14 tries?


Denver will win because Denver (with or without Manning) is one of only two teams in the entire league with a winning record (6-5) against Brady (the Giants being the other).


New England will win because Brady has never lost to a defense under the direction of now-Broncos coordinator Jack Del Rio. He's 7-0 vs. JDR.


Please make it stop.

I'll tell you pretty confidently what is not going to happen. Tom Brady is not going to the Super Bowl with zero postseason touchdown passes on his dossier. He threw zero last week against Indianapolis, but the Patriots scored six rushing touchdowns as they jumped on the Colts faster than Paul Revere to his mount.

The NFL's vast academy of skittish trend spotters thought the game had cranked the clock back to 1940, but I expect a bit of a correction today in Colorado, which is now progressive enough in at least one aspect that it has introduced a factor that has never appeared in pre-conference title game coverage.

On Friday, Brady found himself in this media exchange, as recounted on

"This is the first time you'll be visiting an NFL city where recreational marijuana use is legal."

Brady: "Are you excited about that?"

"Has anyone advised the young players against it?"

Brady: "We haven't talked about that. Maybe you guys can tell me what that is all about."

"I was just wondering if it would be a temptation."

Brady: "Hopefully not. This is a very important game for us and it's a business trip."

Well that clears that up.

Everyone knows no one has ever smoked a joint on a business trip.

Still, should an unfortunate Patriot make perhaps a forgetful mistake at a critical point in this one, I can almost here someone in Boston screaming at his TV: "He's on dope!"

Meanwhile, the NFC's Super Bowl portal will be in Seattle, where the crowd for tonight's Seahawks-49ers showdown will surely be deafening. Seattle's Derrick Coleman won't notice though, because he's deaf.

"No we didn't," said Seahawks boss Pete Carroll when asked this week if the club has made any special accommodations for a fullback with that disability. "Derrick is very much up front about it and very comfortable with making sure everybody understands that, just, 'Look at me when you talk to me please' and 'Don't get frustrated. I'll get it.'

"I don't even know how he does it under the circumstances, but he's a terrific communicator for us and we don't have any problems with it at all. I would think that at CenturyLink [Field], when it's crazy and he's looking in the huddle, he might be the very best one to get the call from [quarterback] Russell [Wilson]. So he's got an advantage there."

Of all the projected factors relative to Seattle's demonstrably unique crowd noise, that's probably the most intriguing one yet.

Between the Puget Sound fog and the CenturyLink din, you wonder if anyone has noticed that top-seeded Seattle's offense is still fading fast. Marshawn Lynch thundered for 140 yards on the ground last week to eliminate New Orleans from these playoffs, but Wilson's quarterbacking came in at 67.6 on the passer rating scale, which is fairly feeble.

The 49ers, despite awful outcomes in this venue on their previous two visits (they got outscored, 71-16), look like the more stable outfit for the moment. They've won eight in a row, every single game since the return of a healthy wideout Michael Crabtree, and most recently in difficult circumstances at bone-chilling Green Bay and on the road again at hyper-chippy Carolina.

I like San Francisco by approximately 19-17, and Denver approximately 27-23, which virtually guarantees you'll be enjoying a New England-Seattle Super Bowl.

Gene Collier:

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