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A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that there was an unusual split among the NFL’s top teams. All of the best teams had outstanding quarterback play, but there was a distinct split among the “old guard” of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, and the “new breed” of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
The NFL playoffs have featured intriguing matches throughout the playoffs, if you subscribe to my theory. Kaepernick, tattoos and all, went into Green Bay and beat Rodgers and the Packers in frozen conditions, while Brees put down the Philadelphia Eagles in Philly as New Orleans advanced. In the conference semifinals, the NFC saw Wilson and Seattle dismantle Brees and the Saints, while Kaepernick and the 49ers went into Carolina and eliminated Newton and the Panthers.
On the AFC side, Luck led Indianapolis on one of the more incredible finishes to beat Kansas City, while San Diego squelched Cincinnati. In their conference semifinals, Manning whipped San Diego in Denver, and Brady and New England put a stop to any ideas Luck and the Indianapolis Colts might have dreamt up.
So, if you’re following the scorecard, the young hotshots are riding high in the NFC, while the old guard is having another great run in the AFC.
This weekend, Wilson and Seattle are at home against Kaepernick and the 49ers in what might be the most intriguing game of the season. If it isn’t, then New England going to Denver, where Tom Brady can trade touchdown passes with Peyton Manning in a perfect showdown of great veterans, might be. Me? I’m picking the Seahawks young gun to beat San Francisco’s young gun. And I’m picking Manning to outgun Brady, who is having a great year, even while his team seems to have dwindled around him.
The New Orleans-Seattle game was sometimes breathtaking as Brees was stifled for a half, then led the Saints back to within range. But that game bothered me for the violence. Both sides were hitting with shuddering authority. Look no further than Percy Harvin, the former Vikings multiple-threat speedster had missed most of the season, then came back and was rocked enough to go back on the injured list. He made his return, by surprise, against New Orleans, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think the Saints had returned to their bullyings bounty days the way the slammed, pounded, and nearly beheaded Harvin. Twice he made big plays but was injured, and the third time, he left the game with what appeared to be an obvious concussion. He could be done, and that’s too bad.
HIGH SCHOOLS HIT STRIDE
Denfeld deserves better than it’s gotten in several hockey games this season, and the Hunters played arch-rival Duluth East with great intensity and effort, but even River Alander’s heroic goaltending couldn’t help the Hunters avoid losing 3-0 to the Greyhounds.
The East outfit has come on strong, with perhaps its biggest conquest an unheard of invasion of the IRA Arena in Grand Rapids to inflict a stunning 5-0 setback on the Thunderhawks last week. And the Hounds were unrelenting against Denfeld, and Gunnar Howg got the shutout.
It was a tight, tough, 0-0 game into the second period when Alex Trapp scored by blasting a long, screened shot past Alander at 2:29 of the second period. It stayed that way until Ryan Peterson caught a pass from Alex Altmann behind the net and darted out to score on the left side at 14:30 of the middle period.
The final was determined when Jack Kolar, recently returned from an injury that had kept him out most of the season, walked in to blast a loose long rebound with a full-force shot at 14:05. Alander had little chance on that one, but he made 30 saves in a determined effort at Heritage Arena.
East dropped a 5-2 game to Blaine on Tuesday, and faces a wild week with games at Apple Valley Thursday, Maple Grove Saturday, and Forest Lake next Tuesday. The Greyhounds have had to work strenuously for every goal this season, but, typical of a Mike Randolph-coached outfit, when the ’Hounds play intense, tight defensive hockey, they can find ways to beat a lot of very good teams.