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Super Bowl XLVIII Set

Broncos and Seahawks win division championship games

The play that sealed the game for Seattle over San Francisco
Image via ESPN.com
The play that sealed the game for Seattle over San Francisco

The final four teams in the National Football League have been whittled down to two. The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will meet on Sunday, Feb. 2 in Super Bowl XLVIII.

In the first game on Sunday afternoon, the New England Patriots visited Mile High Stadium in Denver, losing to the Broncos. Peyton Manning and company jumped out to a meager 3-0 lead in the first quarter. However, once the second quarter began, Manning went on a 7-minute drive for the first touchdown of the game. Nine minutes in, the Patriots finally kicked a field goal to get on the board. With only 30 seconds left in the first half, Matt Prater kicked his own for Denver, and New England couldn't do anything in the time remaining, sending the game to halftime with the Broncos up 13-3.

When the Broncos received the ball to start the second half, they began a drive that culminated with a Manning touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas that took up almost half the quarter. Denver worked methodically—but not slowly—and went up 20-3. Of course, Tom Brady and the Patriots have never been a team to roll over and die.

Subsequently, on their next drive, the Patriots, driven by Brady's accuracy and coach Bill Belichick's relentlessness, went for the first down on 4th and 2. Unfortunately for New England, Brady was sacked on the play by Terrance Knighton. To add insult to injury, on Denver's first play after the turnover, Manning threw for more than 20 yards to Thomas once again, setting up the switch of sides on the field between the third and the fourth. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Broncos had a mere 12 yards to conquer. However, it took the orange squad more than three minutes of game time to score, as Denver was called for holding twice on that opening drive. The Broncos settled for a field goal, going up 23-3 with 12 minutes left in the game.

Then things got crazy. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an impeccable touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin and the Seahawks drove back up their side for a field goal, kicked by Steven Hauschka. With a 17-13 edge, the 49ers began the 4th quarter on defense.

New England still gave it a go in the 4th quarter, driving for a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining. When the Pats went for 2 and failed in their conversion, though, the game took on an all-but inevitable feel. The proceeding onside kick was successfully caught by the Broncos and the formality of running through an obligatory offense began to unfold. Belichick took the timeouts he still had, and the two-minute warning stopped the action one more time, but the game was over.

In the second game of the afternoon, the Seahawks pulled out a victory in Seattle. The first half gave the illusion that the game was the 49ers' to lose, with San Francisco going into the tunnel up 10-3. But the third quarter started with a bang, as Marshawn Lynch ran in a touchdown for Seattle, knotting the score at 10-10.

Then things got crazy. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an impeccable touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin and the Seahawks drove back up their side for a field goal, kicked by Steven Hauschka. With a 17-13 edge, the 49ers began the 4th quarter on defense.

On 4th and 7, Seattle QB Russell Wilson tossed a bomb to Jermaine Kearse, going 35 yards for the touchdown and the first lead of the game for the Seahawks. When Hauschka kicked yet another field goal with only three and a half minutes remaining, the 49ers suddenly needed a touchdown. Kaepernick put them in great position to get the win, throwing a beautiful pass to Michael Crabtree with thirty seconds left on the clock. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, though, was there for the block, tipping it to Malcolm Smith, who laid down in the end zone. The game ended with the Seahawks up 23-17.

With the Pro Bowl next weekend, Super Bowl XLVIII two weeks away and media week in between, we'll have plenty of time to ponder questions about the big game coming up. Sherman already made some provocative comments after the victory against San Francisco, which certainly dispel some of the pre-game narrative that Seattle was the blue-collar hard-working team. And Peyton Manning will face plenty of questions, yet again, about his ability to perform in cold weather. In 2 weeks, the 2013-2014 NFL season will be over. For now, though, we've got two teams left.

sports

NBA Finals Begin Tonight

Spurs vs. Heat makes for an interesting match-up

NBA Finals Preview: Spurs/Heat
NBA Finals Preview: Spurs/Heat

The NBA Finals begin Thursday night when the San Antonio Spurs play in Miami against the Heat. The Spurs, idle for nine days after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies will fight against the idea that they've had too much time to rest. The Heat, who rested only for a third of that time,after grinding out a game seven victory over the Indiana Pacers, look to repeat after winning the Larry O'Brien championship last year.

There are tons of potential plot lines going into these finals, but there's little concrete evidence to aid in a prediction. The teams played only two games during the regular season and they both have enormous asterisks next to their results. Coach Gregg Popovich—himself one of the most interesting subplots insofar as his brusque interview style during games—sent most of his starters home, without notifying the NBA in due time, before the Spurs' visit to Miami on November 29. Then, the JV lineup for the Spurs nearly beat the Heat. And Pop, officially for not giving notice in time, but ostensibly for throwing a nationally broadcast game with the reigning champs, was fined $250,000. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, said the Spurs organization did a, "disservice to the league and our fans." Fans of the Spurs, on the other hand, saw their second-stringers nearly beat the best team in the league, on their court.

Given the hubbub surrounding their previous match up, when the Heat visited San Antonio four months later, the national media's interest was piqued. This time, the Spurs were near full strength, missing only Manu Ginobili, who sat out with a strained hamstring. The Heat, however, were not. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both out, the Heat still managed to eke out a two-point win in the AT&T Center. It's worth noting that James and Wade were definitely hurt as they had played in the previous game but did not play in the Heat's next, at New York. Coach Pop, feigning surprise and hostility at the news of James and Wade missing the game, was gracious enough to not comment on the fact that the Heat were not fined when their players missed the game.

So, the regular season games are tossed out the window, if not taken with an enormous chunk of salt. What does that leave prognosticators with? James has faced the Spurs in the Finals before. In 2007, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team was swept by the Spurs. He has acknowledged that he'd love revenge for the loss that came so early in his career. But James was a completely different player and these Heat are not only geographically different from those Cavs - the presence of All-Stars, in Wade and Chris Bosh, a former Finals MVP, again Wade, and the small ball revolution that the Heat fully embraced during last year's championship run - the past history seems just as invalid.

Looking at the paths both teams took results in just as much confusion. The Western Conference was seen as vastly more competitive. But the Spurs swept both their first round opponents, the Lakers, and their Western Conference Finals opponents, the Grizzlies. The Heat were far and away the best team in the East, almost universally assumed to come out on top. After sweeping the first round against the Bucks, though, they gave away a game to Chicago and fought for a five-game victory in that series. Then came the Pacers, who took the Heat to seven games, and had some pundits believing in Indiana's ability to take the series.

So what does it actually come down to? The Heat have the best player in LeBron James. There can be no denying that. But Tim Duncan, the rock of the Spurs for the last sixteen years, is just as good now as he was in the early championship days. The Heat have home court advantage, but the format shifts in the Finals to a 2-3-2, wherein the lower seed gets three games in a row at home. It's a matter of debate who this actually benefits. The Heat will look to run more than they got to against the Pacers, but Tony Parker, point guard for the Spurs, has looked incredible at all speeds. The Heat have the Vegas odds on their side, as well as the majority of the expert picks. They won last year and are a mere four games away from repeating. The Finals start tonight at 7 MST and all games are broadcast on ABC.

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