LITTLE ROCK — Confidently written hours before the New England-Denver kickoff, the declarative sentence said, “The Feb. 2 Super Bowl in New Jersey is intriguing.”
Once the league championship opponents were decided, the NFL couldn’t miss with any combination of Patriots or Broncos vs. Seattle or San Francisco. Among the guarantees:
• First ballot of Hall of Fame pocket passer vs. a 20-something running threat.
• Veteran NFL coach vs. a coach who made the successful transition to the NFL after winning regularly in college.
• One of the best defenses in the league vs. a quarterback with 50 TD passes in a season.
Mix in the weather and Super Bowl No. 48 is anticipated. Fretting about the possibility of bad weather, the NFL has contingency plans in place, but those of us who grew up on pre-dome football and fondly remember the 1967 NFL championship game between Green Bay and Dallas are hoping for snow and 24 degrees.
Comfortable in front of their TVs, fans are fascinated by cold-weather games. Coverage of the NFC wild card game in Green Bay in early January drew 47.1 million viewers and was the highest rated wild card game in at least 25 years. If winter weather prevails, there might be empty seats in the stadium, but Super Bowl commercials will play to a huge audience.
Hyped as Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, the first playoff game on Sunday was a bust. In the second game, the punch, counter punch by both teams and improv skills of the quarterbacks were appreciated, but both Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson made mistakes that would cause high school coaches to cringe.
Personally, the regret is that New England defensive back Aqib Talib was injured early. Those who delight in taking pot shots at Manning will cite Talib’s exit as the reason for Demaryius Thomas’ big day. Although Talib’s injury was a factor in the outcome, equally important were New England’s no-show running game and Manning’s orchestration of time-consuming, point-producing possessions.
Both Manning and Brady missed open receivers, including Brady’s deep throw that would have been a first-half touchdown.
Miscues in Seattle were more basic — fumbles, botched snaps from center, grounding, bad handoffs, ignorance of the clock, and throwing to a well-covered receiver. In the end, with three timeouts in his pocket, Kaepernick forced one on first down.
Other than a TD pass on a free play and a 51-yard completion after running around, Wilson didn’t make many plays. He must do more for the Seahawks to beat the Broncos.
Arkansas’ appearance in two projected NCAA Tournament brackets was brief and the Razorbacks are pretty much in a must-win situation at Tennessee on Wednesday if they hope to return to the radar of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS’ Jerry Palm.
A loss in Knoxville and Arkansas will be 1-4 in the SEC. With that in mind, consider the road to 12-6 in the SEC, the minimum for NCAA Tournament consideration. Give the Razorbacks a 7-0 at home for an 8-1 record in Fayetteville and concede that they will lose at Kentucky. That leaves six road games and five of those opponents are 2-2 or better in the league.
A year ago, league champion Florida, SEC Tournament champion Ole Miss, and Missouri were the only league teams in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky and Alabama, both 12-6 in conference, were excluded. Florida and Kentucky will better 12-6 this year, leaving 12 teams for one or two NCAA bids.
There are countless ways to explain Arkansas’ loss at Georgia, but missing 45 shots and 8 of 20 free throws is a start. Does Arkansas have anybody who can initiate needed movement on offense? Rashad Madden’s willingness to take the final shot is saluted, but a no-pass three is not the shot of choice.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.