Things rarely go as planned in the NFL, often due to two of the most unforgiving elements of the game: injury and age. Of course, there is a third; this-is-the-new-NFL variable, which can be equally cruel: a referee’s interpretation of a rule that makes you question what you think you saw and can leave you feeling like you don’t know anything at all.


Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this year’s final four did not deliver the seemingly pre-ordained quartet of New England, Denver, Seattle, and Green Bay. A Dez Bryant catch-or-no-catch, a Peyton Manning instant fossilization, an evil genius Belichickian ploy to line up the running back as ineligible. It’s all a beautiful, bewildering mess that has left us with a Championship Sunday that feels both predictable and inexplicable. An objective analysis of the facts would lead us to believe that it can’t possibly be anything else but the Patriots and the Seahawks squaring off in the Super Bowl — which almost certainly means that definitely won’t happen.


Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers. August 9, 2013.

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers. August 9, 2013.

In the NFC, the Packers and Seahawks have been on a collision course since Week One, when they did, in fact, collide to kick-off the season. It is easy to look back at that game and declare that Seattle is the same dominant, bombastic wrecking crew that they were in September — and back in February 2014 — but this team that took a long journey to wind up in the same place.


The Seahawks were in legitimate panic mode in October, when they resorted to another popular page in the new-age NFL playbook: jettisoning one of your star players with little explanation, other than the simple fact that you just can’t stand having him in your facility every day. With Percy Harvin discarded and the defense facing an identity crisis, Seattle was receiving hyperbolic eulogies from the media. The Seahawks responded by playing their best ball of the season, thrusting themselves back into the Super Bowl conversation. While it is difficult to poke holes in their results, it is worth noting that Seattle played a string of below average quarterbacks (and, in some cases, way below average quarterbacks) for the entirety of that streak. If you include Colin Kaepernick in that mix, they have not beaten a legitimate upper echelon signal caller since topping Eli Manning in Week 10.


The Seahawks will go as far as Russell Wilson takes them, which is not a terrible recipe for success. The same is certainly true for Green Bay, and that opens up the whole Aaron Rodgers calf of worms. If Rodgers were fully healthy, this would be a scintillating matchup. A limited Rodgers, on the other hand, negates much of which the Packers can do to exploit Seattle’s defense. Although Seattle seems a shade or two more beatable than last year, there are skeptics who say this Green Bay team, at this time, is capable of taking the Seahawks down.


The AFC final pairing implores us to ignore recent history, as well as everything our guts are telling us. This is the worst match-up possible for the Colts, who we can all agree are not a very good team. That fact alone doesn’t necessarily spell doom in the NFL playoffs, but it is hard to buy into the idea of the Colts being a quintessential “hot” team that emerges from the seeding depths to sneak into the title game. They do, however, have a quarterback who could potentially overcome all of those deficiencies.


SEPTEMBER 08: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass during the Colts 21-17 win over the Oakland Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 8, 2013

SEPTEMBER 08: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts. September 8, 2013.

Andrew Luck is the most unlikely QB participant on Championship Sunday, but he is also the one who may have the most ability to single-handedly will his team to victory, which says just as much about him as it does the limited talent around him. The sheer shrewdness of the Patriots should conspire to bring Luck crashing down to turf-level, but there is always a moment when a young star finally arrives. This could certainly be that day. And that, above all else, is most worrisome for New England fans. In an ironic twist, the Patriots’ fortunes could hinge on whether this is the day that Luck becomes Tom Brady — not Brady of 2014, but Brady of 2001.


All of that is certainly possible, but this year has always belonged to Brady and Wilson. Today should belong to them as well. See you in Arizona, Seattle, and New England.


Did your team make it to the end? Who do you think will make the final cut? Let’s talk here, or find me on Twitter @endbadly