By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- When Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season, Patriots fans probably didn't realize how much they'd miss him.
It's not that many bedrooms in New England are adorned with fivehead Fatheads, or that most football fans in the region yearned to hear broadcasters fall over themselves in attempts to out-fawn each other every single week to heap praise upon the part-time QB/part-time commercial actor. It's just that, well, there are no Batman movies that don't have a villain. There's no Harry Potter without a Voldemort. Life is nothing without conflict.
So when Manning walked away from the sport after an inspiring final season with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, he left a massive void in the sport. Those annual (and sometimes biannual) prime-time matchups between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were suddenly gone, leaving Brady without a peer to meet every year for a handshake at the 50-yard line.
We knew we would be missing something, but we might have underestimated it.
Fortunately, this week is different. This week, we'll get a marquee quarterback matchup that's so strong that Michael Jordan had to chime in. Thank goodness.
Somehow, despite Aaron Rodgers being the Packers' starting quarterback since 2008, this will mark just the second time that Brady and Rodgers will play in the same game. I understand how scheduling works in the NFL, but having two of the greatest quarterbacks involved in the same game just once every five years seems like bad business. Would the NBA ever do that? Would any sport ever have things set up that way? Even the NHL would have a better system than that.
Obviously the quarterbacks don't play against each other. And the real high-brow football guys will dismiss you if you start talking about one quarterback's win-loss record against another quarterback. "Hmmm yes, QB wins, 'tis a pity!" they will condescendingly scoff. (Not sure where or how they developed that Victorian-era British accent.)
But when you know that a Hall of Fame quarterback will be on the field for the entire game, you're allowed to get excited. Don't apologize.
Will people make way too much about the results? Of course. Brady's all-time standing with Rodgers shouldn't be impacted by, say, a Tramon Williams interception or a Blake Martinez strip sack. Rodgers won't be "losing" to Brady if he throws a pick to Jason McCourty.
But there is a distinct, unique atmosphere in these games. We know that from all of those Brady-Manning matchups. The involved parties know what gets made of these meetings, and with the whole world watching, they don't want to do anything but win.
So while this Brady-Rodgers matchup won't necessarily decide anything or change a single mind about which quarterback is better, it will be fun. And we should all be allowed to have fun on occasion. This is just sports, after all.
(Also, real quick: Rodgers is probably the most gifted quarterback to ever walk the earth. Brady is the best.)
(Glad that's settled.)
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
Oakland (+2.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
The only thing possibly better than watching the miserable 1-6 Oakland Raiders drive across a bridge or two to take on the miserable 1-7 San Francisco 49ers is watching those teams play with San Francisco's third-string quarterback under center. Nick Mullens. Have you ever even heard of Nick Mullens? Sounds like a created character when your Madden franchise goes on for so long that real players have all retired. Nick Mullens. If you're a die-hard Southern Miss fan then you're likely familiar with his body of work, but you'd be forgiven if you missed that.
Anyhoo, if he ends up playing, it will create for the rare environment where Jon Gruden's mess of a team can actually win a game. (The other environment is the one where the officials and the replay center all conspire to hose the Cleveland Browns.)
Baltimore (-3) over PITTSBURGH
Scientific fact: The Ravens and the Steelers can do one thing and one thing only. That thing is split their head-to-head meetings.
But the Steelers threw the earth off balance last year by winning both, so it's only right that the universe course-corrects this year with a Baltimore sweep.
Chicago (-10) over BUFFALO
Someone is going to win this game 6-3. Maybe. It's more likely that the Bills, after flopping against the Patriots, flop harder than they've ever flopped before.
MIAMI (-3) over New York Jets
Oh, so you want to write a picks column? Oh, it will be so fun. You love football. You can do this!
Then you fire up the ol' desktop, log on to American Online, and see you've got a Jets-Dolphins matchup to assess. OH. FUN.
The Jets have looked like soggy garbage for two weeks. The Dolphins have looked like an old, rotted head of lettuce in a dumpster for two weeks (also, two decades). It's not been great.
I honestly don't know what's going to happen in this game but I know that, like most of America, I don't want to watch it.
Kansas City (-9.5) over CLEVELAND
Gregg Williams! Ha.
MINNESOTA (-5) over Detroit
Matt Patricia being concerned with the posture of journalists was very strange. I must admit that. When I think prim and proper, the first thing that comes to mind is not Matt Patricia. All due respect. Seems like a pretty cool guy, actually, which is why it's weird that he went all military school teacher on some reporter.
As this game is concerned, the Lions just traded their top receiver, in terms of targets, receptions, and yards, so there may be some difficulties adapting on the fly against a defense that's not nearly as good as it was last year but should still be in a good spot this weekend.
WASHINGTON (-1.5) over Atlanta
The Falcons stink. All the way across the sky.
CAROLINA (-7) over Tampa Bay
Am I scared of getting burned by FitzMagic? HECK YEAH I am scared of getting burned by FitzMagic. But just because I missed the boat on the first round doesn't mean I should overcompensate in hopes of a resurgence. And frankly, this move feels like desperation for a bad Bucs team with a bad starting quarterback and potentially a bad head coach.
Plus, the Carolina Panthers? So hot right now.
SEATTLE (-1.5) over Los Angeles Chargers
I understand that I'm supposed to think highly of the Chargers. I get it. That's what the people are saying. "They're 5-2. They've won four in a row. They've only lost to the Chiefs and Rams, two of the best teams in the whole league. They're good. You must believe this."
I hear what they're saying. But I also see four straight wins against the 49ers (gross), the Raiders (puke), the Browns (joke), and the Titans (surprising disaster). And, what, I'm supposed to be impressed? I'm supposed to erase all of the institutional knowledge I've gained from watching the Chargers be nothing more than mediocre for a decade-plus? That's not how this works, all of you people trying to convince me otherwise, so I'm going to go ahead and forecast a significant butt-whooping this weekend for the "good" Chargers. An old-fashioned, up-and-down, full-service butt-whooping.
Houston (Pick 'em) over DENVER
Did the Texans even make Demaryius Thomas fly out to Texas, or did they just tell him to stay put and they'd catch up on Sunday?
Los Angeles Rams (+2) over NEW ORLEANS
The 8-0 Rams are an underdog.
That seems bad.
Green Bay (+5.5) over New England
The aforementioned, much-hyped meeting of Brady and Rodgers. Should be fun.
I've watched enough of the Packers to know that they're not all that good. They played probably their best game of the year last week; they lost.
So I think the Patriots will win, but I also don't think the Patriots are good enough to win comfortably against decent teams. They could barely manage a comfortable win against the Bills. And the Bills are the worst!
I just hope the final score is something like 72-68. Is that asking for too much?
DALLAS (-6.5) over Tennessee
Last week, I wrote my picks column while seated in right field at Fenway Park, writing it as quickly as I could before the start of a World Series game. It was cold out! The music was playing! The crack of the bat! Is that the faint smell of hot dogs wafting into my area? What in the world is local and national hero Dave Roberts thinking with this ridiculous lineup?!
I was distracted!
So I put a disclaimer on Twitter that said, basically, if I had a good week making picks then that was solely a result of my genius and expert acumen, and I should be greatly and widely respected for it. But if I had a bad week then it was because I was at Fenway Park and therefore it doesn't count. Simple rules.
I ended up going -- technically speaking -- just 4-10 in my picks. Again, that's technically speaking. But as we know because it was clearly established, it just doesn't count! Sorry!
Those are the rules. Hey, I don't make them up*, I just abide by them.
*This is a lie.
Last week (IF YOU FOLLOW THE RULES): 0-0
Last week (IF YOU ARE A RULE-BREAKER): 4-10 (Or maybe 4-0 because I did get four games right, yeah? Yeah?! No? OK, fine.)
Season (IF YOU FOLLOW THE RULES): 58-44-5
Season (IF YOU ARE A COWARD): 62-54-5
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