FORT WAYNE – A still, smirking voice has taken up residence in my head these past few days, refusing to leave and whispering all manner of snide little nothings.
"Fifty-five touchdowns," it says.
"Five thousand, four hundred seventy-seven yards," it says.
"Eighteen sacks in 659 attempts, or roughly a sack every 39 attempts," it says.
A brief pause for snickering.
"You're pickin' who, again, Chumley?"
"Seattle. I think," I reply, and it comes out even more weak-kneed than it reads.
Then I say, look, I know all about Peyton Manning and his 55 touchdown passes (just 10 interceptions), and also his 5,477 yards, and also the fact he gets sacked about once every seven or eight presidents. And I know that, suddenly, everyone is picking Peyton and the Broncos to win the Great Big Football Game today, even though three weeks ago everyone pretty much agreed the Seahawks and 49ers were the two best teams in football by miles and miles.
Peyton and the Broncos?
Yeah, they were the best the Brand X AFC had to offer. Probably. Maybe.
And yet now we get to New Jersey and the Great Big Football Game, and Manning has gone from a Hall of Famer having an epic season to an unstoppable force of nature. And the Broncos … well, look what they did to San Diego! Look what they did to New England and Tom Brady!
Never mind that the Chargers scraped into the playoffs by the skin of their incisors, or that Brady's weapons were down to a former MAC quarterback, a castoff running back and a couple of parking lot attendants. Suddenly the Broncos are the hot read.
And I'm hearing the voice.
"Look, it's not gonna snow," it says. "And it's gonna be around 40 degrees, which is pretty much perfect football weather unless you're one of the lace-hanky crowd who think it's appalling that a cold-weather game could be actually be played in cold weather.
"That means the Seahawks have to figure out a way to stop a quarterback who's played in two of these things already and doesn't get sacked because his offensive line's a force field and he gets the football off in, like, one-sixteenth of a nanosecond. Good luck with that, boys."
More snickers. And, yes, I have to say, I'm wavering now.
Just not enough.
I still think relative competition means everything, and the Seahawks have the edge there. The NFC was just tougher this year; that's not even debatable. And the NFC West was the toughest of the tough, with the Seahawks, the Niners, the resurgent Cardinals and even the Rams, who put a stout defense on the field.
Now come the Seahawks, with the best secondary in football and a defense that averaged almost three sacks per game. Plus Marshawn Lynch, aka Beast Mode. Plus the unflappable Russell Wilson, who presents far more diverse problems than either Philip Rivers or Brady.
And so: I'm stickin' with Seattle. Call it 26-24 or thereabouts.
"Your funeral, dummy," the voice whispers.
Yeah yeah yeah.