With the NFL Playoffs in full swing, we’re going to kick off 2015 with a preview of this weekend’s upcoming divisional round match-ups. At #JPLMagazine however, we like to have fun with our posts so we’re not just going to offer dry analysis and predictions. Instead I’m going to incorporate one of my guilty pleasures, namely Professional Wrestling, into our predictions by pairing each remaining playoff team with a wrestling legend. That’s right, it’s Vince Lombardi meets Vince McMahon as we’re turn each football match-up into a good old fashion rumble in the squared circle. So lace up your cleats and/or your ring boots and get ready to dodge a dropkick while dropping back for the pass as the divisional round promises to be an exciting one.
Saturday, January 10th – 4:35pm
(1) New England Patriots vs. (6) Baltimore Ravens
Patriots Pro Wrestler: John Cena
Ravens Pro Wrestler: Randy Orton
We chose John Cena, currently Professional Wrestling’s brightest star, to represent the Patriots for a number of reasons. The first is geographical, as John Cena’s West Newbury, Massachusetts background qualifies him as a legitimate New Englander. On top of that, John Cena’s rise to the top of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) lines up nicely with that of the Patriots as a legitimate yearly contender for the Lombardi Trophy. Both have been prominent players for titles since roughly 2001. Both have tasted victory and suffered defeat, as the Patriots won the ’01, 03, and ’04 Super Bowls but lost in ’07 and ’10 while Cena’s won 15 World titles in that same span, which also means he’s lost it 14 times. Furthermore, Cena’s the darling of the WWE, a consummate professional, its top babyface (Pro Wrestling term for ‘good guy’) and he sells the most merchandise. He also happens to be dating WWE’s hottest lady, current Diva’s Champion and star of E’s hit series Total Divas, Nikki Bella. Does this remind anyone else of Tom Brady? A true professional who the fans love, sells a lot of jerseys and is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Lastly, Cena’s “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” mantra fits nicely with the Patriots’ Belichickian philosophies of “do your job”, “one game at a time”, and “on to <insert next opponent>.”
On the other side of the coin, we chose John Cena’s natural rival, Randy Orton, to represent the Baltimore Ravens. Cena and Orton rose up the WWE ranks almost simultaneously. They spent time in the company’s then developmental territory, OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling) in the early 2000s and went on to have considerable success in the big leagues. Orton is a 12 time World Champion with a deep wrestling lineage as both his grandfather Bob Orton Sr. and his father “Cowboy” Bob Orton were successful Pro Wrestlers. This reminds us of the Ravens for a few reasons. Firstly, they’ve won 2 Superbowl titles since the year 2000 (2000 and 2012) and have participated in the playoffs several times during that span. Also, the franchise itself comes from a rich tradition as it was was formerly the Cleveland Browns, winners of 4 AAFL Championships (1946-1949) and 4 NFL Championship (’50, ’54, ’55’, & ’64), before they became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Lastly, midway through his career, Orton adopted the name “The Legend Killer” as a result of his dismantling of several Pro Wrestling legends such as Mick Foley (better known as Mankind), The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, and Harley Race, among several others. As a parallel, the Ravens defeated two legendary franchises, the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, for their Super Bowl victories in 2000 and 2012, and another in the New England Patriots en route to their 2012 title. And all of this is to say nothing of the time that Randy Orton (in character and acting of course) hit Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie with his finishing move, the RKO (see here at the 2:25 mark). Ray Rice anybody? Oh yeah, my bad, we’re not mentioning that…
So that brings us to our prediction. Cena and Orton have battled many times over the years, often with WWE gold on the line. Similarly, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens have faced each other in several grueling regular season and playoff match-ups, most notably in the AFC Championship games of 2011 and 2012, with the Pats advancing ’11 and the Ravens avenging their loss a year later. It’s always a barn burner between the Pats and the Ravens and the same can be said of Cena vs. Orton matches. We expect Baltimore’s defense to give Tom Brady’s offense trouble because let’s face it, it always does. That said however, we’re going to give the nod to Cena’s Patriots over Orton’s Ravens this weekend, as the combination of home field advantage (the Patriots boast a 10-3 record at home in the Playoffs since ’02) plus a strong defensive secondary led by All Pro Darrelle Revis will prove to be the difference. Look for the Pats to advance to yet another AFC Championship game, which would be their 8th in the Brady/Belichick era, in a thriller as Cena kicks out of a potentially match ending RKO and recovers to deliver the Attitude Adjustment for a three count in the middle of the ring. Now that’s hustle.
Saturday, January 10th – 8:15pm
(1) Seattle Seahawks vs. (4) Carolina Panthers
Seahawks Pro Wrestler: Booker T
Panthers Pro Wrestler: Junkyard Dog
A WWE Hall of Famer, Booker T’s storied career as the most decorated World Championship Wrestling (WCW) superstar of all-time includes five World Heavyweight Championship reigns. We chose him to represent the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks because his in-ring style combined power moves with agility in the same way that Seahawks can run it down your throat with Marshawn Lynch or finesse you with Russell Wilson’s air attack AND ground game. Also, Booker’s promos were always fun, animated, and intense, not unlike Richard Sherman’s interviews when he gets really amped up.
Conversely, to represent the Carolina Panthers we needed an underdog to symbolize the fact that the Panthers made the playoffs with a sub .500 record of 7-8-1. And what better underdog than 80s legend, the Junkyard Dog? Though he had a strong career before entering the WWE (then WWF or World Wrestling Federation), capturing several titles in the Mid-South Wrestling Association as well as the National Wrestling Alliance and United States Wrestling Association, he would never see WWE gold. Despite this, he’s widely regarded as one of the most entertaining performers of the 80s, winning the Slammy Award for Best Individual Performer in 1986. He may not have won any big time WWE titles, but he was fun to watch, not unlike the scrappy (and championship-less) Carolina Panthers.
As for the match-up itself, we love Cam Newton and appreciate the fact that he was able to get his team past the first round of the playoffs despite nagging injuries that hampered his mobility this season. But let’s face it, all the grit and determination in the world will not be enough to overcome the well-oiled machine that is the Seattle Seahawks. They’re strong in the running game, strong in the passing game, boast a punishing defense, and are well-coached. As a quick aside, being a Patriots fan who watched Pete Carroll take over the mid-90s squad that Bill Parcells built and systematically destroy them, it pains me to write that these Seahawks are “well-coached,” but ’round these parts we give credit where credit is due. That said, we just don’t see a way that Carolina wins this game. Even their first round victory versus Arizona was in large part due to injuries forcing Cardinals to start a 3rd string quarterback. Look for Seattle to score early and often, as Booker T delivers a Book End to an over-matched Junkyard Dog, gets a three count in the middle of the ring, and then goes into one of his patented Spinarooney post match celebrations. Now can you dig that, sucka?!?!?
Sunday, January 11th – 1:05pm
(2) Green Bay Packers vs. (3) Dallas Cowboys
Packers Pro Wrestler: ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair
Cowboys Pro Wrestler: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin
It’s only fitting that the team that hails from the original “Titletown”, Green Bay (another sentence that pains me as an avid New England sports fan), is represented by “The Nature Boy”, Ric Flair, a 2 time WWE Hall of Famer (as an individual performer and as a member of legendary stable, The Four Horsemen). Between their 9 NFL Championships and 4 Super Bowls, the Packers boast the most titles of any NFL franchise. By comparison, Ric Flair’s 16 World Championships are also tops among his peers. Plus, given that Aaron Rodgers has been known to symbolically place a championship belt around his waist in games, we’re betting that he’d very much appreciate a Ric Flair comparison.
For the Cowboys, we had to go with ‘The Rattlesnake’, 6 time World Champion ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin for a few reasons, the first being geographical as ‘Stone Cold’ is in fact from the great state of Texas. Also, the Dallas Cowboys are widely regarded as America’s Team while Austin’s Hall of Fame career gained enormous momentum once he struck a chord with middle-America in his ongoing story-line feud with his boss, WWE chairman Vince McMahon. I mean let’s face it, what hard-working, blue-collar American hasn’t wanted to kick their boss’ butt once or twice? Another very strong parallel we can draw is strictly financial, as ‘Stone Cold’ remains the top grossing WWE superstar of all-time to this day (in terms of ticket sales for shows in which he wrestled) and the Cowboys of course are the NFL’s most valuable team, currently valued at somewhere in the $3.2 billion range.
This is an an intriguing match-up of legendary proportions, both on the field and in the ring, and we’re calling an upset. The Packers have Championship pedigree, boast a dangerous passing attack led of course by All Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers and standout wide receiver Jordy Nelson, and in Eddie Lacy have a strong running game to balance out the offense. The Cowboys counter with the three-headed monster of Tony Romo (who finished the year with a 113.2 passer rating and 34 touchdown passes), Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant (16 touchdowns) and the league’s leading rusher, All Pro Demarco Murray (1845 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns). It’s because of Demarco Murray that we’re calling the upset as the Packers allow 120 rushing yards per game, 23rd overall in the league. The Cowboys have been on a roll this year, proving their willpower by coming from behind to win several regular season games as well as their playoff game this past weekend against the Lions. Convention says go with the Packers who will be playing at home in the cold Green Bay weather against a warm weather team that plays in a dome. But ‘Stone Cold’ was never one for conventions, and as such, despite enduring a painful figure four leglock and several patented ‘WOO!’ taunts from ‘The Nature Boy’ he rebounds with a swift kick to the stomach to set up a match ending Stone Cold Stunner for the pin-fall. He then then swiftly gives the “Titletown” faithful the finger on his way out of Lambeau Field. And that’s the bottom line, because Jerry Jones said so.
Sunday, January 11th – 4:40pm
(2) Denver Broncos vs. (4) Indianapolis Colts
Broncos Pro Wrestler: Hulk Hogan
Colts Pro Wrestler: The Rock
Our decision to go with WWE Hall of Famers, ‘The Immortal’ Hulk Hogan and ‘The Rock‘ (or Dwayne Johnson for you Hollywood types) to represent the Broncos and Colts respectively in large part due to Peyton Manning’s former allegiance to the Colts’ franchise. From a pure aesthetic standpoint, the Hulkster’s most well known costume was comprised of a yellow and red get-up that’s not too dissimilar from Bronco orange (his NWO black and white days notwithstanding). Also, both men are multiple time World Champions just like both the Broncos and Colts franchises. More importantly however, the way we see it, Peyton was the face of the Indianapolis Colts for many years, not unlike Hulk Hogan was the face of the WWF throughout the 1980s.
When Hogan left the WWF to pursue acting and later to sign with Ted Turner’s WCW promotion company, WWF owner Vince McMahon was faced with the reality of having to build new stars to carry the reins. The biggest WWF star of the 90s breed was of course the aforementioned ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, but we already used him to represent the Cowboys. So that leaves us with the second best sports entertainer of the 90s (though I’m sure many women would argue he was unequivocally THE BEST, for all the wrong reasons…), namely The Rock. As such, we chose him to represent Peyton’s old team, the Colts. Also, it goes without saying that Peyton Manning and the Colts’ Andrew Luck are two of the most effective (and most fun to watch) passers in the NFL today. Peyton’s Broncos averaged roughly 290 passing yards per game, good for 4th in the league, while Luck’s Colt’s led the league with a gaudy 306 yards per game. Similarly, Hulk Hogan and The Rock are widely regarded among even casual Pro Wrestling fans as two of the best and most charismatic talkers the industry has ever known. With Manning and Luck, practically every game is a passing clinic. With Hogan and The Rock, every promo was fantastic.
That leaves us with a battle of young vs. old, the new regime vs. the old guard if you will. At Wrestlemania 18, The Rock and Hulk Hogan would conclude their feud of a few months and square off in an icon vs. icon match that electrified the WWE universe. The Rock would prove to be victorious, but at the end of the match the two men shared mutual respect for one another and The Rock, despite winning, left the ring first to allow Hogan to have his moment with the crowd as old and new fans alike cheered him in appreciation for all he’d done for the wrestling industry. We expect a similar result in the Broncos vs. Colts game. It’ll be a close one, as both teams will counter the other’s high-powered passing attack with decent pass defense (with the Colts ranking 12th in passing yards against, while the Broncos rank 9th). Admittedly, the Broncos have a much better run defense than the Colts, ranking 2nd overall in yards against (compared to the Colts ranking 18th in the same category). However, despite leading his teams to three Superbowl births (winning once, with the Colts in ’06), Peyton Manning is only 11-12 in 23 career playoff games and his 97.5 career regular season QB rating drops to a hair under 90 in the playoffs. The youthful Luck will take the reins from the grizzled veteran as the Conference’s most dominant and feared quarterback, leading his team to victory just as The Rock solidified his iconic status at ‘Mania by hitting Hogan with a People’s Elbow so strong that all the prayers and vitamins in the world couldn’t revive the Hulkster. Do you smell what Andrew Luck’s cooking, brother?