Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Soundtrack of My Life

Last week, my homeboy J-Oro wrote a Soundtrack of His Life. He got the idea from our buddy, Ethan, who riffed on the idea after hearing a story on NPR in which a writer chose six songs that would make the soundtrack of her life. Being the narcissistic fucker that I am, I’ve thought about a soundtrack that could convey my spirit. I’ve fantasized about a soundtrack that could accompany, say, a film based about my life. A few years ago, I experimented with this by writing a piece titled “My Cancer Playlist,” a compilation of 12 songs that could express my “cancer journey” (as oncologists and practitioners in the field like to refer to that tumultuous time in the lives of their patients).

I just wanted to get in on the fun, this conga line of soundtracks, so here’s mine:

1979 - Ring My Bell, Anita Ward

This song came out in 1979. I was in my mother’s womb for the first four months of that year. Now when I bob my head and gyrate to this disco classic, I can’t help but secretly wish that my mom somehow listened to this song in Guadalajara while I was one with her. I can picture it now: me kicking in her womb, a smoke machine in the corner, cute chicks on the sidelines, a disco ball hanging from the uterus lining. I should’ve never left!

Many years later, I would see a parked car in the Mission. It had a bumper sticker that read “I Came to Get Down.” I went bonkers. Fuck yes. That’s what I want my headstone to read.

1984 – Cherish, Kool & the Gang

I have shards of memories from a trip I took with my dad to Miami when we lived near Orlando. (I remember staying in a hotel for one night. I vaguely remember being so pleased by the grown-up table they had in the corner of our room with a pen and blank notepad resting expectantly on it.) On the drive to Miami, I remember sitting buckled into the passenger seat. This song came on the radio while we drove across a bridge. I peered over at my dad. The sun shined behind him, flickered from the suspension cables or passing cars that zipped by. I remember feeling at peace, safe beside my dad.

In large part, my early childhood was unremarkable. I was loved by my parents and sisters. I was one of the lucky ones. Cherish.

1993 - Genius of Love, Tom Tom Club

Junior high. Everyone’s wearing baggy colored pants and striped shirts from Miller’s Outpost. Even though I’m a peruano and not mexicano like most of the other Latinos at my school in Fremont, CA, I figure I should wear the same clothes they’re wearing and listen to the music they’re listening to, like 98.1 KISS FM and 106.1 KMEL (the people’s station!) Since I’m a Latino, I feel like I was supposed to listen to rap and hip hop and R&B and old school R&B, though I had no clue what that really meant, old school R and B. This was a song those stations played. I really liked it even though I had no clue who I should be.

1995 - Rape Me, Nirvana

It’s past midnight because that’s what my digital alarm clock reads. I can’t fall asleep. I turn the radio on my clock. For whatever reason, I flick through the channels, searching for something. I hear the opening palm-muted guitar notes, then the opening verse. It reminds me of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from the Nevermind album I had borrowed from my older sister, Mariana. This time, something clicked inside me. A cog turned. This was the music I felt bubbling within me. The angst. The ugly distorted beauty of it all. I was a rocker in spirit from that day on. And I found my first artistic idol.

2000 – Garbageman, The Cramps

My college years. Still living at home, taking the train all the way to Daly City to attend film school. I’m writing short stories and film scripts in which startling moments of life that are full of life can happen in a boring-as-fuck suburb like Fremont. I’m starting to feel like something is fundamentally wrong with suburbia as a construct but intellectually I still lack the language to elucidate. But I was having startling moments of life that were full of life in Fremont because of my punk-rocker-outsider-type friends, especially my first serious girlfriend who was One half hillbilly / And one half punk. (And she was so much more.) I’m getting loaded regularly. Experimenting with my mind on occasion with drugs. I’m discovering classic cult films, great books, and astounding bands like The Cramps to nourish me, to sing back and paint the world I feel. My friends helped to open these worlds for me.

2001 - Everything in Its Right Place, Radiohead

Here’s a recipe for depression:
• read Derrick Jensen’s The Culture of Make Believe,
• read George Orwell’s 1984 while visiting Peru, your ancestral homeland
• listen to Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A a lot
• ¬while visiting your expansive family in Peru, a place where you are a tourist, become keenly aware, for the first time in your privileged life, of all the death, destruction, and tantamount change that was wrought on that land by a group of greedy Spanish conquistadors who believed their God was the right one.

And the world is never the same after that summer.

2006 - El Desierto, Lhasa de Sela

Weeks before Valentine’s Day in 2006 my girlfriend Julia broke up with me. I’m 26 at the time. We parted at a time when I was beginning to assume a future inseparable from her. Other than loving life in San Francisco, I am lost in every way: unsure of what work I want to commit my one life to; no heart to rest mine beside. So I quit my job to backpack alone through South America. I dreamt of winding my way to the Atacama Desert. I longed to walk into the desert. I wanted to vanish in it.

Besides my books and journal, my one true companion on those long, grueling bus rides across the continent was my iPod shuffle. Lhasa de Sela’s La Llorana was on steady rotation, including this song containing this verse:

He venido yo corriendo olvidándome de ti
Dame un beso pajarillo no te asustes colibrí
He venido encendida al desierto pa quemar
Porque el alma prende fuego cuando deja de amar.

[Quebrada del Diablo, Atacama Desert]

2008 - Maloyan Devil, Bob Brozman & Djeli Moussa Diawara

July 26, 2008. Saturday night in the Mission. With my camping backpack strapped around me, I’m marching to the 24th Street station to catch a train to SFO. I’m heading to Thailand and Cambodia for three weeks. To kick off my journey on a righteous note I slip on my headphones and pick a song at random on my iPodito. Of all the 120 songs this beautiful but haunting blues number plays. It startles me. Does this song portend what lies ahead for me?

By then, an ominous swollen lymph node had popped up by left clavicle.

2009 - Of Wolf and Man, Metallica

Friday mornings, before almost every single one of my twelve chemotherapy infusions, this song blared from my headphones as I marched out of my flat on Dolores Street to San Francisco General. My spirit roared to the nasty staccato riff that opens the song; the thundering snare; the opening verse: Off through the new day’s mist I run / Out from the new day’s mist I have come / I hunt, therefore I am / Harvest the land, taking of the fallen lamb. I was the wolf. My corporeal nemesis, Mr. Hodgkins, was my prey.

I was so pissed off to live.

2010 - Nutshell (from their MTV Unplugged album), Alice in Chains

Rejoining “the kingdom of the well”—as Sontag called it—was deliriously great at first, but there’s fallout to deal with. Fallout from lowering my head and pushing through grad school and that shitstorm in my life for over a year and a half and never stopping. Staley’s lyrics and wearied voice in this recording sounded like this feeling locked inside:

And yet I fight
And yet I fight
This battle all alone
No one to cry to
No place to call home.

2011 - I’ll Fly Away, Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch

Winter 2011. I’m in Taos, New Mexico for an artist residency. On the day I rented a neo-hippie white Volkswagen Bug to cruise out of Taos, past the Rio Grande Gorge, I see the land and gray sky open before me, nestled by the surrounding mountains. This song comes on my iPod. It’s all so piercingly beautiful—being alive, listening to this immaculate song in a land that feels like home. I cry. It was a great day to die.

2013 – Always, Atlantic Starr

For years and years I have loved this song. All that time, I think I secretly longed to find someone who I could dedicate this song to. I think I longed to grow into a man who could dedicate this song to someone. In Maria, my sweetheart, mi amorcita, the love of my life (and now my “domestic partner,” according to Kaiser Permanente), I’ve finally arrived there. When I listen to this song, I can easily daydream of us slow dancing to it, surrounded by our loved ones.

2014 – Achilles Last Stand, Led Zeppelin

Over the past four months, I’ve been a bit obsessed with this song. I still remember the first time I listened to it. What immediately struck me was Jones’ galloping bass line and Robert Plant’s voice. Familiar with every Zeppelin album before Presence, I was stunned by the tone of his voice; it’s like the fire in him was tempered. It was evident that this was a different Robert Plant. And it was: during the recording he was wheelchair-bound with a broken ankle and elbow from a serious car accident in Greece.

The rest of the song, with some of Page and Bonham’s most astounding work, is imbued with a soaring, unrelenting, and desperate power. By comparison, it makes “Rock ‘N Roll” seem mundane. The desperation, the-backs-against-the-wall power is what left me in complete awe of this song. I felt validated to read that Plant described Presence as a “cry of survival,” “a cry from the depths.”

Now at the cusp of 35, I feel like this song more than any other. My body’s getting creaky. It doesn’t heal as quickly as it used to, but I feel mighty in a way I didn’t when I was younger.

Meanwhile, the polar ice caps are disintegrating. “Colony Collapse Disorder”—the mass death of honey bees worldwide—has entered our lexicon. Our way of life on this planet is beginning to crumble at an accelerated pace that even we can see. Life is always full of suffering but we’re in for a load of it in this century—if we make it. You know shit’s bad when Stephen Hawking recommends we seek life outside Planet Earth within the next century if we wish to continue this human experiment.

So the outlook’s bleak. Our backs are against the proverbial wall. This is when we’ll see the absolute best and worst of humanity. This is when we’ll truly see what we’re individually and collectively made of, and I’m going down swinging. This is my fight song now.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 NFC Championship & 49ers offseason

For the third consecutive year the San Francisco 49ers literally came a few plays from either going to the Super Bowl, or winning it all. Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks was particularly brutal because of NaVorro Bowman’s devastating injury, the favorable hometown calls to the Seahawks that could have had a significant impact on the game’s outcome (I counted at least four bad calls by the two-footed zebras), and the fact that the Niners season was lost again in the right side of the end zone with an opportunity to win the game at the last seconds. Though I now admittedly straddle some nether region between cheerleader, admirer, and bandwagon fan (I don’t know what to call it; any suggestions are welcome), Sunday evening was a time I, a long-time Oakland Raider fan, had pity for Niners fans. To come so close to that shimmering shooting star only to see it slip away, yet again; it must be devastating. With my Raiders, I’ve become accustomed to knowing that they will suck so I haven’t experienced such a blow of dashed hopes since the beginning of 2003 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran roughshod over us in the Super Bowl (aka The Tijuana Bowl). Sunday’s third straight close-but-no-cigar loss for the Niners inevitably makes one question if Lord Tennyson was right when he wrote: “Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.”

Anyway, I’ve ruminated a bit on the loss, especially since it was such a battle with various potential turning points (which I’ll discuss here). As a fan of the game, that’s what will make the 2014 NFC Championship go down as a classic—the fact that there were several key plays that could have swung the outcome of the game. Here, in little logical organization, are some of the post-game thoughts I had bouncing around my head:

Seattle won because their secondary outplayed the Niners defensive backs.

This game produced several elements that literally decided the game, but I felt like this was the most glaring (with the exception of Kaepernick’s decision-making and game-managing prowess versus Russell Wilson’s). A couple of ways of thinking about this:

1) If the Niners defense had the Seattle secondary, there’s no way the Seahawks would have won.
2) If the Niners defense had the Seattle secondary, there’s no way Russell Wilson and his offensive unit would have scored more than 17 points (or 10 points for that matter).
3) If the Niners had a shutdown corner like Richard Sherman, they would have won.

From what I observed, the Niners front seven played well enough to win the game. They produced four sacks, one intentional grounding (should have been at least two, from what I remember) and lots of pressure on the fleet-flooted and cagey Wilson; minus the 40-yard run by Marshawn Lynch they bottled him up, too, especially in the first half.

17 of Seattle’s 23 points was on the Niners' defensive backs (I thought Fangio dialed up a brilliant defensive game):

-The long pass to Doug Baldwin to set up Seattle’s field goal in the first half seemed to be on Das Hitner, who somehow allowed Baldwin to dash past him to haul in a long pass from Wilson on a broken play.

-Sure, Marshawn Lynch and his O-line did a great job, but Eric Reid took a bad angle on Lynch in the open field that could have stopped that 40-yard touchdown rumble.

-Jermaine Kearse—another undrafted free agent wide receiver for the Seahawks—outpositioned Carlos Roger on a fuck-it, let’s-chuck-it toss into the end zone after Aldon Smith jumped offside. (Sure, Smith deserves blame for that, but a superior defensive backfield should not have allowed a touchdown like that; if it’s a pass to Megatron, Boldin, or Julio Jones, okay, acceptable, but Jermaine Kearse? Come on.)

Why didn’t Jim Harbaugh call timeout with first down from the 18 with thirty seconds to go?
It was kind of the single most important play of the Niners’ season. Remarkably, they had two timeouts left. Why didn’t Harbaugh and his eight-dollar Walmart khakis burn one to collect his team, take a breath, have that little bit of extra time to really think through what play(s) they were going to call, and what next play they would call depending on the outcome of the first down play? I know the Niners had momentum at that point; they had the Seattle defense on the run, but with a young-still-maturing quarterback in a hostile, hostile road environment, why didn’t they chill and call a timeout there?

With his talents and Russell Wilson’s poise, decision-making, and wits, Colin Kaepernick and the Niners would have won.
And they might possibly be unstoppable. But that’s not the case, which makes Kaepernick, in my humble opinion, the most intriguing quarterback to watch.

Speaking of Kaepernick, am I the only one who thinks his pre and postgame interviews are reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison?

It's probably the backwards hat that does it for me. But to Kaep’s credit, he took question after question after question from the media after that brutal loss. Maybe he was numb from the loss of another huge game, but I admire him for sticking in there and taking every question fired at him. Postgame interviews like these must be some form of hell.

But that said, how could Kaep have possibly thought that a jump ball to Crabtree vs. Sherman by the right side of the end zone was his best match up?
He still had thirty seconds. He still had two timeouts. He still had Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin to throw to. Why would he not hesitate to throw all his chips in on a dangerous, dangerous throw into double-coverage to his weakest receiver in terms of out-muscling a guy for the ball?

If I were a Niner fan, that level of decision-making is what frightens me the most about Kaepernick. Like Brett Favre, he has this Superman-complex where he thinks he can make every crazy-difficult throw when sometimes it just isn’t the wisest thing. Especially with thirty seconds left. On first down. With two timeouts left.

If the Niners have any hope of toppling the Seahawks next year, this is the area where Kaepernick needs to improve.

Speaking of that first down with thirty seconds left in the game, what was with Greg Roman’s playcalling in the second half?
Throughout the year many Niners faithful have continually questioned Roman’s play calling. Typically, it is critical of how Roman seemingly under-utilizes Kaepernick. In large part, I haven’t been a part of these off-with-his-head pleadings from Niners fans, but let me join that friendly discussion after this game. I’ll contribute with some questions in bulletpoint form:

• Why were their less rushing plays for Kaepernick in the second half?
• Unless I’m wrong and didn’t see this play or register it, why didn’t the Niners attempt at least one deep pass to Vernon “I’m 6’3, 250 pounds and run a 4.4 40-yard dash” Davis to keep Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor honest with their deep coverage, to help stretch the field for the Niner offense? (It’s like Roman conceded, before the game kicked off, that they wouldn’t be able to throw deep, so they played into a mostly short passing attack, which largely played into Seattle’s hands.)
• Why didn’t the offense try to exploit Boldin’s height and beastly-size advantage when he was lined up against the 6’1 Bryon Maxwell with an isolation jump ball or two? (Don’t they remember what Boldin did in the playoffs last year?)
• Remember when Roman used to run those cute jumbo formations with extra linemen and tight ends in Alex Smith’s last year? Why didn’t he try that a few times against the Seahawks defense, especially in the second half when they’re presumably a bit more tired? That could’ve negated that almighty advantage they have with their secondary composed of late-round draft finds, no, or am I dreamer?

Onward to next year:
Going into the draft, after this game I can’t help but think the Niner’s priorities are in the following order: CB, WR, and DL (Justin Smith isn’t finding the Fountain of Youth at 34). Reid’s a rookie; he should get even better. Whitner’s a smaller version of Chancellor, so if Seattle can make a strong safety like him work for a championship-level secondary, why can’t the Niners?

I think CB has to be priority. They need an upgrade at that position. If the Niners had a shutdown corner, they would have probably won this game at CenturyLink Field. They’d probably be favorites to win it all next year (albeit with their current roster). The Niners needed to hold the Seahawks to less than 20 points to win this game on the road, and they failed in large part because an undrafted free agent not named Victor Cruz but Doug Baldwin put up 106 yards on 6 catches. That’s not a worthy performance for a championship-level defense. Fact (as Brian Wilson would say). And maybe the Niners need to draft or sign a battering-ram-type running back to wear the Seahawks front-seven down? (Unless Marcus Lattimore can fill that role.)

And since we’re on the subject of how the Niners can keep pace, let alone surpass the Seahawks, I think it comes down to their drafting and development of those two positions: cornerback and wide receiver. Thus far, Trent Baalke has shown he can’t draft and develop a good wide receiver, so that’s a problem. But so far, it looks like Seattle might have a similar deficiency in that department.

But when it comes to defensive backs, sweet baby Jesus there’s a disparity between these two franchises. Seahawk GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll seem to be god-given nuclear arms manufacturers with their Legion of Boom while Baalke and Harbaugh are firing back with a Smith & Wesson. It’s absolutely fucking remarkable (Niners fans: insert your PED jokes here):

-5th round picks: Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor
-6th round pick: Byron Maxwell (who, from what I’ve seen, would be the top CB on the Niners, which is scary because he’s supposed to be their nickel back)
-Undrafted free agent: Brandon “I’m Juiced! (and It's Not Skittles!)" Browner

Only fool they really invested in, as far as the draft, was Earl Thomas with a first round pick. That’s just fucking insane, reminds me of Jimmy Johnson’s early drafts with the Cowboys. (There I go, rubbing in some more salt to the wound, right?)

The Niners need to reverse this trend or they’re going to be running second to the Seahawks for a long time.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Clown Without Pity's 2014 Conference Championship picks

Well well well, looks like I was wrong about that Chargers-are-goin’-to-the-Super-Bowl! pick. But after rubbing my temples yet again in a prognosticating fashion and allowing some synapses to fire, who do I think will win the Conference Championships?

Here’s the short ‘n sweet of it:

New England at Denver
At some point, their brutal procession of injuries on the defensive side is going to cost New England a shot at the Super Bowl, and I think they will reach that point Sunday afternoon at Mile High Stadium where sunny skies are on the forecast. No Vince Wilfork and Tommy “I Used to Be an Overpaid and Underachieving Raider” Kelly to help plug up the middle; no Jerod Mayo to patrol the field; a banged up Kyle Arrington to try and keep up with the Broncos quartet of dangerous receivers. Good luck with that, New England! This season may be one of Sith Lord Belichick’s finest coaching performances ever, but I don’t think he’ll come up with enough schemes to overcome all the injuries on defense. They played great last week against the Colts, but how can they sufficiently slow down Denver’s cagey and talented Four Horsemen, and a decent rushing attack? I think Manning will have a competent game and avoid making too many mistakes, and I think Brady's going to miss Gronkowski in this game. Denver’s got this one.

San Francisco at Seattle
Oh boy oh boy oh boy! I can’t wait for this one!

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of how much the Seattle offense has struggled in the past few weeks to advance the ball downfield, let alone generate points. Last week’s game against the Saints should have been a convincing victory, or even a blowout, but outside of Marshawn Lynch the Seahawks weren’t able to muster much offense. Yes, yes, it was raining hard, but it’s been no aberration. And to make matters worst for the Seahawks, Percy “I Can’t Stay On the Field” Harvin has officially been ruled out for the game, so Russell Wilson—who I’ve had a man-crush on since last year—is back to throwing to an underwhelming 2nd round draft pick out of Notre Dame, an undrafted free agent receiver from Stanford, and a competent tight end. A few weeks ago, the Cardinals showed how an aggressive defense with a shutdown corner like Patrick Peterson can take the Seahawks down at home even when they easily won the turnover battle.

As for the Niners, they’re peaking at the absolute best time: eight straight wins, offense is averaging nearly 26 points per game in that stretch, which include games against the Seahawks (albeit at home) plus road games against the Cardinals and Panthers. Though they got outplayed by the Panthers for the first half of last week’s game, they hung on, got bailed out by their red zone defense and earned a convincing victory on the road against a very tough and physical defense. I was very impressed by the Niners, which was definitely not how I felt about the Seahawks last week.

The Niners blowout loss at CenturyLink Field during Week 2 of the season wasn’t on the defense; they held up until late third quarter despite all of the turnovers. I don’t think their defense will have troubles against the Seahawks. The 49ers play calling process and Kaepernick’s decision-making is what I would worry about if I were a Niner fan.

But somehow, I doubt the Niners will have as many turnovers this week as they did in their Week 2 shaming. It will be close, but I think the Niners are going to squeak this one out. After Newton threw that game-sealing interception late in the 4th quarter of last week’s game, I just had this sense that this will finally be the Niners season. (But then again, need I remind you that I went whole hog with the Chargers as my Super Bowl dark horse and where did that prediction go?)

We’ll find out on Sunday!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

¡Que diablos! – Clown Without Pity’s 2014 Divisional Round Predictions

Okay, okay, so I’m a week late to the dance, a week late in making explicit predictions for this year’s annual wackiness we call the NFL Playoffs. Though I have no way of proving it with a dated blog post (the interweb equivalent of a USPS Delivery Confirmation), last week I went 2-2 with my picks; in the AFC, I picked the Colts but god knows, like everyone, I couldn’t have imagined that it would shake out the way it did. (In the Urban dictionary entry for “cray cray,” they should list the Chiefs vs. Colts 2014 Wild Card showdown as an example.) I also thought the Bengals would finally win without Norman “Boomer” Esiason as their quarterback; boy was I fucking wrong. (Never picking you again in the playoffs, Andy Dalton!) In the NFC I picked the Niners and Eagles to advance, pero basta con last week, which was so last week! Let me put on my thinking glasses and rub my temples in a prognosticating fashion.



Here’s what I predict:

New Orleans at Seattle
Back on December 2nd, the Saints played the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field with a faint hope of knocking Seattle off their course to the #1 seed in the NFC. It didn’t turn out so well for them: a 34-7 thrashing that convinced just about everyone—including me—that the Hawks were simply invincible at home until they lost to a Cardinal team that turned the ball over four times.

So Seattle’s pass defense is pretty fucking good, and the Saints offense struggled a bit against an inferior Eagles defense last week. The good news for Saints fans is that they ran the ball hard last week without their top back, Pierre Thomas, and their defensive line was more fierce than most anticipated. That was part of their Super-Bowl-winning recipe a few years back. I think this one will be closer than their matchup in December; might be a squeaker, but I think Seattle—despite their offensive struggles the past few weeks (Russell Wilson’s been sacked 44 times this season; not a comforting statistic if you’re a Hawks fan)—will prevail. And their fans will probably create seismic activity because they’re the 12th man any team would want.

Indianapolis at New England
Last week, the one game I was most unsure about was the Chiefs vs. Colts game; this week, I feel most confident about the outcome of this game and the Niners vs. Panthers showdown. I’m picking the Patriots. Simple reasoning: Belichick and Brady will have their team ready, and the Kansas City fucking Chiefs put up 44 points in Indianapolis without Jamaal Charles after the sixth play of the game. The Colts and Bolts (Who would The Dolts be in this league?) have been the most schizo teams this season, and who knows if that Colts defense will show up this week, but I doubt they will. And either way, Brady would patiently pick them apart, Gronk or no Gronk.

San Diego at Denver
Besides the Niner game, this is the one I’m most excited about this coming weekend. Back on December the 12th, the Chargers upset the Broncos in Denver with a decisive 27-20 victory. Nearly a month later, after the referees blew that Week 17 non-call on Ryan Succop’s missed field goal at the end of regulation that almost assuredly kept the Steelers out of the playoffs—my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl (hahahaha!)—here we are, with these two AFC West teams squaring off again in a win-or-go-fishing game. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

Given their improbable road to the playoffs, and after watching their performance in Cincinnati last week, I have convinced myself that the Chargers are this year’s Baltimore Ravens. Philip Rivers has always been a fierce competitor, a fratty guy you hate when he talks smack and backs it up against your team but a dude you’d love to have on your team (I’m speaking for myself there; is it obvious I’m a long suffering Oakland Raider fan?) With a 69.5% completion percentage despite losing top wideout Danario Alexander before the season even started, I think Rivers is, without a doubt, having his most impressive season ever. While the national media loves to talk about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady’s chase for another ring, the ringless 32-year-old Rivers has been lost in the hype over those two Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterbacks. But he wants The Precious, too, right? And I’ll tell you this: Rivers can match those guys on any given Sunday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outduels them over the course of these playoffs.

With the exception of Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, really good to excellent quarterback play is precedent in winning a Super Bowl in the increasingly pass-happy NFL, along with a good defense. Along with the Niners, the Chargers are the hottest teams right now, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve won six in a row with Melvin Ingram returning from injury. Right now, I’d rather take the Chargers defense over a lukewarm to weak Broncos defense without Von Miller. I’m taking the Chargers—and call me loco, but I think they’re going to the Super Bowl. (This coming from the guy who predicted that the Texans and Redskins would win their respective divisions and that the Panthers would finish 5-11.)

San Francisco at Carolina
Oh man, this is going to be a slugfest! A war of attrition. A gridiron version of the Thrilla in Manila. Or, to be more apt: Undertaker vs. Undertaker!!

These teams are so similar: young mobile quarterbacks who can throw darts all over the field; strong running games; stout-as-grout defenses, and punishing interior lines. Of course, this game is being played in Carolina instead of San Pancho for two reasons: 1) the zebras bullshit roughing call on Ahmad Brooks devastating clothesline sack against Drew Brees in Week 11, and 2) because the Panthers pummeled the Niners in Candlestick to a tune of 10-9 back in early November. Observe:

I think the Niners will avenge their loss to the Panthers. My logic:

• Over the past three years, Jim Harbaugh has consistently demonstrated how well he prepares his team. Sure, his staff can and have been outcoached, but usually not. On the other hand, this is Cam Newton and Riverboat Ron’s first trip to the playoffs. The Niners know how to handle these games. This is all new for the 12-4 Panthers, and I think at some point in the game it will become apparent. Slight to significant advantage: Niners
• Vengeance can be a peerless motivator, and
• Three words: Michael Crabtree’s back

How wrong will I be with my predictions? We’ll find out in a few days!