NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth filled John Madden's role on "Sunday… (Michael Keating / Associated…)
As the NFL heads to its final week of regular-season games, what better time to check in with Cris Collinsworth?
The NBC analyst alongside play-by-play man Al Michaels on "Sunday Night Football," Collinsworth also is on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" panel. "This is all I do" each week, he said. "Watch and study football."
Yet, even with that expertise, Collinsworth, 53, says he was only 9-7 on last week's game picks. "You just have no idea," he said. "It's the flip of a coin."
That may be especially true in a wide-open playoff field.
What a game you were just at last week, San Francisco at New England. The intensity and quality of play appear to be peaking between those two.
"It's really amazing. The things in the past you may have taken for granted — there's no way you can overcome a four-touchdown deficit — Tom Brady made up that deficit in about a quarter. It was unbelievable how fast that happened. I was thinking San Francisco would score, Brady would tie it up again and it'd end at like 2 a.m., a game you'd remember for a lifetime. It was so close to being an all-time game for us, an epic. I'll remember this as [Colin] Kaepernick's coming-out party, his ability to go into New England in horrible conditions and play like that. It was really impressive."
These late weeks have been revealing in recent years for telling us who has a bona fide Super Bowl candidacy. Why is that?
"One of the things is the fact of life in the NFL. When you get to this point in the season, these teams aren't necessarily the teams that are the best team from day one. It's a war of attrition, they have the most frontline players healthy, and then some teams have a knack for getting their injured guys healthy now. You look at Green Bay with Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews coming back. That's a different team with those guys playing. I've heard players say, 'It doesn't matter where you're seeded, it's about how healthy you are and if you're on a roll.' Cincinnati and Dallas won five of six [before Sunday]."
Who are your Super Bowl picks right now?
"I've never had so much trouble naming a No. 1 team. I could make a case for Atlanta, Houston, Denver, New England, Green Bay. It feels like much more of a toss-up than I can ever remember. It feels like Denver-Atlanta. Denver has the defense and the balance, but there's always something that makes me say New England is going to represent the AFC. They find a way. And yet someone also has to go into Houston and win a game. The general rule of thumb is follow the quarterback . . . like Green Bay. The questions are, is Atlanta's Matt Ryan or Houston's Matt Schaub ready?"
What about the guy with two rings, Eli Manning?
"Eli's got 'em right where he wants 'em. This is just about the time where he goes off. We were laughing at ["Inside the NFL" panelist] Phil Simms, because it was just about this time last year they were 7-7. Phil had defended the Giants all year, and then finally gave up and said, 'You're right, I was just wrong.' Then they go on a roll and win the Super Bowl. Projecting NFL games is impossible."
Adrian Peterson's play has been remarkable as he closes in on Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. He ran over a Rams team that had eight men on the line to stop him. Do you think his type of knee surgery is becoming like Tommy John surgery in baseball, a performance-enhancer?
"No. I don't see other guys with that kind of recovery. I think he's just a remarkable young man, as determined a runner as you will ever see. To come off knee surgery and to play for a team that doesn't really have a passing threat, with everyone loaded up to stop him, he's clipping off 150, 200 yards a game, more yards than teams have had the entire year. Teams know, if you stop Adrian Peterson, you win, and they just can't do it. And if you ever shake hands with him, he'll drop you to your knees. I tell the biggest, baddest guys, 'Just give him a fist pump.'"
How is it that so many young quarterbacks are succeeding?
"They're bringing something new to this league, this read-option offense. Plus these guys can really throw the ball. Kaepernick could throw a baseball 94 mph. Russell Wilson ran for three touchdowns. Robert Griffin III is the captain of his team, a dynamic leader of men. These are future superstar players we're going to be seeing for quite a long time."
Wherever you end up Sunday, it'll be with Al Michaels. From your perspective, what makes him so gifted in his craft?