The best weekend in sports -- Divisional Round Weekend -- more than lived up to the hype.
But the tremendous weekend raised some tremendous questions -- more specifically, I found myself pondering potential finality on a number of fronts. You know, "Is this the end?" type o' thinking. With that in mind, here are nine hot topics, built around a simple concept:
HAVE WE SEEN THE LAST OF ...
1) ... the 'process rule'?
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino provided his immediate reaction on Twitter:
I hear that explanation. And I read lead official Gene Steratore's postgame reasoning. But here's the simple truth:
I just cannot process the process rule.
Is this rule going to be closely examined, picked apart and adjusted this offseason? I sure hope so. It has to be changed. It erased what could have been one of the most memorable playoff catches in recent memory.
2) ... Peyton Manning and/or John Fox in Denver?
I'm glad I broached the topic of Peyton's legacybefore this latest playoff defeat. Manning looked awful, with no zip on his fastball, no accuracy on deep throws. It wasn't quite Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield as a Met, but the comparison isn't far off. Manning was awful in his ninth one-and-done playoff exit, dropping his postseason record to 11-13.
Manning wouldn't commit to playing in 2015 after the game. That's pretty significant. And I don't blame him. Manning clearly wasn't right down the stretch this season. I think there's a very realistic chance he decides to hang 'em up. And if he comes back, I think there could be major changes in Denver. Could John Fox, whose Broncos have been upset at home in their playoff opener two of the last three seasons, be in trouble? Will John Elway let offensive coordinator Adam Gase leave the building? Is Gase the head coach to get Denver over the hump? (UPDATE:Fox and the Broncos have parted ways, NFL Media's Jeff Darlington and NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday.)
It feels like change is in the Mile High air -- and it should be.
3) ... the incumbent class of elite quarterbacks?
Yup, there's been a partial changing of the guard, with Luck and Wilson joining Rodgers and Brady as the cream of the quarterbacking crop. And no, I'm not overreacting in the moment -- these will be the four best signal-callers in football next year, too.
Back in early September, I said, "by the end of the year, you will lump Luck in with the elite of the elite." He carried the Colts throughout this season, leading the NFL in touchdown passes, despite being supported by a lackluster running game and en erratic offensive line. On Sunday, he guided Indy to a stirring road win over Manning and the Broncos, making a series of "wow" plays (with the help of that much-maligned O-line, it must be mentioned). News flash: This guy is special. And Mr. Wilson ain't too shabby, either, with his eyes on the ultimate prize -- the Lombardi Trophy -- for a second consecutive season. Carolina's defense had been rolling entering the Divisional Round, but the Panthers had no answer for No. 3 on Saturday night. How does 15 for 22 for 268 yards and three touchdowns sound? A 149.2 QB rating? Yeah, this dude's also elite.
4) ... Tony Romo hate?
If you are still spewing that lazy and tired narrative about Romo being a choke artist, I feel sorry for you. It was wrong when he was executing numerous fourth-quarter comebacks over the years, picking up the structurally flawed Cowboys, and it's certainly wrong now. If the Bryant play was ruled a catch, we could be having a totally different conversation about Romo's Cowboys today.
This season, Romo finally had a run game, offensive line and sanity in Dallas. The result? He turned in an MVP-caliber season and the Cowboys won 13 games.
I've always thought Romo was great. And if you're not convinced by now, I guess you'll never be.
5) ... DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant on the same team?
Meanwhile, Murray is a legit Offensive Player of the Year candidate, leading the NFL in rushing by nearly 500 yards. His success, behind a fantastic offensive line, significantly helped Romo. But will he price himself out of Big D? I have to imagine Dez is a higher priority to re-sign.
6) ... Dick LeBeau coaching in the NFL?
7) ... Justin Forsett in Baltimore?
Last Thursday, Forsett was on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and the running back gushed about playing in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system. On Sunday night, the day after the Ravens' season ended in defeat to the Patriots, Kubiak announced that he'd be staying in Baltimore and passing up head-coaching interviews with other teams.
Forsett, signed as an afterthought, third-string back, emerged as a star this season. I voted for him as Comeback Player of the Year. With free agency looming, Forsett says he wants to get out of the "friend zone" and receive a "deeper commitment" on the contract front. Personally, I don't think we've seen the last of the Forsett-Kubiak pairing in Baltimore.
8) ... Trent Richardson as a starting running back?
Or maybe we should ask if he's going to be in the league after this season?
Full disclosure: I liked the deal for Indy when they made it. Heck, I liked when Cleveland selected Richardson third overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. But his stunning ineffectiveness can't be denied. Right now, he's not even a game-day third-stringer.
9) ... Aaron Rodgers avoiding Richard Sherman like the plague?
Yes, in our last section, let's take a look at one of the most enticing matchups on tap for Championship Sunday: Aaron Rodgers vs. the "Legion of Boom."
Rodgers put forth a sensational and Herculean effort to beat Dallas on Sunday despite the fact that he clearly was injured. While the road to the Super Bowl now leads through Seattle -- the most difficult road venue in the NFL today -- the last thing you should ever do is put anything past the best quarterback in the NFL.