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Jim Nantz on Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: ‘This is as big as it gets’ 01.14.14 at 7:19 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 14th time as starters Sunday night. (AP)

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 15th time as starters Sunday. (AP)

CBS analysts Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason and play-by-play man Jim Nantz held a conference call Tuesday to discuss the Patriots-Broncos AFC title game. Here are a few highlights from that conference call

(On the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry)
Nantz: I think it transcends the NFL. This is something everyone wants to see. This is tantamount to Ali-€‘Frazier one more time. This is Palmer-Nicklaus. This is Bird-€‘Magic. I’m not trying to create some sort of synthetic drama here, but this is what it is. This is as big as it gets. We’re going to savor it because you don’t know how many more times we’ll get it again. You say Brady-Manning, I defy anyone to say there is anything that has been bigger in this league.

Simms: The word legacy, all these things who they are, I have fun with them and I hear it. Somebody said their legacies, both of them, are at stake in this game at this time. I don’t care what either one of them does in this game. It will never change what I think of them. If one of them goes out and has the worst game of his career and is the sole reason why they lose, it will not bring them down one single bit in my eyes. They’ve done so much for the league, and their teams, and themselves, there is nothing that can diminish it.

Esiason: Each one of these players this year really defines who they are. Peyton lifted and took a young group of receivers to a completely different level, and very few players are capable of doing that. And Tom Brady took a team basically that was more built around the run, broke through for 4,200 yards, and got them back all the way here to the AFC Championship game. I think really what speaks to the greatness of both of these quarterbacks, they both have, along with Bill Belichick, and I’m sure John Fox says this as well, a Ph.D. in high-€‘level thought processes that give them the opportunity to make these championship games each year.

(On what makes Brady and Manning the best of their generation)
Simms: We have two quarterbacks that are tough guys. Tom Brady, his attitude, staying on the field, the way he conducts himself with his football team mirrors his head coach. Peyton Manning, just to play the style of football he plays. Man, I get tired watching him and all the work. You’ve got to remember he does that every day in practice.

Esiason: The fact really is three words: longevity, consistency and success. Both of these guys have kind of been going in parallel lives to one another and now find themselves in the AFC Championship game. For Tom Brady it’s his eighth game with Bill Belichick. Nothing says greatness better or more than winning, especially at the highest level. Great moments require great people to do great things, and both of these players have accomplished that. I think I speak for Phil and every other quarterback that’s ever played the position, maybe with the exception of Joe Montana, that what you’re watching here are two guys that will go down as two of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.

(On what makes Bill Belichick so successful)
Simms: The thing that makes Bill so successful is that, in my eyes, it is truthfulness to his players. He tells them the truth. And it is raw, and it hurts. You’ve got to get used to that. But once you get used to it, it clarifies everything for you. You don’t have to walk around in your job and go, ‘€˜Oh, I wonder what Coach thinks of me or how am I doing?’€™ They let you know constantly. It is a rough way to play.

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Boomer Esiason on D&C: Ravens are ‘team of destiny,’ but 49ers have better players 02.01.13 at 9:26 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

Boomer Esiason

Boomer Esiason called in from New Orleans to talk with Dennis & Callahan about the state of the 49ers and Ravens as they head into the Super Bowl, and whether the Ravens’ intangibles or the 49ers’ talent will prevail.

In a week filled with off-field news items about Ravens and 49ers players, Esiason said he doubts the accusations of PED use will slow down Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, but that 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver seems shaken up by the media attention he’s gained this week for an anti-gay remark.

“Given all that Ray Lewis has been through, from the double murder back in 2000 to all of his gyrations during games and all of the publicity that’s he’s gotten, that’s the last thing that they worry about,” Esiason said.

“Now, on the other side, Culliver, who made the anti-gay statement, he was really uncomfortable and really felt badly about what he said. I don’t necessarily know that he understood the enormity of what he said. His situation’s a little bit different, and he’s probably going to carry that a little into the game, because I really felt that he he looked very very embarrassed and overwhelmed by the whole dust-up that his comments created.”

Asked about Ravens safety Ed Reed, whom Bill Belichick admires, Esiason said he could see Reed aiming to play with a quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning assuming he leaves the Ravens as a free agent this offseason.

“I’m sure that Ed Reed probably loves this experience that he’s having with the Baltimore Ravens right now,” Esiason said. “I would think he’d be willing to take a little less money — I imagine, I don’t want to put words in his mouth — to play for one of those franchises for a chance at a Super Bowl ring.”

Esiason’s Super Bowl prediction was a tight, defense-dominated battle: “This game should be a fourth-quarter game. It should be a relatively tight game. It should stay in the 20s. I’d be really shocked if somebody scores 30 points in this game, unless there’s some breakdown on special teams, which I really don’t expect.”

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Boomer Esiason on D&C: ‘I still believe that the Patriots are a better team’ 01.21.13 at 8:57 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to talk about the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC championship game.

“There’s something else going on here,” Esiason said of the Ravens’ emotional playoff run. “I still believe that the Patriots are a better team. But those words probably ring hollow to a lot of people this morning, simply because the Ravens, in the second half especially, really played a whale of a football game.”

Added Esiason: “I understand there’s a frustration that you lose a home game, especially when you’re 67-0 at halftime if you’re Tom Brady, and somehow you inexplicably lose this football game a beat-up older Ravens football team that really, in my estimation, when I look at it, I’m still a little bit surprised that this took place yesterday.”

The Patriots mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, settling for a field goal after wasting about 12 seconds.

Said Esiason: “It looks bad, and it gives me the idea that there’s something amiss, there’s something not right there. … That particular play right there told me all I needed to know.”

Wes Welker had a key third-down drop in the third quarter, igniting another discussion about whether the team should sign him to a new contract.

“The guy’s a great football player,” Esiason said. “And he and Tom have got something special going on. I would hate to break that up, personally. I know when you look at one play here, one play here, maybe a drop in the Super Bowl last year — that  in my estimation the ball could have been thrown better, although most people would tell you he’s got to make that play if you want to be an elite receiver. And then the third-and-7 yesterday. But even when you watch that third-and-7 yesterday, he had to turn his body. It hit him in the chest, I know that. But if that ball’s out in front of him maybe it’s a little different. …

“Would I want to break maybe the greatest duo in pass receiving in the history of the NFL when you look at their numbers back-to-back? It’s really amazing what those two have accomplished together. … The question is can you afford to pay Wes Welker that kind of money, and are you going to get that same production from him. And if you do give him a long-term contract, can you expect that production to come over the next 2-3-4 years that you’re going to be paying him. So, there’s a lot of variables that go into this.”

Bill Belichick turned down CBS sideline reporter Steve Tasker for a postgame interview, drawing heavy criticism from CBS studio host Shannon Sharpe. Esiason said he criticized Belichick for similar behavior after the Patriots’ loss to the Colts in the AFC championship game in 2007.

“Unfortunately it’s not in Bill’s nature,” Esiason said. “For all those people who want to have a reason to hate Bill Belichick, well, he gives it to them. And I can understand why Shannon said what he said. I’ve been down this road before. I’ve come to expect it.”

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Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots offense best in franchise history 01.14.13 at 9:21 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning, following an exciting weekend of playoff action that was capped by the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Texans.

Despite losing Rob Gronkowski early in the game, the Patriots found their rhythm on offense and pulled away for the most convincing win of the weekend.

“When I look at the Patriots from an offensive perspective, I think it’s the best team that they’ve ever had — the complement of players,” Esiason said. “Even with Gronkowski out and Danny Woodhead out and Julian Edelman out, guys like Shane Vereen step up, Stevan Ridley had a great game yesterday, there were couple of catches that [Wes] Welker made that we’ve all become used to, and then of course Aaron Hernandez, and you realize how good that offensive line is. I would sit here and argue with anybody: Over the life of the [Tom] Brady-[Bill] Belichick decade here that this is clearly — I don’t want to say clearly — but I feel pretty confident that it’s the best offense they’ve got.”

Added Esiason: “Even without Gronkowski, they’re still putting up 40 points a game. All of that is due in large part to the quarterback that is the ringleader in all of this and was pinpoint with his passing a his accuracy yesterday. There’s no question in my mind that Tom Brady, much like Joe Montana, is in the stratosphere of quarterbacks in the NFL. If we’re talking about who’s better here, who’s better there, winning and championships are the ones that will define that. For Tom Brady, all of those numbers that he has and that he’s compiled speak volumes. You don’t need me to echo them.”

Next up for the Patriots are the Ravens, a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game and possibly Ray Lewis‘ last game before retirement.

“There’s something to be said about playing against Ed Reed and Ray Lewis,” Esiason said. “They may have slowed down, they may be a little bit different, but you know what, they’re smart, they’re cagey, they’ve been through this a million times. And they finally have a quarterback [Joe Flacco], it looks like to me, that is becoming the difference-maker that everybody was hoping he would be maybe a couple of years ago down in Baltimore — just a little bit late, but certainly has played well now in the playoffs two years in a row.”

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Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots best team in AFC 12.03.12 at 9:43 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan and talked about the Patriots’ victory over the Dolphins, the AFC playoff picture, the Jets’ quarterback situation and more news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 23-16 and clinched the AFC East title. Although the victory wasn’t the most overwhelming, like the past two games, Esiason said coach Bill Belichick likely was happy with another win.

“I would say that if I were a fan of the Patriots I would be happy about my defense getting some headlines, especially late in the season like this,” Esiason said. “Because you know this offense is going to put up points. … As Bill Belichick will tell you, and as any coach will tell you, even Rex Ryan would say it this morning, ‘I don’t care how we win, I don’t care what it looks like, just give me one more point than the other team just so I can at least breathe a little bit easier when I wake up this morning.’ ”

The Patriots are on the heels of the Texans and play them next Monday night. Esiason said that if the Patriots can pull out a win over the Texans next week, they put themselves in a position to capture the No. 1 seed.

“If they can beat the Texans, go on to win the rest of their games, and the Texans somehow slip up against the Colts because they have to play them twice in the last three weeks, now all of a sudden you have a tied record, and by virtue of the fact that the Patriots beat the Texans on Monday night next week, they could be the No. 1 seed, which is really amazing when you think of all the stuff we’ve been through thus far to this point,” Esiason said.

In Sunday’s game, the Patriots rushed for 11 yards on seven carries in the first half. But in the fourth quarter, they turned it on when they needed. The Pats embarked on a drive of 77 yards that took 16 plays, 12 of which were runs, for a field goal that gave them a two-possession lead. Despite the loss, Esiason said the Dolphins defense played well.

“I give the Dolphins a lot of credit,” Esiason said. “They played a tough game last week against Seattle. A lot of people, including myself, thought that they would probably lose that game, but somehow they figure out a way to win. Now, all of a sudden, they come into this game knowing that they’re playing one of the best teams in football. They have to raise their level of play, they have to raise their focus during the week to get ready to go against Tom Brady. It’s a great challenge. … For the most part, I thought the Dolphins defense supported themselves very well yesterday.

“Ultimately, what’s going to happen, the best team is going to come out and they’re going to come out and they’re going to win nine times out of 10. And put these two franchises on the field and that best team is always going to be New England, and the reason that it’s going to be that way is because of the quarterback that’s behind center for them.”

After Sunday’s games, there are three AFC teams at 9-3: the Patriots, Ravens and Broncos. Esiason said he would rank the Patriots first among those teams, but cautioned that the return of Ben Roethlisberger could give the Steelers an edge.

“I thought about three weeks ago that it would be the Broncos and the Texans that would be heading to the AFC championship game, now I’m not so sure,” Esiason said. “Simply because, injuries start to take hold. The Texans lost two linebackers who are two of their most important players. And their quarterback in Matt Schaub is not as good as what’s going on in Denver and certainly with the Patriots. … If Pittsburgh can get Ben Roethlisberger back and that defense can play like it has for the past three weeks, now all of a sudden you have to put them in the mix. In my estimation, how I would rank them would probably be: Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Steelers, in that order. I think the Ravens are a little bit outside of that, simply because their defense is probably the worst of the four.”

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Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots lose a ‘major, major player’ with Rob Gronkowski injury 11.19.12 at 10:13 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan and talked about Rob Gronkowski’s injury, the Patriots’ 59-24 win over the Colts, and more news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

After the Pats’ commanding win Sunday, all focus shifted to Gronkowski, who reportedly broke his left forearm on an extra-point attempt while the Patriots were ahead by 35 points. Esiason said the loss would be big for the Patriots over the next few weeks.

“Gronkowski is a beast in the middle,” Esiason said. “He is impossible to cover. When he’s playing at the level that he played at yesterday, he’s a major difference-maker every time the Patriots play. With him out for the next maybe three to four to five weeks, maybe Aaron Hernandez comes back, maybe he’s ready to go. I don’t know. That is a major, major player that now is missing out of this Patriot offense. I know everybody else did their part yesterday, but certainly he is one of the guys that spearheads the success of that team. … We have never seen a guy who is that big, that talented, that athletic and to be able to make a play like that, to hold on to the ball while he’s getting hit in the back is pretty damn impressive.”

Added Esiason: “I would think that once Tom [Brady] found out, he probably was like, ‘I can’t believe this, I have to go down the next three or four weeks without legitimately my best player.’ ”

Keeping with the Patriot way, Bill Belichick did not pull his starters, including Gronkowski, out of the game even though New England far ahead and has a short week before the Thanksgiving game with the Jets on Thursday.

“I think it’s a part of the game,” Esiason said. “Belichick has always played it that way. Whether their team is 15-0 and there is a 16th game to be played, and they’ve already locked up home-field advantage, he’s playing his guys. He makes no excuses for that, he makes no apologies for that. It’s just the way it goes.”

The Patriots will have to plug the big void Gronkowski leaves as he recovers from the injury, and Esiason said he wasn’t sure exactly how they would go about this.

“A lot of this depends on where Aaron Hernandez is. I know he practiced on Friday,” Esiason said. “I thought when they first brought Aaron back, that was way too early. When you come back with the ankle injury he had suffered, you’re asking a lot for a guy to come back that quickly. … A lot of that will be determined by whether or not he is healthy. The other thing, too, remember, it’s a short week. So, I just don’t know if he is ready to go or not. … They’ll figure something out. If there’s a team that can do something on a short week and still be very good offensively, even without one of their best players, it’s going to be the New England Patriots.”

Overall, Esiason was impressed by the Patriots’ strong performance against the Colts on Sunday.

“Yeah, it was pretty impressive, no question,” Esiason said. “Julian Edelman was great. Certainly Tom Brady was more than efficient; he was actually surgical if you ask me. And then a couple of those interceptions that Andrew Luck threw were because of pressure that he was receiving. Anybody who watched the game can certainly see that Andrew Luck has all the skills to be one of the great ones, his time will definitely come. … I give Aqib Talib a lot of credit. He was in the right spot at the right time. A little bit of pressure forced the interception. To me, that was the point that really changed the whole dynamic of the game.”

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Boomer Esiason on D&C: Aqib Talib ‘definitely a very different sort’ 11.05.12 at 9:50 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan and recapped Week 9 in the NFL, touching on the Colts, the Falcons, the Buccaneers, Peyton Manning and more news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The Patriots traded for suspended Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib last week, and Esiason said it’s up to the team to convince him to heed the Patriot Way.

“If he stays out of trouble, he will [be successful],” Esiason said. “I know what they’re banking on here. They’re banking on the locker room, they’re banking on the organization. … This Aqib Talib kid is definitely a very different sort, very, very different. Hopefully up in Foxboro, he’s not going to get himself in trouble. This is what you call rolling the dice.”

The Colts posted a 23-20 victory over the Dolphins on Sunday behind Andrew Luck’s rookie-record 433-yard game. Esiason said the way ailing coach Chuck Pagano addressed the team following the game in the locker room was very impressive.

“The Andrew Luck-Chuck Pagano show was something special,” Esiason said. “I picked Miami to win the game yesterday. … Andrew Luck doing what he did, throwing for as many yards as he did, setting a rookie record in a single game and then tying Peyton Manning for most 300-yard games in a season at the number four. How lucky are the Indianapolis Colts fans to be able to go from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Hopefully a career of greatness that we’ll see there.

“The Chuck Pagano thing, for anybody who knows anybody whose ever dealt with cancer, to see him in the locker room after that game to talk about his daughter’s weddings and things of that nature, just gave me chills. So I would say that was really impressive.”

Eli Manning had a tough game on Sunday, throwing for just 125 yards with an interception in the Giants’ 24-20 loss to the Steelers.

“I thought the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to beat the New York Giants, because the Steelers now, whether you love them or hate them, these are the Steelers that we know and love or hate,” Esiason said. “They’re coming back defensively. Big Ben [Roethlisberger] is doing exactly what he does in games in which they win — he extends plays and makes throws and stands in there in the face of the pass rush. He’s as brave as any quarterback in football and he showed that yesterday.

“And the Giants, Eli Manning hasn’t played that well the last couple weeks. They won a game in Dallas, they won a game at home against [Robert Griffin III], but when you take a look at the stats and you see the yards that opposing offenses are putting up against that defense, it wasn’t shocking to me that the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Giants yesterday.”

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