Pittsburgh 31, Baltimore 24.
Was this a choke job by the Ravens or simply the Steelers outplaying them? The answer is, a little bit of both. Joe Flacco played the second half of Saturday's game as if he hadn't played a game of football in his life. Three turnovers, including one by Ray Rice that changed the course of the game. Plus a holding penalty that negated a punt return for a touchdown. Easy to suggest choke, right? Well, give the Steelers more credit than that. The hallmark of the Mike Tomlin era is that this team NEVER panics. And they didn't. They stuck to their game plan in the second half despite all the first half physical and mental mistakes, and took advantage of every opportunity their opponents gave them. That is the mark of a championship-calibur team. You want another example? Big Ben's 58-yard pass to rookie reciever Antonio Brown on 3rd and 18 with less than two minutes to go, in their own territory, is one of the gutsiest calls in playoff history. THAT is how you win in January.
Green Bay 45, Atlanta 21.
Did the Falcons get the number of that truck that flattened them like a pancake Saturday night? It's ARGB12. Aaron Rodgers' postseason career, after only three starts, is beginning to mirror those of Joe Montana and Tom Brady. His counterpart, Matt Ryan, has a LOT of work to do to reach that level, after two playoff losses in three seasons. His inexplicable throw to Tramon Williams at the end of the first half to essentially put a dagger in the Dirty Birds defies logic. The Packers look like a Super Bowl winner, don't they? Everything is going their way right now. And get ready for this one, Packer Nation: your current quarterback is BETTER, yes, BETTER than Mr. Favre in his prime.
Chicago 35, Seattle 24.
All you can say about this one is that Seattle's magic simply ran out. Jay Cutler did not make any fatal mistakes during his first playoff game, but he will have to be nearly flawless next week against the Packers for Da Bearsss to have a chance to make it to Dallas. As I said last week, Seattle needed to play another near perfect game like the one they had against the Saints in the first round, and after getting down 7-0 very quickly, you could sense it was over for them.
NY Jets 28, New England 21.
On behalf of all Patriot haters worldwide, I'd just like to say THANK YOU to the Jets for knocking off football's Evil Empire. The Jets didn't just back up all their smack talk to the Pats Sunday night, but they recieved bragging rights for at least the next calendar year, no matter what happens the remainded of the postseason or next regular season! This was, without a doubt, the Jets' greatest victory since Super Bowl III (for now), and for the first time, we can actually question the greatness of Brady and Belichick! Consider this, folks. The Pats have NOT won a playoff game since the 2008 AFC title game against the Chargers. Three calendar years. They still have not recovered from the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. And with Brady nearing his mid-30s, and the remaining cornerstone from their old dynasty gone, it's time to ask yourself: can B&B win one more Super Bowl? I doubt it! This year was their best chance, and they played their worst game of the season against their archrival.
Conference Championship Picks (2-2 last week; won with PIT and GB, lost with SEA and NE; 25-27 overall)
Green Bay 34, Chicago 17. (GB -3 1/2)
Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams are playing the best football of their lives right now. The Packers are getting contributions from so many second-string players that they should name a string-cheese after guys like James Starks. On a historic run like this, you can't have a doubt in your mind that the Pack will go into Soldier Field against their oldest rival and take care of business on the road to Dallas. How can the Bears win this one? Generate a pass rush and attempt to fluster Rodgers. If somehow they can accomplish that, wonderful. But the other key will be, as mentioned before, if mistake-prone Jay Cutler can throw a flawless game. If these things happen, Chicago has a fighter's chance. But at the end, Green Bay is simply better, top to bottom.
Pittsburgh 17, NY Jets 13. (PIT -3 1/2)
This game is a toss-up. Both teams feature excellent defenses. One (Steelers) can stop the run better than anyone, and another (Jets) can stop the pass better than anyone. Also, the biggest difference between this game and the 22-17 Week 15 Jet win at Heinz Field: the best defensive player in the sport, Troy Polamalu, is playing for Pittsburgh. Heath Miller, their All-Pro tight end, will be playing as well. Perhaps their heart and soul on the D-line, Aaron Smith, may return from torn triceps. So what will this game come down to? The quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings to his credit already, and is arguably the best big-game quarterback in the game today. Mark Sanchez is one win away from the most road playoff wins by a quarterback in history. These players will have to make one huge play in order for their teams to have a chance. The special teams, especially if Brad Smith can't go for the Jets, will be an X-factor as well. This is going to be an exciting game.