Show me someone who claims not to like the NFL divisional playoffs and I will show you someone who is a heretic, a hypocrite or a craven liar.
The divisional round always throws up one game that could easily be a fitting Super Bowl game; an end to the season worthy of the name. And this year it throws up three, which almost amounts to riches beyond the dreams of avarice (and if you are still not satiated then you'll just have to endure Seattle at Chicago, the way every Chinese buffet has a surprise tofu dish).
The weekend kicks off with Baltimore at Pittsburgh, a rivalry which would make for a Super Bowl par excellence, were it possible for it to ever happen (which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, it isn't). Here are three things that I hope we see in this game:
1. A Battle of the Defenses
Part of my reasoning is about the star safeties: Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. One of them is going home after this game. Both of them are playing through their own personal pain to be in it. Neither of them deserves to lose.
The other part is that neither side has an O-line that has inspired me with confidence this year. On the Pittsburgh side, I practically have a panic attack every time I see the name Trai Essex in the rotation, and there is a strong possibility that he may start on Saturday. For Baltimore, Michael Oher has been playing injured for too many weeks now. He plays every snap on offense and on special teams as well, and that knee isn't going to last forever. He has clearly been nursing it through the last two weeks and is an obvious point of attack for the Steelers.
In short, I expect this to be a tough day for Messrs Roethlisberger and Flacco.
Not just because this has the makings of a great game and I want to see more of it, but because the record between these two warrants it. They played twice this season, of course, and the combined score was 1-1 in games and 27-27 in points. You may say that the Ravens won their game against a Roethlisberger-less Steelers, but remember that they did it with a Reed-less secondary. By whatever measure you look at it, we are going to want to see more of this game and if we get an extra 15 minutes, so be it.
3. The Game Not To Be Decided by a Kicker
Heinz Field is not an easy venue to kick at. Shaun Suisham has only limited experience there, having joined the Steelers in midseason. Billy Cundiff is a fine kicker, there are few better on kickoff, but his record otherwise is only average for this league.
But more significantly, Cundiff has been such a rock for the Ravens this season that, frankly, he doesn't deserve to be the man who puts them out. Meanwhile, the main problem with Suisham being a kicker in the NFL is that he never looks like someone who wants to be a kicker in the NFL. If it comes down to him to win the game with seconds left, it's going to be the Ravens who go through.