With the playoffs upon us, here is a short preview of how it will break down.
AFC Wild Card Weekend
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
The Ravens have become a very good team, no matter how much I hate to admit that they are good at anything.
Their defense is great, and their offense is above average and shows potential to get better. I simply think that the fact that the head coach and quarterback are both rookies will catch up with them.
I don't predict a blow out, but a few mistakes will prevent them from winning the game.
Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers
The Colts are the hottest team in football and have one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
Peyton Manning has elevated his team with MVP-level play and enabled them to turn around a 3-4 season. The Chargers' defense doesn't have what it takes to stop the red-hot Colts.
NFC Wild Card Weekend
Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals
The Cards locked up their division early and haven't shown anything to prove themselves since then.
Their abysmal record out of their division will come back to haunt them now that they are in the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings
This is a difficult one to call.
The Eagles are winning in quality fashion and may be one of the hottest teams in football after clawing their way back into the playoff picture and putting up 44 on Dallas.
The game will be close but the difference maker will be the running game. The Eagles have had great success in this department and have had good balance on offense. This is the reason they have won their past games.
The Vikings, however, have the best running defense in football, the Eagles will fall back on an unbalanced one-sided passing attack, and they will lose.
AFC Divisional Round
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Dolphins amazing season comes to a close as they run into the brick wall that is the best defense in football.
The Dolphins have won games on offense and not turning the ball over. This is why they say defense wins championships as they will be severely limited in their offensive production and will turn the ball over.
Defensive MVP candidates Troy Polamalu and James Harrison will make the Dolphins pay each time they drop back. With the Steelers getting healthy, especially on the defensive side, a week off can only help.
Willie Parker has shown signs of health as well, having one of the best games of his season in week 17. Ben Roethlisberger's mild concussion will have healed within two weeks and he will be ready to lead his offense.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
The Colts beat the Titans in the last game of the year. There are those who say that this game didn't prove much and it probably didn't.
There is, however, much to be said about the idea of resting starters for the playoffs. The Titans starters are not only going to be rusty with almost three weeks off, but they will have lost any momentum they had by losing.
It can also be a huge psychological block for a team when they lose to a team they must play in the playoffs, especially when it is toward the end of the season. I am a Steelers fan so take this however you want to, but the Curse of Myron Cope will destroy the Titans.
A team cannot disrespect the symbol of another team and hope to perform well. The only other team who has done this is the Bengals. That was at the end of their 2005 season. That turned out to be a great decision on their part.
The Titans don't actually play the Steelers in this game, but that's why I am calling it a curse. I hope the Titans win so the Steelers can show them how to win with class. It won't happen however as the Colts are far too skilled.
NFC Divisional Round
Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are one of the best teams in football; at home they have no equal. The Panthers balanced offense has the second best receiver in football (Steve Smith) and one of the best rushing attacks of any team.
Typically I would pick defense over offense; however I cannot see the Vikings keeping up with the Panthers.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
The NFC South has struggled on the road and the division-winning Panthers have already lost to the Giants. The Falcons do not have a way to overcome the Giants' defense and will have trouble putting points on the board.
Eli Manning has begun to return to his role and will be able to lead his team to a victory. All possible Cinderella stories in the NFL come to a close as the renewed Giants resume their devastating rushing attack, to which the Falcons will have no answer.
Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers lost the last game by making mistakes, on offense and defense. Expect the Steelers to be a more solid team against the Colts, as Ben has worked through the rough points in his season, and the defense has allowed only one of sixteen opponents to gain 300 yards.
Peyton Manning typically has struggled against pressure, particularly from Pittsburgh. Expect a game similar to the previous post-season match up of the two AFC perennial powerhouses, with the defense of the Steelers controlling the flow of the game early, and preventing the Colts from gaining enough traction to get back into the game.
Carolina Panthers at New York Giants
This will be the best game up to this point in the playoffs. Both teams are quite skilled and the previous matchup ended in overtime with a field goal.
Expect a similar game, with the Panthers using their offense to get out to an early lead, and the Giants looking for a way to get back into it. This game, however, will have a different result as the Panthers will not let the Giants back into the game.
The best game of the year will fittingly occur as the Panthers and Steelers meet in Tampa to determine the World Champion.
The Panthers' unstoppable force of an offense against the Steelers' immovable object of a defense.
If the Panthers don't get out to an early lead the game will be over, as the Steelers will smother the opposing offense, and move the ball only efficiently enough to eat away the clock.
But come on, none of us want to see that.
The game will be a microcosm of the Steelers season and the result will depend on whether Big Ben can muster another comeback in the fourth quarter. The Panthers will score a few times quickly, and at the half appear to hold a commanding lead.
The genius of Dick LeBeau, however, will make the proper half time adjustments, as he does game in and game out, and the Panthers will be shut down in the second half. The Steelers will get key turnovers as the defense chokes the life out of the Panthers.
The offense will take the easy points, and as the fourth quarter begins to wind down it will seem as if the Steelers just wont die off. With little time left on the clock Big Ben will hold the ball and force the issue, driving the Steelers down the field on the most important fourth quarter comeback of the year.
Pittsburgh becomes the first team in NFL history to win six times in the Big Game as they prove once again that while offense may be pretty and fun, it is truly defense that wins championships.