16 January 2006

2005 Post-Season: Divisional Playoffs

GREAT GOOGLEY-MOOGLEY THE STEELERS BEAT THE COLTS! Well, there goes my Super Bowl prediction. And once again, I'm at .500 in my picks for the week. The Editor, you called it at our favorite dive bar on Thursday night: it's very rare for the number 1 and 2 seed teams to get to the Super Bowl.

Seahawks/Redskins (20-10) - I was right.
Shaun Andrews got NAILED (as in concussion) in the first quarter, and it was looking like it might be all over for the Seahawks. Hasselback had a good year, but Andrews is the frikkin' NFL MVP. 28 touchdowns this season (half in the MNF game against the Eagles). It was looking like the 'Skins luck was going to hold. But Hasselback put that team and its playoff hopes on his shoulders and carried them right into the NFC championship game. Once again, the Redskins couldn't find their offense (Gibbs, I told you to look in the kitchen junk drawer. Did you look? Look now...we'll wait...SEE, I TOLD you so!), and although the Seahawks certainly made mistakes, their D stepped up and the 'Skins O was so bad it didn't matter.

Broncos/Patriots (27-13) - I was right.
"10-0 is as far as you go" read the sign in Mile High Stadium, and boy, were they right. Yes, there was a bad interference call that went against the Pats and gave the Broncos their first TD, but in the end it didn't matter. The Pats have been like a beat up car that's being held together with Bondo and duct tape all season long, winning the weakest of the 8 divisions, and just like in the final reel of the Blues Brothers, when Jake and Elwood arrive at the Chicago tax office, the car had gone as far as it could go. There's a reason no one three-peats in the NFL, people.

Steelers/Colts (21-18) - I was wrong.
OK, I thought the hump Peyton Manning had to get over was the Patriots. Turns out, it's the playoffs in general - and it seems to run in the family. The Colts were totally outplayed. This was, by far, the MOST exciting game of the playoffs to date. If you didn't see it, I feel sorry for you. After sluggish play throughout the game, the Colts were handed two big opportunities to win it: the atrocious call that overturned Polamalu's interception (what the hell were the officials thinking?) and Bettis' uncharacteristic (first this entire season) fumble. And the Colts still couldn't pull it out, including a missed Vanderjagt FG, which almost never happens. Manning was, as ever, notably ungracious in defeat, blaming everyone but himself for the loss. Dude, if you hadn't gotten so rattled by the Blitsburgh Steelers for 3 1/2 quarters, it wouldn't have come down to a long FG. Bettis meanwhile took full responsibility for the fumble, with Roethlisberger supporting him the whole way, saying that in 100 situations like that (up by 3, close to the goal line, too much time left to knee it out), they're going to do the exact same thing all 100 times. Good thing Roethlisberger made that tackle, though, since he was, as Hines Ward pointed out, the only one on the field at that time with any speed. The game was incredibly well coached by Bill Cowher and incredibly well played by the entire team, from the blitzing to Roethlisberger's passing game, to the multiple times they went for it on 4th and short. They were playing to win, hands down, against a team no one thought they could beat, and it made for an afternoon of HIGH drama. Oh - and to all those Philly playa-haters: are you SURE you'd rather have Manning than McNabb? Thought so.

Panthers/Bears (29-21) - I was wrong.
Why oh why didn't they pull Rex Grossman? Yes, he's the future of the team, but Kyle Orton totally stepped up this season and was the one who got the Bears to the playoffs (at the top of the second weakest division in football this year, but still...). Sure Grossman's got the arm, but he's hardly played at the pro level. What was Lovie Smith thinking? I was sure Grossman would be pulled at the half, if not before. The Panthers played a great game, and they got lucky on the weather, but come on! But they lost a key player - DeShaun Foster - to a broken ankle, and he won't be back, so it was a costly win.

So now what?

Seahawks/Panthers: I have to stick with my original Seahawks pick. Plus with their playoff history, they are the underdogs, which means I'd like to see them win. And Philly Girlfriend could say that she went to the game where we got trounced by the NFC rep to the Super Bowl. Chef Spouse's picking the Panthers because he wants to see two wildcard teams in the Super Bowl, which brings me to...

Broncos/Steelers: All the numbers are in the Broncos' favor, but the Steelers are playing like they mean it this January. I don't know if it's Cowher, or Big Ben working out his playoff nerves, or a team-wide desire to send Bettis into retirement with a big ole ring, of they all started eating their Wheaties, but if they can sustain the level of intensity they've maintained throughout the playoffs for one more week, I think it's all them, baby!

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