If we can just shift our attention from cheerleaders to the actual games on Sunday for a second (easier said than done), we could figure out who will win their divisional championships. Let me spare you the suspense, I think Carolina and Denver win this weekend. That's right, Jake versus Jake in the Super Bowl.
Neither of these games are easy to pick (read: there's a good chance I will be wrong) since it appears Pittsburgh and Seattle have the advantage when you just look at player matchups. Roethlisberger is better than Plummer. Steelers defense is more dominant than Denver's defense. Seattle's offense has more weapons than Carolina's offense. Etc.
But, Seattle and Pittsburgh also have a history of choking in the playoffs that can't be ignored. In 14 years under Cowher the Steelers have made it to the postseason 10 times and have never won a Super Bowl (although Cowher did get to the Super Bowl in '95). Seattle has not had much luck under Holmgren either. Not since Shannahan beat him in the Super Bowl (and since he had Favre) has Holmgren been to the NFL's championship game.
Seattle vs. Carolina
I can't believe I actually writing this and still picking the Panthers but Nate Goings will be the key to Carolina's win. Seattle has to double cover Steve "Mighty Midget" Smith, which should leave room for Goings to run free. While Goings does not have the big play ability of DeShaun Foster, he is good enough to find holes in the Seattle defense. The Carolina offense made quick work of the number two defense last week at Soldier Field, and while Seattle will have learned from the Bears defense, Carolina can throw enough looks at the young middle linebacker for the Seahawks (Lofa Tatupa) to confuse the defense.
I still don't trust this Seattle offense in the playoffs. Carolina's defense is comparable to the 'Skins defense and should create problems for Seattle, especially if Shaun Alexander shrinks under the pressure again (which is odd 'cause some of Alexander's best games have occurred during primetime, i.e. Sunday and Monday nights).
My Pick: Carolina Panthers
Denver vs. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh looks really good coming off of that Indy win last week. But here's why I don't like them this week.
Pittsburgh basically threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Colts last week and still barely won. The Colts came in cold, and the Steelers took advantage by throwing on first and third downs, something they had not done all season. Pittsburgh won the game in the first quarter and then did the best they could to hang onto the lead.
Basically, Pittsburgh went with the windmill punch in the first round and Indy forgot to duck. Denver won't make the same mistake.
Mike Shannahan has got to be tired of everyone saying that he needed John Elway to win those two Super Bowls. So he went out and brought in the second most underrated quarterback in the NFL (Carr is the most underrated) in an effort to prove that he can win the Super Bowl without Elway.
My Pick: Denver Broncos
Whatever the outcome of this weekend it is very likely that either Carolina or Pittsburgh will make it to the Super Bowl. Should either of those two make it to the big game, it will be the first time a a team played three road games in the playoffs and made it to the Super Bowl. That is an incredibly difficult task that a few years ago would have been unimaginable.
A good number of idiots have been attacking the current level of parity in the NFL, arguing that NFL dynasties are dead (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and that all the teams stink equally. But the Bucs would most likely never would have one a Super Bowl if not for parity. Without a salary cap and free agency they never could have attracted the talented players they needed to turn the franchise around. While fans of the Cowboys and the 49ers will long for the old days, the rest of NFL fandom (especially those in Tampa Bay, Cincy, etc.) should be glad that their team can stink one season but win the Super Bowl the next.
Now that's what I call exciting.