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Making it to the Final Eight

With Few Quality NFC teams

I love how the league goes back and forth with talent levels (players and coaches) moving from the AFC to the NFC and back again. In the 80s and 90s we saw a 13-year NFC run that will probably never be repeated. But we are certainly on an AFC run -- five of the last seven isn't too bad -- that should continue at least this year.

What am I saying? The three top teams in the league are from the AFC. If Pittsburgh, Indy, or New England come out of the AFC they will probably kill whoever they play in the Superbowl. But it's far too early to talk about "Commercial Sunday". We're down to the final eight and each team is worthy of a lot of praise for even getting to this point. That said, somebody has to win and we're picking them here:

Jets-Steelers
The Jets have come far with Curtis Martin flourishing, turning in his best rushing season as a pro at the ripe old age of 31. The team has to be happy just to have gotten out of San Diego with a win, so they'll be playing loose. Keeping Chad Pennington from playing too loose will determine how close this one is, because honestly the Jets are flaming out in this round. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers have to get back in the flow of things after a bye week. Look for the defense to pounce and the offense to smash. The hero of the game will be the Steelers' front lines. If they run it on offense and stuff it on defense, this one will be over by halftime. Ben Roethlisberger needs to just play error free.

Rams-Falcons
For some reason, the Falcons are the biggest mystery of the year. They win, but barely. They look incredible when Michael Vick does his thing. They struggle when he can't get on track. The defense, led by former Raider Rod Coleman, at times looks great. At other times, they look lost. Who we'll get on Saturday is anybody's guess. On the Rams side of the ball, they look to be scoring on every opportunity. If the O-line can keep Bulger protected, this game will go down to the wire and in a two-minute drill it's anybody's ball game. While on the downside of an incredible run, the Rams still strike fear in most teams. Can their defense slow down the Falcons? This will be the question that determines the winner. I'll answer it here with a "Yes" in my upset special. Look for the Rams to squeak out a win.

Vikes-Eagles
The Vikings are playing really well right now, which is perfect for the Eagles who need to start hitting somebody and getting ready for a push that will take them to the Superbowl. The key to this game will be the Eagle defense. If they can exert a sustained effort against the explosive Viking offense, McNabb and company will be able to handle the rest. On the other hand, if Dante Culpepper can do what he did against Green Bay, and get up big, early, we might be witness to another Eagle dive. I don't think that will happen though. The main reason being the Eagle defense isn't as open as that of the Packers. Look for the game to stay tight early on and then for the Eagle onslaught to begin. Don't disregard Randy Moss in this one. I'm talking about his disregard of everybody around him and with that stank attitude, he could single handedly sink the Viking ship.

Colts-Pats
This is my Superbowl winner here. Whoever gets out of this game will win it all. At least that's my gut feeling. The Colts are just unstoppable this year and I don't see any reason to not go with them. What about all those poor Manning performances in the past? What about Brady always coming through with the right play at the right time? Yes, I know. It's hard to go against a team that plays so solidly on both sides of the ball. But you look at what Manning has been doing all year. Who can stop him? The Patriot defense that's who. I would normally be right there with you but this year's group is a little banged up and the game is all about match-ups, and the Patriots don't match-up at corner. Unless Belichick can work enough of his magic, which will probably feature a lot of Cory Dillon (taking a page out of the Steeler ball control playbook), this one should go the Colts way. Hopefully this will be a classic. Like I said, it's gut check time here. Indy wins.

That's it from this peanut gallery. This is the time of the year when football fans get anxious and excited for no reason. It's Christmas all over again, but this time it's for real. So don't get upset when your significant other ignores your calls or comes home only to read more from ESPN. Just stock up on gametime supplies, whip up some guac and enjoy the games.