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NFL Playoffs 2006

Down to the Final Four

What in world did we just see last week? Just another weekend of smash mouth, blown calls and in the end incredible games. This is what playoff football was meant to be: controversy; great plays; a changing of the guard; and this yearís front-runner defeated. In the end, however, the best teams in each division are still standing.

In the AFC, Pittsburgh was simply more physical than Indianapolis. In what turned out to be a stroke of luck for the Steelers, a series of bad breaks didnít keep them from a well deserved win. A bad call on the interception and the first fumble of the year by "The Bus" added more drama than there should have been and left Indy a chance to escape, but in the end, Mike Vanderjagtís push wide right, preserved an impressive Steelers victory.

In Denver, an opportunistic Bronco team took the Patriots to task and ended a memorable run. New England fans will attribute the loss to turnovers, but honestly, the better team won. Denver stepped it up defensively to put away the game.

In the NFC, Carolina looked good against a tough Chicago Bear team, at home in Chicago. But the ability of Chicago to score has to raise a red flag heading into this week's game against a more able foe. Jake Delhomme is a top gun in the NFC and his ability to make plays and find Steve Smith is key for the Panthers to succeed. Even with DeShaun Foster out, Delhomme found Smith wide-open time after time. And thatís what got them the victory.

Seattle, did the little things it needed to do against a tough Redskin team and Seahawk defense withstood the ground attack of Clinton Portis. While not very impressive to look at, the 20 - 10 win helped establish the Seahawks as early favorites in their contest against Carolina.

So what do we expect this week?

Denver Broncos vs Pittsburgh Steelers
I like Pittsburgh over Denver for two reasons, and Denver over Pittsburgh for one. I like the way the Steeler defense is playing. I also like the way Ben Rothlisberger has been so calm and relaxed this year. They have played two physical playoff games and will try to do it against an always scrappy, always "in- better-shape-than-you" Bronco team -- itís the thin air. The Steelers try to control you and will find success by keeping Jake Plummer in the pocket. The Denver Broncos will have the home field -- a big plus. Thatís the not the only reason to like them, but itís the biggest. And this is why you play for home field during the season, especially if you're Denver which has an 8-0 record at home. Denver has been a quality team all year and will be tested against a really tough Steeler team. In the end, it's a toss up but the Broncos have just enough to win.

Prediction: Denver 20 Pittsburgh 17
Actual Result: Denver 17 Pittsburgh 37

Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks cruise while the Panthers limp. Health and home field advantage lead many to say, "The Seahawks are going to the Superbowl." I would have picked the Panthers but injuries to DeShaun Foster and Julius Peppers seem to be too much for any team to overcome. That is, unless I conveniently forget that the NFL's most dynamic duo is still alive and kicking. The Jake Delhomme - Steve Smith connection is so strong, Seattle will be forced to and should double the side of the field Smith is on. And this is what has me concerned; Delhomme is going to pick the Seahawks apart if he has time. For Seattle, they will need a tremendous effort on defense and from their workhorse Shaun Alexander who must bounce back from a concussion. The key for the Seahawks will be to control the clock and attack the Panthers with balance on offense. If the ground game isn't 100%, Matt Hasselbeck will have to counter Delhomme and this is where it gets dicey. It'll be another close one.

Prediction: Carolina 28 Seattle 23
Actual Result: Carolina 14 Seattle 34

Final Note: Sorry guys, I should have seen the Pittsburgh result. My head was saying one thing, while my heart said another. With Seattle, I guess the home field actually made a difference in this case. Seattle was clearly the better team in this contest and I've never given this team its fair share of credit.

Congrats to both Pittsburgh and Seattle.