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The Final Four
All top seeds remain
by John Blagtas on Jan 21, 2005
The season proved to be the best prognosticator of how these playoffs have shaped up so far with all the top teams making it to the final four. All the guessing, all the possible upsets, it was just having fun as fans. Seeing what we wanted to see instead of the fact that these four teams in their respective divisions were head and shoulders about their competition. The NFC was a little more obvious about the matter as opposed to the
AFC, where it took seeing a stunned Peyton Manning to know that the Patriots won that many games (14) for a reason. Where we go from here is a little bit like charting the comings and goings of the wind. In the AFC, will the Steelers be able to run on the Patriots? Will Brady be able to move the ball against the vaunted Steeler defense? In the NFC, we wonder if the Eagles have enough on offense to swoop up the Falcons? And can Vick and Co. get their running game on track? It will be interesting to see which team can answer affirmatively because they will be playing on Super "Commercial" Sunday.
AFC: Pittsburgh Steeler vs New England Patriots
This is the game we've wanted to see, especially after the drubbing the Patriots received at the hands of these Steelers on Halloween. In that game the Patriots had 4 turnovers while the Steelers had none. The Patriots didn't have Corey Dillon and ran for 5 yards while the Steelers ground game went wild for 221 yards and held
the ball almost 43 minutes. What a game. If I'm Pittsburgh what scares me isn't that game, it's remembering that game. The Steelers moreso need to focus on the way they've been playing of late. They're win against Baltimore was the last time I saw a juggernaut heading toward the Superbowl. Against admittedly good competition, the Steelers as of late have only "gotten by". Some would say that's the nature of football today. A three point win is as good as any. But look at the Patriots over that time period. A shocking loss to the Dolphins seemingly helped focus the team on where it needed to go. The most any opponent has been able to score on the defense since that loss is 1 touchdown. What Manning went through last week, was a sample of the brew Belichick has conjured up.
"Recipe for Patriot Tempest"
Add a smidgen of flying McGinest, a dash slamming Bruschi, a good teaspoon of mouthy Harrison and voila...
In that tempest the game will be won or lost. Despite momentum, despite recent play, despite everything, last week doesn't really amount to a hill of beans. We'll see if Roethlisberger and the Steeler depth at wide out vs can break free here and there. And it will take two or three breakdowns that lead to big plays for the Steelers to pull it out. And they can't turn it over. I can't help but think that the "Rook" will make a couple of mistakes that prove costly. But it isn't as if the Patriots can just show up and walk away winners. Brady also has to be mindful of the Steeler defense which features its own set of amazing linebackers. Any one of these guys might be rushing the quarterback at any time. He needs to have a really good game. If he or Dillon turn the ball over, yeah, I guess that's one of those big plays we're saying is key. Brady needs to have a couple of drives that remind everybody he's still the baddest sheriff around. Dillon needs to be an option all game long and have about 20 rushing attempts. And that will be as good an indicator as any as to wins this game.
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles vs Atlanta Falcons
Not to be outdone, even though they are, the NFC has a championship game too. Although the hype isn't as palpable it's certainly there. The Eagles have this history they need to retire. It's plagued them for three consecutive years. They reach this point each year only to find themselves in another "Groundhog Day" deja vu situation. This year the Falcons they meet is a lot like Carolina last year, in that they're somewhat of an unknown quantity. Luckily for the Eagle defense, this Falcon team doesn't seem as balanced as the Panther team...
Although, when Michael Vick is doing his thing, who cares about balance, because in the time it takes to say, "Balance", no. 7 might be running by you. Talk about having your head on a swivel. If I'm the defense, I'm always looking for him. Another similarity to that Panther team is the Falcon's return game. Last week a punt return by Allen Rossum put the Falcons in a dominant position before halftime. Don't expect it to happen again, but if does, Eagle fans will have cause to be concerned. Also, a compulsory tip of the hat is due the Falcon defense. While they're not overpowering, they do rush the passer well. Which at times, in cold weather, might force a turnover. What we saw last week will hard to duplicate against a vastly better Eagle defense. In Vick, do we have a player capable of carrying his team to the promised land? It really rests on his shoulders. He has the talent...
On the other side we know McNabb. His mom pitches "Chunky Soup" every Sunday. They've been here before but never made it any further. Brian Westbrook is as tough as they come, but after that what is going to help McNabb move the ball? McNabb's brain. He will have to coax his players into giving him their all, making them successful, not in things they don't like to do, but in setting up situations where they will thrive. This is what a good quarterback does. On defense, how do slow the Falcons down. Make Vick a passer. That's what the Eagles will do: show discipline, stay at home on defense, bring up the safety and take care of stopping the run. Enough moxie on McNabb's part and a solid defense against the run will put this game on footing more to the Eagle's liking.
by John Blagtas on Jan 21, 2005