Ah, Steelers Week. That time of winter when we muster up all the most vicious parts of ourselves and target them towards a group of people who hate us for no reason other than the team we happen to root for. If we had grown up in one another’s cities we would have the same hatred back the other way, and yet that is the power of sports. Even the players mostly have no connection to either city, so if they had been drafted differently Ravens fans wouldn’t be embracing the antics of a Pittsburgh Terrell Suggs and Pittsburgh fans wouldn’t be making excuses for a Baltimore Hines Ward.
So on the eve of this most “hated” rivalry, I have a message for Baltimore fans and Pittsburgh fans alike. One team will win tomorrow, and one team will lose. It will have no impact on what happens the next day except that you might or might not have to make plans to watch another game next week. If your team loses, grab some pierogies or pit beef, and relax. If you win, you aren’t any better, cooler, or stronger than you were before. Your team, maybe. But you? Not so much. Keep it classy.
But there are three other games this weekend, so let’s line up for the kick…
Packers at Falcons
The Green Bay Packers have a roster that is built to be a 12-4 team. At times they have played like a 12-4 team, and when they bring their talent to bear, there is not a better team in the NFC than the Packers. However, this is a 10-6 team for a reason. They don’t just lay an egg, they have half a carton to their credit. Luckily for them, they ran into an Eagles team that had the exact same problem, and on that day, Philadelphia couldn’t get their act together soon enough. The Packers-Falcons game in Week 12 was a mistake filled effort for the Packers, and they still nearly took the game to overtime. As for the Falcons, they don’t win with flash, but they sure do keep it close. I expect Green Bay’s defense to step up and keep Michael Turner in check for most of the game, and I actually think that, being the playoffs, Aaron Rodgers will be much better than he was in their first meeting. That said, the Packers beat the Eagles with their running game, and Atlanta will not be nearly as forgiving. This will be a higher scoring game than their first meeting, but Atlanta should win it, 27-24.
Jets at Patriots
For all their bluster, the New York Jets aren’t any better or worse than their record. Their offense, despite last-second escapes from Detroit, Cleveland and Houston, is far from a finished product. Mark Sanchez has been erratic at best, leading an offense that failed to reach ten points 4 times this season, all in losses. In their last meeting with New England, they were absolutely thrashed, only managing a field goal even as the Patriots put on 45. This is not a great Patriots defense, but it rarely seems to matter for the Jets. It doesn’t matter who they are playing, sometimes they just stall and need to be bailed out by a miraculous throw and catch in the waning minutes. That is certainly possible against the Patriots, but Rex Ryan’s kids have gotten far too lucky this season. The odds have to come around. And do you think that Bill Belichick won’t have his team completely prepared to face New York? Tom Brady victimizes Antonio Cromartie and the Jets make mistakes en route to a 31-23 New England victory.
Seahawks at Bears
I think it might be time for us to stop underestimating the Chicago Bears… at least for this week. Last week was the only wake-up call Chicago needed to realize that Seattle was for real, and that their defense will be tested against a rejuvenated Matt Hasselbeck. The Bear’s secondary is their Achilles Heel, and if Hasselbeck can perform as well as he did against New Orleans, this will be a high scoring affair. Jay Cutler has started to come around again and is taking better advantage of his weapons, and should come close to what Drew Brees was able to do last weekend. That said, weather at Soldier Field is always a factor. If it is, Seattle could get some opportunistic Cutler interceptions, but I believe in the Chicago running game just a little bit more than Seattle’s which came in 31st in the league before their explosive output against the Saints. I still think this one will be high scoring, but without the crowd on Seattle’s side, I give it to the Bears, 35-27.
A week after 3 road teams won, I am going with the chalk in the divisional round.