Greatest Football Sunday of the Year

Is tomorrow.  The Super Bowl gets the big load of attention, and with obvious reason.  However, I have always thought that Conference Championship Sunday is actually better.  Why?  Because you get two championship football games to watch, and not merely one.  And it is mostly just football without all the outside nonsense that goes with a Super Bowl; the pomp and circumstance is kept to a minimum (I am looking a bit forward to the pomp this year because its Bruce Springsteen, but that is another story).  Speaking of the actual games:

6. Philadelphia (9-6-1 regular season at 4. Arizona (9-7 regular season).  For the first time since the merger in a non-strike shortened season both participants in a conference championship game will be teams that won fewer than 10 regular season games.  But that shouldn’t diminish this contest between two teams that are hitting their peak in January.  For the Eagles, all the principles involved can try to deny it, but there is very little arguing that this team turned things around after Andy Reid benched McNabb at halftime of a game in Baltimore in November.  Aside from a Week 16 hiccup in Washington that almost derailed their playoff express, its been a new offense since then.  And, for the Cardinals, they spent the whole regular season looking like the one trick (pass offense) pony that would make the playoffs only by winning a sad sack division.  But then a strange thing happened; they found a defense, keyed by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they took Edgerrin James out of cold storage and now have a solid complimentary running game.  In other words, they look like a complete football team.  Whoever wins this game will likely be an underdog in Tampa, especially if its Pittsburgh they find waiting there, but neither one of these teams can be taken lightly by any stretch.

6. Baltimore (11-5 regular season) at 2. Pittsburgh (12-4 regular season).  All signs point to a “hide the women and children” type slugfest as it usually is when these two teams play.  The Steelers face the old adage that it is tough to beat a team 3 times in one season (since the merger teams that swept the regular season pair of games are 11-7 in postseason rematches) and the 1-4 record at home in AFC Championship Games the past 14 seasons.  One could argue that stat is due to turn in their favor.  Then again, they are 7-0 all time in the playoffs against divisional opponents, another stat you could argue is due to turn, this time against them.  So just ignore all that.  The Steelers offensive line looked good against San Diego last week and convergently Willie Parker looked like his old self.  The Ravens defense looked a bit tired at times against Tennessee but was able to force several big turnovers.  Joe Flacco has not played great in his first two playoff games but he avoided mistakes.  Expect Baltimore to pound McClain and MaGahee and then take the occassional shot downfield.  Assuming both defenses are good for a couple turnovers, this game could come down to whether the Ravens can hit a few big plays offensively and whether the Steelers can move the ball consistently on Baltimore.  It should not be snowing by kickoff and it will be chilly (in the 20s) but not sub-zero frigid like Pittsburgh was Friday and Saturday mornings, so I doubt weather is a huge factor.

Predictions: I’m not going to make any, sorry, other than to say that Buck & Aikman will sound so incredibly corporate a couple times, Phil Simms will say something inane, and Peyton Manning will go down to the 4th floor to get a massage a couple times.


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