It Championship weekend in the NFL as four teams battle it out to make Super Bowl XLV. Steven O’Rourke previews the action.
I FOUND OUT this week that, despite having better than 20:20 vision, I still need to wear glasses.
It’s something to do with glare, and so I have to wear them when I’m driving, watching TV or typing this column. It’s a strange feeling, but not as strange as seeing two sixth-seeded teams entering Championship weekend as realistic contenders.
AFC Championship Game:
New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers
For a few months now – and despite picking the Ravens last week – I was pretty confident the AFC Championship Game would see the New England Patriots hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. This, I thought, was New England’s only hurdle to Super Bowl XLV success. How wrong I was.
Last week, the Jets entered the lions’ den in Foxborough and outfought, outthought and outplayed the home team for the second weekend in a row. These performances appeared to be the result of the Jets players surfing the wave of trash talk Rex Ryan had directed as his opponents.
Interview any American professional sportsperson after they’ve won and nine times out of ten they’ll thank, God, Allah or whatever you’re having yourself. Jets players should be worshiping at the alter of Rex.
He’s managed to mould a team around an inconsistent quarterback and a defence that has more ego than a Sigmund Freud biography.
This week though, he’s been remarkably quiet. Unlike Brady and Manning, Ryan knows that the Steelers don’t need rattling, they’re already rattled. All but the most die-hard terrible towel wavers will admit that the Ravens snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last week. Play as poorly again and the Jets will have won three on the spin away from home to go from sixth seeds to the Super Bowl.
Result: Credit Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin for not allowing his team to fall apart last week when they went 14 points behind but you also get the impression that such an event can’t happen twice. If the Jets get ahead early and, unlike the Ravens, adopt a Patriots’ style bend-don’t-break defence, then the green and white can look forward to Texas on February 6.
NFC Championship Game
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
This is one of the oldest battles in the NFL. These two teams will meet for an incredible 182nd time on Sunday but it will be the first time the NFC Championship is at stake.
While the Bears looked comfortable against the Seahawks last weekend, the Packers looked nothing short of Super Bowl shoo-ins. QB Aaron Rodgers appears to have come back from late season injury determined to show the world that he is the best quarterback in the NFC if not, on present form, the entire league.
His performance last week in the Georgia Dome was nothing short brilliant.
If he plays as well this week the Packers will neutralise one of the Bears greatest assets, Devin Hester. Hester, the NFL’s all-time record kick returner, returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown when the teams met in September this year.
However, last week against the Falcons, the Packers didn’t punt once. A repeat performance could make the difference in this game.
Result: The Bears hardly needed to get out of second gear against the Seahawks last weekend. This week sees them taking to Soldier Field knowing that nothing short of their A-game will see them reach the Super Bowl.
Even that may not be enough with Rodgers and the Packers in this form. Super Bowl XLV should be contested by the two teams who entered the playoffs with the lowest seeding.
Steven O’Rourke is the offensive coordinator of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club. When not obsessing with football he can be found at 4fortyfour.