Final Four Remain in Playoffs

Championship weekend means only four teams start the weekend with something to play for, and with the defending champ, perceived favorite and best defense all eliminated, no true frontrunner exists. Even the Seattle Seahawks, the remaining No. 1 seed, are slight underdogs at home, where they haven’t lost all year. Two teams move onto Super Bowl XL, but which team advances is anybody’s guess.

Panthers at Seahawks

As predicted last week, Seattle Seahawks running back and league MVP Shaun Alexander was shown to be the most overrated player in the league. Using a tactic Emmitt Smith perfected in the ‘90s, Alexander demanded playing time in the fourth quarter of meaningless and already decided games in order to gain a couple of records and inflate his own massive ego. When the Seahawks actually needed him to play a meaningful game, Alexander fumbled on the opening drive without being hit and later left for the duration of the game with a concussion. Proving the world still does turn without Alexander, an overlooked offensive line and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to their first playoff win in over 20 years.

The Carolina Panthers debunked some myths of their own, proving that the Chicago Bears’ defense was not the best thing since sliced bread and that their offense wasn’t the worst thing since Jolt! Cola. In the process, Steve Smith emerged as the best player left in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Carolina defense showed that the numbers making them the third-best defense in the league lied, as Bears quarterback Rex Grossman looked like former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon without the headband. Of course, while Grossman was doing his best McMahon impersonation, Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme was passing by more esteemed quarterbacks like Tom Brady, John Elway and Joe Montana to become the highest-rated passer in NFL playoff history.

The NFC title matchup features the MVP, the best player left and the highest-rated postseason quarterback. Alexander suffered a concussion, and Carolina is down to its third, although still strong, running back, so the first team to give up a score will play catch-up the rest of the game. Neither defense is as well-rounded as either offense, meaning both should be able to move the ball, although I expect Seattle to play Smith better than Chicago did. Carolina could play a game like they did two years ago, upsetting the Eagles, but that Panthers team was underappreciated and overlooked and Seattle won’t commit the same mistake Philadelphia did. Carolina, as they did four times during the season, will disappoint one week after playing impressively.

Joe’s Pick: Seattle Seahawks

Steelers at Broncos

Despite Pittsburgh’s 2005 championship experience and the addition of pace-changing running back Willie Parker, Pittsburgh wasn’t seen as a major threat to what many thought would be Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s coronation in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Manning and the Colts, Pittsburgh had a script of its own, using the same masked blitzes that the Chargers and Patriots have employed to frustrate Manning. An uncharacteristic Jerome Bettis fumble and a late replay call, the single worst decision any person has ever made with the benefit of video evidence, nearly gave the Colts the win. However, Mike Vanderjagt embraced his position as the “idiot kicker” by shanking a 46-yard game-tying field goal as the football gods righted the referee’s wrongs and the Steelers rolled on.

The Denver Broncos did something no other team could do in the last two years, ending the New England Patriots’ chance for a three-peat. In the process, Denver spared us from having to hear annoying Bostonians say the Patriots are better than the ’70s Steelers and Montana’s 49ers. The Broncos have two great backs, a Pro-Bowl quarterback and a home-field advantage second to none. They used this and a defense full of early-round picks with something to prove to beat the champs. A wise man once said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” and the Broncos did just that.

The Steelers have a legacy chock full of manliness with men’s men like Franco Harris, “Mean” Joe Greene and the deceptively tough but graceful Lynne Swann. While the Broncos have two tough tailbacks that compliment one another, so do the Steelers, and one of them is Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, a surefire hall-of-famer whose name lets you know somebody’s getting run over. The deciding factor should be the mile-high altitude in Denver that seems to take opponents’ breath away. However, I’m making the deciding factor in this game my political science professor, Keith Poole. It’s his grizzled appearance, hilarious critiques of early American presidents and declaration of Pittsburgh as the ONLY football team in America that have ultimately convinced me that the Steelers are headed for Super Bowl XL.

Joe’s Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers