Eye on the Enemy: AFC Championship Weekend

Well here we are, the last weekend of the AFC Playoffs.  One way or another, the AFC North will no longer be involved in the AFC Playoffs next weekend, as the remaining team will either lose and be eliminated, or they will win and head to the Super Bowl.

Last weekend, I grit my teeth and picked the Steelers, even as I stated flat out that I'd be delighted to be wrong.  At halftime, I couldn't have looked more wrong if I'd tried, and I was pretty happy about it.  But each team played only half a game last week, and the Steelers half was better than the Ravens half.  Granted, the Steelers did get a bit of help from the ridiculously bad officiating again (the holding call on that punt return was so blatantly wrong that I couldn't believe a ref would be stupid enough to flag that... the acting job by the Steelers player there was just flat pathetic!), but Baltimore also didn't play well enough to deserve to win.

So even as I hoped to be wrong, I turned out to be right and still have a perfect record in the playoffs this year at 2-0.  Let's see if I can keep that up.

AFC North Game of the Week

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

I know that the Jets actually are a very good team, but did anybody here actually expect them to go into Foxboro and bury the Patriots like that?  Well if you did, good for you, but I sure didn't.  So I figured we'd be talking about our AFC North representative heading to Foxboro this weekend, regardless of who won last week between Ravens and Steelers.

Instead the Steelers have home field advantage, and the extra benefit of having all their fans screaming and waving their ugly yellow dishrags around can give them a lot of help that may give them the win this weekend.  On the other hand, the Jets won in this very stadium barely a month ago.  But they also didn't face Troy Polamalu or Heath Miller that week, and even if Polamalu is only, say, 75%, he's still an absolute beast and a major pain in the butt for his opponents.  But will he be 75%?  He did miss two days of practice this week (or at least one, but most sources say two) so he might not be as productive as they'd like him to be.

Overall the regular-season average numbers do favor the Steelers, if only slightly.  But then you also have to look at quality of opponent.  Both divisions played each other this year, but the Jets played the NFC North as well while the Steelers played the NFC South.  Both divisions had two teams qualify for the playoffs, but the NFC North has both its qualifiers in the NFC Championship while the NFC South teams were both one-and-done.  So the NFC South doesn't appear to be as good as division as the NFC North at this point in time.  And despite how incredibly good the rush defense was this year, the Jets did run the ball fairly successfully in their earlier meeting.  And while Little Ben is clearly the better QB in this game, he's also still got some of a "backyard pickup game" mentality about him, his line is still a sieve, and the Jets are one of the better teams in the league at disguising their coverages and blitzes.  So they do have a chance to confuse him and possibly get hits, sacks, or even turnovers.Steelers

I really don't want the Steelers to win this weekend.  But if there's one thing I learned from writing these columns this year, it's to NEVER pick a team to win just because you want them to.  The only reason I should pick a winner is if I think they are the better team, and the teams are too close to evenly matched for me to say that about either.

That leaves me with only one out left, and that's the coaches.  And while I'm not sure whether or not Dick LeBeau is better than Rex Ryan (though he obviously is over Mike Pettine, the actual DC for the Jets), I do think Rex Ryan is better than Mike Tomlin, and I'm mostly sure that Brian Schottenheimer is also better than Bruce Arians.  So I'm going to cross my fingers and hope to be right one more week in a row here, and call for the Jets to knock off the Steelers.  Jets 24, Steelers 21.

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