Another playoff weekend concludes, another team won unexpectedly (Jets) and we're that much closer to this year's Super Bowl championship game. Well, as much as a corporate explosion of billions feeding into the machine that can be considered a championship game. Black Eyed Peas? Why not Lynard Sknyard? Why have a half time show in the first place? Take 15 minutes, lace 'em up and let's get back to action. Raise your hand if you consider the conference championship games next weekend to be the best games of the year? And raise your hand if you stopped thinking of the Super Bowl as a football game and more like a billion-dollar event in which football players turn into a secondary thought.
Just thinking outloud.
The AFC provided an array of exciting rematches in divisions where rivalries were explosive. The Jets foamed at the mouth during the week like rabid dogs and the Patriots stood aside like patient warriors with seethed swords and foot-fetish jokes awaiting battle with their master technician.
On the other hand, I sent a text to a friend of mine when Chicago dominated Seattle (pick any point in the game) that the NFC this weekend is: Not For Competition. The winning NFC teams (Bears and Packers) won by a combined 38 points. Joy. Yet, next weekend's NFC Championship game, like the two AFC division games this weekend past, will feature a rematch of division rivals with two teams that are playing very hot right now.
Two former Bengals players were active in both AFC Divisional matchups.
+ Shayne Graham converted two field goals, including a 35-yarder that brought the Patriots within a touchdown with less than two minutes of the game. Yea, I didn't think he'd make it either. He followed that up with a nice onside kick up the middle that gave New England a great chance to recover the football to tie the game. After Tom Brady connected with Deion Branch on a 13-yard touchdown pass to bring the score back to within seven points, Graham kicked another good onside that the Jets would eventually recover.
Graham is heading to free agency and with Patriots' place kicker Stephen Gostkowski coming of Injured Reserve with a thigh injury, the former Bengals place kicker isn't expected to return.
The Bengals spent 2010 with three different place kickers, which began with Mike Nugent who ended the season on IR after suffering a knee injury against the Indianapolis Colts. Aaron Pettrey worked two games, missing two of four field goals before the team signed Clint Stitser to finish the season. Stitser finished the year converting seven of eight field goals, missing two extra points and failing to kick just one touchback on kickoff.
+ T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a game-ending fourth down pass with 1:09 left in the game and the Baltimore Ravens down by seven against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The pass hit Houshmandzadeh on target with William Gay behind him and the former Bengals wide receiver dropped the pass.
“It’s unbelievable,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I can’t believe that happened. I would bet every dollar I have that I make that.”
Will Houshmandzadeh return to Baltimore now? It's unlikely, writes Aaron Wilson.
"I had fun playing here, and I would definitely consider playing here again," said Houshmandzadeh, whose one-year, $855,000 contract has expired. "It's a great locker room and a great organization. I'd like to be back. I don't know if I will be back, but I'll listen to whoever wants me to play for them."
Houshmandzadeh is a good talent and, as a Bengals receiver at least, he's always been very dependable. However, his outspoken attitude which tends to bleed publicly, hurts him. With that reason as well as the emergence of younger wide receivers clicking with Carson Palmer late in the year, I don't see Houshmandzadeh returning.
+ Whom To Cheer For. I'm one of those types that really doesn't cheer for one team or another, unless it's the Cincinnati Bengals or games that improves Cincinnati's standing for the playoffs. Since neither apply this weekend, much like a centralist, I won't pick one side or the other. I grew up in Minnesota before moving to Cincinnati when I turned ten years old, so there's Minnesota Vikings and Twins in my blood. Yet, I don't mind that the Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The AFC is different. If I pick the Jets, then I feel dirty because while I might respect the way New York plays the game, I don't really like them at all. And that has a lot to do with the fact that they've punished Bengals the last three times the two teams played during the Rex Ryan era. The other team, is the Pittsburgh Steelers and my difficulty cheering for them goes unsaid to the point of hoping that Steelers fans don't throw their hard earned championship rings that they worked so hard for from their vats of beer in our faces.
So whom do I pick?
No. Why do I have to pick? I'm a fan of football first and foremost. And if my life, right now, is pondering the question on whom to cheer for this weekend, then life is pretty good right now. So I'll sit back, on my couch with my beverages, fried foods, BBQ sauce and just enjoy the weekend. On the other hand, if a massive hole opens up in Chicago and Pittsburgh, then I'll chalk one up to Mother Earth.