The Steelers will win if:
-They can keep Ray Rice out of the endzone.
They can also win if all of the following things happen:
-Hines Ward comes out of retirement.
-LaMarr Woodley defies physics and single-handedly destroys a decent RG, RT and blocking HB, simultaneously.
-Ziggy Hood becomes L.C. Greenwood.
-James Harrison defies physics and single-handedly destroys a decent LT, Sandra Bullock, and Joe Flacco, simultaneously.
-Roethlisberger hits the shit out of his chunkity-ass options in the under-zones.
-Roethlisberger throws the ball as far as he can whenever he sees #20 jump into the under-zones or blitz.
-Roethlisberger doesn't get picked.
-Dick LeBeau goes another five decades without making a mistake.
-Ray Lewis goes practically an entire game without his name being called.
-Joe Flacco reverts to Jason Campbell, circa Jim Zorn.
They can also ALSO win if:
-Chris Kemoeatu plays within himself and exemplifies athleticism and discipline.
If any of those three, longshot scenarios pan out, we're looking at another Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl, custom made, baby.
Let's move on.
Packers at Falcons:
Green Bay is the best team in the NFC according to www.pro-football-reference.com 's Simple Rating System (SRS). For those who are unfamiliar, SRS is a complex, yet ultimately crude method of ranking a team based on both point differential and strength of schedule. It starts with the basic idea of how many points you scored / allowed, and then compares those numbers to the average points scored / allowed versus the opponents you had on your schedule.
The Packers have a 10.9 SRS, which means they'll score nearly 11 points more than their opponent, should their opponent be a league average team. The next best team in the NFC is the Falcons, at a 6.1 SRS. Following that it drops to 4.2 for the Eagles, 4.1 for the Bears, 2.3 for the Saints, and -9.4 for the Seahawks (that's right; if we look at the Seahawks regular season performance, we can project them to trail a league average opponent by two scores at the end of a game).
What does all this mean? Eh... not too much. The Packers were second-best in SRS in the NFC last year (7.4), but ultimately lost out to the flukey Cardinals (-0.3 SRS). The bottom line: you have to play the games, math can fuck itself.
Here's the deal with the Packers, though: they're very good. Aaron Rodgers put on a clinic, a monster truck rally and a job fair in last season's playoff exit to Kurt Warner. This year, he's sat by calmly as his defense deconstructed Michael Vick, and he's test fired the death star on Matt Ryan's Falcons. His offense is extremely cool, oscillating between a 5-wide look, and a formation that includes 3 running backs (all of whom can option out as receivers). Not only does Rodgers have every opportunity to be perfect within his system, he also has the natural ability to be perfect when the system breaks down.
I promise that I will get off the man's jock, but just let me establish this: Aaron Rodgers thinks pass, and the ball is there. He has a laser beam arm, very decent speed for his size, and a system that keeps it simple. If the Packers' defense generates points off turnovers, Rodgers will take Green Bay to the Super Bowl.
Seahawks at Bears:
The Seahawks could in fact upset the Bears, because the Bears aren't very well grounded in anything. The Seahawks SHOULDN'T upset the Bears -- in fact, Matt Hasselbeck should die because of this game -- but that doesn't change the fact that Jay Cutler doesn't really have a proven receiver, or really anyone who can help him when the game plan needs adjusting. Chicago's receiving corps. is topped off by 24-year-old, Johnny Knox, who clocks in at 960 yards received. Following him is Earl Bennett (?) with 561, running back Matt Forte with 547, CB/WR/KR Devin Hester at 475, Greg Olsen (?) 404, etc. What this tells us is that Jay Cutler is actually really good, and everyone who says as much is correct. He's not winning any Super Bowls or going up in the QB Ratings because he's stuck making the best he can with mediocrity.
I'd say the Bears should still win this. They have defense and a return game. The Seahawks have 0 game. The performance they turned in last week cost Elizabeth Hasslebeck's soul. Pete Carroll does not have a second virgin to toss up in as many weeks.
Jets at Patriots:
Fuck New Jersey and Boston!
Beyond that, I think the Jets are better equipped at beating the Patriots than anyone else in the AFC. Here's how:
The Jets' QB, Mark Sanchez is a liability, but their receivers are guys who can make plays if easy passes get into their hands. New York boasts a marvelous offensive line and very decent power runners (including the swansong, of the second great LT). They also feature the best combination of cornerbacks in football. This compliments a heavy if no longer excellent front-7.
So what the Jets need to do is run the football and play man coverage. Here's why it would work:
The Patriots no longer feature that amazing defensive-line of Seymour-Wilfork-Warren. Seymour has been traded, Warren injured and Wilfork gets moved out of position by Belichick whenever an opponent goes off-tackle. If a team is serious about running the ball on the Patriots, and can bring a good enough O-line to the table, New England will be forced to take middle linebackers out of coverage. While I think Brandon Spikes and Jarod Mayo are studs at the middle linebacking position, Belichick wants them in zone, not cleaning up after a D-line that can't make stops. Bottom line: if you can, run on these fuckers.
New England traded away super-crazy-great, deep-threat Randy Moss earlier this season. That left them with the super-undersized-gamer, horizontal-threat Wes Welker and the reacquired Deion Branch at WR. They also drafted two excellent TEs this year, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Along with free agent acquisition, TE, Alge Crumpler, Belichick uses these guys as receivers out of bunch formations. To put it simply, a defense sees two TEs and a WR in a bunch on one side of the field, a TE split wide on the other, and a halfback behind Brady, and they have to play for the run. Belichick throws in this situation. He follows that up by bringing in four scrub WRs and running when the defense brings in the dime. Trick to beating this? Keep it simple. Play great man-coverage. Put all-world cornerback, Darrelle Revis on Welker, have Cromartie man the sideline streak routes, and then let the safeties guard the TEs. Play zone with those good, heavy LBs, and let them hit the TEs and RB if they come through. But more than anything: don't over-commit to anything. Just trust that you have superior talent in man-on-man matchups, and don't back down when you have a chance to hit someone.
If the Jets can make Wes Welker and company drop passes early, they should win this game.
That's almost all I have for now. Thought maybe I'd add this to the midnight analysis...
Remember last summer when Ben Roethlisberger was a rapist?
I'm not digging this up because we get paid by the rape op-ed piece. I'm throwing it out there because we got this one wrong. All of us were sure that Ben's genitals were going to be traded to the Oakland Raiders and his flabby body sold to the CFL for a future Pens' blue-liner. We thought 1) we'd never be able to root for him again, 2) he probably wouldn't be that good moving forward. We were pretty convinced.
Sad truth is, we capitulate, as you probably do too, to winning. Ben Roethlisberger plays an extremely entertaining game at its best. Is a few months of that enough to get us doubting the credibility of an alleged victim? Is it enough for us to start rationalizing the context of the whole thing? Is it enough that we're willing to just go on, not really thinking about it?
I don't mean to wag my finger at anyone, or come off as some sort of guilt-loving dildo. But at some point, let's reflect on this. In our eyes... can a man be redeemed from rape by a good passer rating?
To be continued...