10. Joe Flacco is not a top tier quarterback. Flacco’s throws were often high and he committed some bad turnovers. It was clear that even with all those weapons at his disposal, he was not ready to face an elite defense. The Steelers harassed him in the second half and made a remarkable comeback. Until Flacco takes the next step, Baltimore will not reach a Super Bowl.
9. The Steelers are never dead. I hate to say it, but the Steelers look like a Super Bowl team. While I still am unsure as to whether they’ll make it or not, their defense is very scary. A very sloppy first half did not look promising, but Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense let them back in that game. Ray Rice’s first fumble since the Prehistoric era could not have come at a worse time, as it completely shifted momentum towards the Steelers. While I still think the Steelers have some problems and can be beat, Ben Roethlisberer showed off his postseason flare yet again, and the Pittsburgh is not ready to relinquish their AFC North throne just yet.
8. The Falcons have the look of last year’s Bengals. What do I mean by that? Last year, the Bengals had a great regular season, surprised everyone, and came out flat and lost their first playoff game. That’s exactly what happened to the Falcons. Their secondary got torched by Aaron Rodgers, and is a glaring need for help. Tony Gonzalez is getting older and may even retire this offseason. So Atlanta is in trouble of falling from the top next year and becoming just an average team with a good offense. I don’t think this will happen, but they have some areas to address. It won’t be easy for them to remain the NFC South champs with the Saints and Buccaneers breathing down their necks. I think they’ll be able to repeat, but they need to get a lot better if they want to reach a Super Bowl.
7. Aaron Rodgers is playing the best football of his career. Sure, we’ve seen him put up big numbers during the regular season, but to play like that in the playoffs in the Georgia Dome? It was an incredible feat for Rodgers, and although the Falcons defense is not among the best, it’s not a cupcake either. He only threw five incompletes the entire game, and the offensive line did a great job at protecting him. The Packers are hot right now, and I don’t think they’ll be able to be stopped before they reach the Super Bowl.
6. Aaron Rodgers will have trouble winning the Super Bowl. Rodgers and the Packers have not played a truly complete defense in the playoffs. The Eagles had their problems, the Falcons were slightly above average, and the Bears secondary tends to be a little soft at times. These teams have been perfect to play for Green Bay because they still don’t have a running game. James Starks had a pedestrian performance against Atlanta, and doesn’t seem like he can consistently be a featured back. Rodgers is playing well now, but he will run into some trouble against potential Super Bowl opponents New York or Pittsburgh. Without the running game, they will have a very tough time against either team if they reach the big game.
5. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks headed in the right direction. Carroll has been fired up all year and the win against the Saints was huge for him and the franchise. They have some pieces, they just need to get some more help and put everything together. In a rough game at Soldier field, the Seahawks hung tight and avoided a big blowout, and it was very promising to see them try to surge a late comeback in a game that was ultimately over. If they re-sign Matt Hasselbeck next year and he’s able to play the way he did in the playoffs this year, they should compete with the Rams again for the NFC West title. However, this time around, the division winner should also have a winning record.
4. The Bears’ offense cannot be counted out. Mike Martz has finally been able to coordinate a healthy run-pass balance, and with Jay Cutler manning the controls, the Bears offense looks legit. The Green Bay defense will give him fits, but I expect Cutler to make some plays and keep this game a lot closer than most people think it will be. Although it was only the Seahawks, if Martz can make that offense roll the way it did this past weekend, Dom Capers’ stingy defense may finally be penetrated.
3. New England is not invincible. The Patriots choked. Again. This will all be covered in my game recap of the Jets-Patriots game, but it showed that any team can beat any other team on any given night. The Jets had the right game plan, and they puzzled Brady to no end. Their execution was nearly flawless, and they denied the Patriots another chance to go to the Super Bowl. New England seemed like they expected to win this game no problem. They had the same attitude when they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Basically, they blew it again. After becoming a “dynasty” the Patriots have put on great performances, only to come up short when it matters most. They clearly were beatable, and they were beaten by a better team on Sunday.
2. Rex Ryan’s trash talk has a deeper meaning to it. A lot of people bashed Rex Ryan for his trash talk, but there is certainly nothing to be said about him but praise right now. Ryan had a brilliantly coached game and led his team to a victory over the league’s best team. It’s become clear that Rex isn’t just talking because he likes the sound of his voice. He is motivating his team so well, and has every player behind him. The relationship with his players are fantastic, and he is showing them that while these games will just keep getting tougher, they can win and that he believes in them. This has them playing at the level of a Super Bowl team.
1. The two most complete teams left are in the AFC. With all the hype the Packers are receiving, there should be close attention paid to the AFC championship game. The Steelers and the Jets are the two most complete teams left, and maybe even in the whole NFL. They have two of the best defenses in the league, along with solid running games, playmaking wide receivers, and clutch postseason quarterbacks. Sanchez is 4-1 in the playoffs in only his second year and Roethlisberger is 9-2 with two Super Bowls. Both teams are very well coached, and it should be an awesome game to watch. The Packers still lack that running element, which may eventually spell their doom. The Bears secondary can fall asleep at times and if Jay Cutler is forced to throw interceptions, everything could fall apart for them. It’s nice to see the two best teams in the AFC will battle it out for a Super Bowl berth.