BlogsThe Ultimate NFL Conference Championship Survival Guide
As awful as it is to have the last New York Giants football memory of 2008 be Eagles QB Donovan McNabb placing a call upstairs from the NYG sideline, it is time to move on. Eli's ineptitude (and subsequent baffling contract extension), the lack of Plax (and I, uh, did not exactly get that one right), and some particularly spotty play-calling (Wildcat? Really? For the first time in the playoffs? REALLY?!?) made it a lost-cause from the beginning. Any Giants fan that felt anything other than nerves going into the game was lying. Last year, you felt that they could beat anybody. This year, man. You just haven't had that feeling since Thanksgiving. It really is time to move on. Painfully. Slowly. And not without resentment, but it is, nonetheless, time to move on.
It's fitting, really, that in an NFL season that no one could figure out, we'd have two #6 teams still eligible to go to the Super Bowl, the Cardinals hosting the NFC Championship game against the Eagles (The same team that tied the Bengals and looked miserable in week 16 in a must-win against the 'Skins), and the Ravens, with a rookie QB, on the verge of representing the AFC, as long as they can win a division game. If I've learned nothing from the last four months of football, it's that you can really never be sure of what's going to happen each and every week. With that in mind, here's an argument why each team will win on Sunday.
Why the Steelers will win
This is not a formula that usually fails: #1 defense in the league, playing at home, against a rookie QB in the playoffs. Other noteworthy factors: James Harrison's bull rush. Joe Flacco's rookie status. The experience of WR Hines Ward, Big Ben and RB WIllie Parker. The Terrible Towels. The home crowd. The fact that Ray Lewis can't play offense. The history between the teams, the familiarity. The Steelers domination over Baltimore. Coach Tomlin having been here before.
Those simple, black jerseys. The history behind them. Ben with a chance to do something great, to place himself higher than Romo and Eli and the others. Their #1 ranked defense. S Troy Palamalu's hair. Big Ben's iron noggin. The possibility of an all Pennsylvania-Super Bowl, after which, life will cease to exist.
The fact that I have a nagging awful feeling that the Steelers, and only the Steelers, can destroy the Philadelphia Eagles. Not just beat. Destroy.
Why the Ravens will win
The uncanny fire and passion emanating from Ray Lewis. Ed Reed's athleticism. The unbridled force of DT Haloti Ngata and RB Le'Ron McClain. Joe Flacco going down as the best rookie QB of all time. The possibility of QB Troy Smith getting some burn. Their unbalanced line, with both tackles lining up on the left side. Derrick Mason's big-play ability. Mark Clayton's medium-play ability. Todd Heap's short-yardage ability.
The "nobody believes in us" thing. The "we've played them twice already" thing. The "Harbaugh" thing. The fact that Lewis went to the Super Bowl and won the MVP already, so this is all old hat to him. Baltimore's crazy space-man defense. Ray Lewis' pre-game speech/dance/mating call. Their aggression. The Steelers lack of a short-yardage game. Big Ben feeling a little, shall we say, concussed. The fact that, right now, you can imagine Baltimore going for it on 4-and-1 from Pittsburgh's 35 yard line in the 1st quarter, making it, and swinging the momentum to their side for good. The off chance that if it's 10-6 in the 4th, it'll only take one big play from Joe Flacco to become the first rookie QB ever to play in a Super Bowl.
Why the Eagles will win
Destiny, or something. Donovan McNabb's Brett Favre impersonation. DeSean Jackson's 4.3 40. Brian Westbrook's shiftiness. The warrior blood of Brian Dawkins. The whole, "we're road warriors, too!" thing. The original, Jim Johnson, planning blitz schemes against a Kurt Warner, a QB who is practically immobile and prone to fumbling. The Cardinals sham of a running game. The bandwagon Cardinal fan mentality. The fact that they're playing the Cardinals for a right to go to the Super Bowl. The chance for ultimate validation. The chance for two more weeks of the Andy Reid beard nightmare.
Oh, and destiny. Or something.
Why the Cardinals will win
Larry Fitzgerald's hops. Anquan Boldin's metallic skeleton absorbing enough liquid titanium to play on Sunday. Kurt Warner's inner peace. Ken Wisenhunt having won a Super Bowl coaching for the Steelers. Home field advantage in a conference championship game. RB Edgerrin James with three years of rest. The possibility that Early Doucet could score a TD in the playoffs. The angry Cardinal logo. The glory of having Matt Leinart giving Super Bowl Media Day interviews. The fact that in a crazy season, it just makes sense that the Cards represent the NFC. It's destiny, or something.
DRC's interceptions-in-the-playoffs streak. Donovan McNabb's Brett Favre imitation. The ferocity of the Cardinals defense. The special feeling you get form a team not supposed to be here, playing as an underdog at home. The chance to erase 35 years of futility. The promise that Arizona, and only Arizona, can stop us from Philadelphia replacing Boston as the single most annoying sports town in the known universe. Southwestern Tex-Mex food being infinitely more tasty than cheap steak and cheese whiz.
The fact that, if Philadelphia even gets to the Super Bowl, I'll never hear the end of it.