The road to Super Bowl LXVI runs through Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on the AFC side of the playoffs and through the Georgia Dome on the NFC side, but the Super Bowl tickets will only be good for the game at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011.
The first round begins Saturday with two games, the No. 6 New York Jets vs. the No. 3 Indianapolis Colts at the Lucas Oil Stadium and the No. 5 New Orleans Saints vs. the No. 4 Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field. If the Colts are able to advance I have to assume it will be thanks to Manning’s will alone. If the Seahawks win it will be a not-so-small miracle.
Sunday, the No. 5 Baltimore Ravens travel to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Kansas City Chiefs and the No. 6 Green Bays Packers travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens should effectively mitigate the Chiefs primary offensive strength, the running back duo of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, thanks to the fifth best running defense. The Packers and the Eagles is almost impossible to predict since both teams have a hot-or-cold disposition on the field. I want the Philly-Green Bay game to be the most ridiculous, highest scoring game of the postseason, but am fully aware it could come down to a battle of the special teams if both sides display even a decent pass rush.
The winners of the first slate of NFC games will play the Chicago Bears or the Atlanta Falcons. Both the Falcons and the Bears are hardly unbeatable. The Falcons have faced few challenges toward the end of the season, barely beating the Buccaneers in Week 13 and losing to a desperate Saints team Week 16. The Bears offense can disappear, but the Chicago defense focuses so much on stopping the run a team with a decent passing attack and a good offensive line can disarm this Cover-2 based defense with precision thorws along the seams.
The survivor of the first round of AFC games will play either the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nobody wants to play the Patriots. The offense is simply functioning on such a high level right now any defeat would be as shocking as the Giants win in 2007. The Steelers are the NFL’s version of True Grit. Roethlisberger is apparently playing on one foot and with a broken nose. I would not be surprised to learn of a dislocated throwing shoulder, a slight brain hemorrhage, and a battle with cancer in his small intestines. Big Ben will soldier on and continue to cultivate his legacy as the toughest quarterback of his generation.
No matter who survives this difficult path, I look forward to one of the best postseasons in recent history.