It's time to start sorting out the men from the boys -- or at least take a few wild guesses.
The Cincinnati Bengals were ousted by the Houston Texans. Did anybody really think the Bengals had a Libertarian Presidential candidate's chance of getting to the oval office, ahem, Super Bowl? Nah.
Yet the Texans seem to have faded a bit over the last half of the season.
Nobody thought the Minnesota Vikings would make much noise this year, but they did. Still, even with Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the league, and regardless of whether starting QB Christian Ponder was available (he wasn't), it's probably a fair statement to say they weren't legitimate Lombardi trophy contenders either. They overachieved this year, and good for them, but they got dumped by....
The Green Bay Packers. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cheesers had everybody healthy. That not only included cornerback Charles Woodson and tasmanian devil linebacker Clay Matthews, but their full complement of receivers. Besides having Aaron Rodgers, the reigning MVP, throwing the ball, when a guy like Donald Driver sits about 6th or 7th on the depth chart, that's one helluva corps of receivers.
Both highly touted rookie QBs Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Robert Griffin III are gone. In Griffin's case, he was playing on a bad leg to start with. Then the Redskins' rode him and rode him some more until his knee finally gave out. Playoffs or not -- that's what back-up QBs are for. To boot, former Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins had already proven he was more than capable of directing that team when RG III was hurt earlier in the season. There is no excuse for this. Shame on 'Skins head coach Mike Shanahan, and may the media roast him alive if it turns out Griffin's knee is in need of major surgical repair.
Ironically, the other rookie QB which flew under the radar, Russell Wilson and his Seattle Seahawks, move on. The Seahawks seem to be getting stronger and stronger as the season progresses. Head coach Pete Carroll has done a great job with that club. Yes, the same Pete Carroll that got fired by the NY Jets and then bailed from the USC Trojans leaving that team saddled with sanctions for things that happened under his watch. Yours truly is of the opinion that Pete Carroll has a little bit of snake oil salesman/mercenary in his DNA, but to each their own. The Seahawks next go to....
Atlanta, where the Falcons have quietly earned the #1 seed in the NFC, and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Falcons are certainly a solid team, and will be tough to beat at home, but am I the only one that just can't envision them getting to the Super Bowl?
Ray Lewis, of the Baltimore Ravens, says this will be his last year. Next, the Ravens have to go to...
Denver, where the ageless Peyton Manning seems to have the Broncos on cruise control. Plus a pretty stout defense, along with being a #1 seed themselves. All roads to the AFC championship go through Denver. Want to bet against Peyton at home? Not me.
The San Fran 49ers will host the Packers next week. Like Houston, SF seems to have lost some of their ferocity in recent weeks and Green Bay's on a roll. Should be a brutal game, and a tough one to call.
Houston goes to New England in the next round, the same place they got blown out 42-14 just a few weeks ago. Want to bet against Tom Brady, Bill Bellichick and Co., at home again in the rematch? Good luck.
It's a shame that all but 2 of the remaining teams in the hunt have to lose before the Super Bowl comes about. Some REALLY good ones have to go down. That's just the way it works.
Who will get to the Super Bowl? Beats the hell out of me. Not a clue, but it makes for some mighty interesting games in the next couple weeks.
Here's what I do know. Next year, the Detroit Lions will still have the same owner, William Clay Ford. They'll also have the same general manager, Martin Mayhew, who recently said he's not going to change his draft philosophy, even though the players he has drafted either can't stay healthy or are walking time bombs regarding both on, and off the field incidents. Could it be that the owner has been tutoring the GM on the side in his ivory tower? Night classes of Clueless 101?
Throw in the same loose cannon head coach, Jim Schwartz, who seems to know just about enough rules of the game to make a mockery of it. He would have been summarily fired by any self-respecting franchise after how his team performed this year. In Lionesque fashion, besides giving a career loser a mind-boggling 3-year contract extension before he'd even won a single playoff game, and who proceeded to proudly lead his current team straight to the dumpster, add most of the same gang of misfit players likely returning next year, and what will you have?
A few new gags and different props here and there, but still a clown act. The difference between the 3 Stooges and the Lions? Larry, Moe, and Curly made people laugh. William, Martin, and Jim make Lions' fans cry. The players themselves are like the extras in a Stooges clip throwing the pies and cream puffs around. Once one learns to see the Lions for what they've really been for the last half century, they become equally hilarious, with one minor difference. We've all seen the Stooges' routines enough times to KNOW what's going to happen next -- but somehow it's still funny. The Lions keep adding new material. One never knows what zany antics they'll come up with next, but it will be comical, if one can kick back and appreciate it for what it is.
But this is not the time for Bud and Lou's "who's on first, what's on second" routine, like the Lions.
It's NFL pare down time amongst good teams facing other good teams. Serious business.
I love this time of year.....