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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Steelers, Titans to Play for Home-Field Advantage

He has done it, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has taken his team to the playoffs for the second straight season after clinching the AFC North division and a first round bye with a controversial win over Pittsburgh's fiercest rival. The Baltimore Ravens are, of course, that fierce rival I just mentioned. Despite being down nearly all four quarters of the game, the 11-3 Steelers defeated the 9-5 Ravens, 13-9 this past Sunday in Baltimore. I will be one of the first to admit the refs blew the call on the lone touchdown of the game (with under a minute remaining). Wide receiver Santonio Holmes' feet were in the end zone, but the ball was not, which is the most important thing. The ball must break the plane and it didn't. But, nonetheless, the Steelers picked up their 11th win and yet another playoff appearance. Tomlin clinched his second playoff berth in his second season as an NFL head coach. Quite an accomplishment, if you ask me.

Both offenses in Pitt/Bal's matchup played horrificly, turning the ball over several times. Rookie Qb Joe Flacco looked cool under the pressure of the number one defense in the NFL, for a while anyway. It didn't take long for the front seven to rattle Flacco up, and he was picked off twice in the game, the second INT clinched the win for Pittsburgh in the 40-degree weather.

You can cry and complain all you want if your Baltimore, but that isn't going to change the outcome. The best thing for Baltimore is to move on and prepare for their Saturday night matchup with the playoff-hungry Dallas Cowboys. This game will make or break the season for both teams involved. We will get to see what Flacco is made of when he goes up against the NFL's sack leader, DeMarcus Ware, who is 3 1/2 sacks shy of Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22 1/2.

As for Pittsburgh, Coach Tomlin and his crew will be put to the test once again on Sunday, December 21st when the top-ranked defense will face off with the run-oriented offense of the Tennessee Titans. Head coach Jeff Fisher has made it his priority to play smash-mouth football--running the ball down the opponents throat and packing a mighty punch on defense. Tennessee's backfield consists of powerful running back, LenDale White and the elusive rookie Chris Johnson, who was selected to this year's AFC Pro Bowl roster. According to White, the explosive duo is the original smash and dash. In other words, White claims he came up with Carolina Panthers' RB's DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewarts nicknames of "Smash" and "Dash," and they stole the idea from him. Either way, the duo of the vet and the rookie will give Pittsburgh a run for their money, especially if Pittsburgh can't get their running game going early and often.

The winner of the heavily-anticipated game will likely determine the number one seed in the AFC playoffs. Meaning they are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and will most likely play all their starters despite already being in the playoffs.

Yes, it is week 16 starting tomorrow night when the wild card hopeful Indianapolis Colts, 10-4, play their fifth out of the team's six divisional games, against the disappointed Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9). Peyton Manning is almost certain to have another big fantasy day on his way to leading the Colts to their 11th win and a playoff berth.

A Colts win would mean the Ravens, Dolphins, Jets and Pats (depending on week 16 outcomes) are all competing for the last playoff spot. Two of the four teams, all of which are having solid seasons, would be left out of the picture come January (since one of the three named AFC East teams would finish the season with the division title). Who will it be? Well, we have yet to find out if Matt Cassel is capable of leading the Pats to a snowy December win in Foxboro, and the Dolphins and Jets are both on hot streaks (MIA: won 7 of last 8, NYJ: won 7 of last 10), so I'm gonna say the AFC East division will come down to the Dolphins and Jets.

But, Baltimore has also been playing great on both sides of the ball and have won seven of their last nine games. My bold prediction is Indy wins fifth seed with win over Jacksonville, Baltimore wins sixth seed with an 11-5 record and Miami wins out to clinch the East with an 11-5 record.

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