Super Bowl XXXI: Green Bay Packers Bring Lombardi Back to Titletown

After the retirement of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, the NFL made his name synonymous with championship teams by naming the Super Bowl trophy after him.

But in their first 24 post-Lombardi years, the Packers played like anything but a championship team, recording only five winning seasons.

In 1992, however, Green Bay started the path toward living up to its name of Titletown. General manager Ron Wolf, in his first season at that position, hired Mike Holmgren as the team's head coach and made a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for quarterback Brett Favre.

The following year, the Packers picked up Reggie White in free agency from the Philadelphia Eagles, turning them into a Super Bowl contender in the not-too-distant future.

After losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1993, 1994 and 1995 playoffs, the Packers had a team in 1996 that couldn't have looked any more like a sure-thing Super Bowl champion. They were the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to rank first in the NFL in points scored and points allowed and had a punt/kickoff returner in Desmond Howard who proved capable of sparking a big play at any point.

There was no way any team could stop them from winning the Super Bowl that year. And sure enough, Green Bay looked dominant from the get-go in Super Bowl XXXI against the 14-point underdog New England Patriots.

On their second play from scrimmage, the Packers' offense struck it rich on an audible from Favre. Originally planning to run a play called "322 Y Stick," the future Hall of Fame quarterback changed it to "Black 78 Razor," with wide receiver Andre Rison running a post route.

Rison took the post route to the house, catching Favre's pass for a 54-yard touchdown. On the ensuing New England possession, Drew Bledsoe threw an interception to Doug Evans.

It was the first of four interceptions thrown by Bledsoe in this game, and it set up a 37-yard field goal by Chris Jacke that put the Packers up 10-0.

At this point, it would have been easy for the Patriots to pack it in and quit the game. They were losing badly as expected, and I think it's safe to say that their head coach, Bill Parcells, didn't have his mind completely focused on the game.

The Boston Globe reported six days before the Super Bowl that Parcells was going to leave due to a dysfunctional relationship with owner Robert Kraft. According to phone records from the New Orleans Marriott hotel, he made some phone calls to Hempstead, N.Y., home of the New York Jets' headquarters.

After the game, Parcells did not fly home with the team. Five days later, he was the Jets' head coach.

This kind of distraction, and getting off to a bad start against a heavily-favored opponent, can be enough motivation to go into the tank, even in the Super Bowl. However, New England chose not to give up.

The Patriots got on the board with a six-play, 76-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown by Keith Byars. Then, set up in part by a 44-yard diving reception by Terry Glenn, they tood the lead with a four-yard TD pass from Bledsoe to tight end Ben Coates.

After a couple of three-and-outs, the Packers got the lead back with another big passing play in the second quarter. With New England safety Willie Clay blitzing and Green Bay in a three-wideout set, strong safety Lawyer Milloy was left to cover Antonio Freeman man-to-man.

The Packers took advantage of the mismatch with an 81-yard connection from Favre to Freeman to take a 17-14 lead. It was the longest pass completion in Super Bowl history (the record now belongs to the Carolina Panthers' Jake Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad for 85 yards in Super Bowl XXXVIII).

Leroy Butler sacked Bledsoe on third down on the Patriots' next possession. Punter Tom Tupa booted the ball 51 yards to the left sideline, and Howard returned it to the New England 47-yard line.

The return set up a 31-yard field goal by Jacke that increased the Green Bay lead to 20-14.

Earlier in the game, Howard, who was signed by the Packers on July 11, 1996, to a one-year, $300.000 contract, gained 32 yards on a return of another 51-yard punt. The Patriots would regret the decision to kick to him later.

Set up by interception No. 2 from a pressured Bledsoe to cornerback Mike Prior, the Packers scored again on a two-yard touchdown run by Favre to go into halftime with a 27-14 lead.

In the second half, the Patriots again made a push in its upset attempt. They stuffed Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens on fourth-and-1 at the New England 38-yard line.

Then they scored a touchdown on a 28-yard run by Curtis Martin.

It seemed like, if the Patriots could keep the momentum going, they would send Parcells to New York a winner. Then they decided to kick to Desmond Howard.

Howard, in a play that will go down in Super Bowl history as the one in which special teams proved valuable enough for a kick returner to be named Most Valuable Player, returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for the touchdown.

The Packers completed the two-point conversion with a Favre pass to tight end Mark Chmura for a 35-21 third-quarter lead. With 3:10 left in the quarter, it shouldn't have been an insurmountable lead.

But the Packers' defense made it look like a blowout, as the Patriots suffered four sacks, three punts and two interceptions and managed only one first down in its last five possessions.

Three of the Packers' four sacks came courtesy of the late Reggie White. Thanks in part to the Minister of Defense and company, Howard's touchdown return served as the last points scored in this Super Bowl.

White finished the game with three sacks. Favre left the Louisiana Superdome, not too far away from his hometown of Kiln, Miss., with 246 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-27 passing and a rushing TD. 
But Howard took home MVP honors with 154 yards off kickoff returns and 90 punt-return yards.

Most importantly, however, (the) Vince Lombardi (Trophy) returned home to Green Bay.


Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh Steelers Win One for the Pinky over Los Angeles Rams

For sports fans in the city of Pittsburgh, 1979 was a very good year.

Not only did the Steelers win their third Super Bowl in January of 1979 and were headed toward a fourth, but the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball won the World Series. But as the 70s ceased, the party was at the point of last call.

The Steelers' 22 starters averaged 29 years of age per player, a sign that the dynasty was quickly coming to an end. In Super Bowl XIV, this old dynasty was starting to show its age.

The rushing duo of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier was held to a combined 71 yards on 30 carries. The "Steel Curtain" defense allowed the 10-point underdog Rams to gain 301 yards offensively, including 212 yards on 15-of-25 passing from quarterback Vince Ferragamo.

Ferragamo was starting the eighth game of his NFL career. Despite his paltry 48.8 passer rating in his five regular season starts, L.A. went 4-1 after a 5-6 start with the likes of Pat Haden, Bob Lee and Jeff Rutledge.

That's right: the Rams went to the Super Bowl with a 9-7 record. At the time, it was the worst regular season by a team appearing in the Super Bowl.

To tell you the truth, the only thing I knew about this Rams team was that Jack Youngblood played in the postseason on a broken leg. Other than that, I could not have recognized anyone on the roster without doing some research.

Regardless, these Los Angeles Rams went into the fourth quarter leading the mighty Steelers 19-17. Their last score came courtesy of a trick play.

Running back Lawrence McCutcheon looked as if he would run a sweep to the right. Then he stopped and threw the ball to Ron Smith for a 24-yard touchdown.

Then, with less than 13 minutes remaining, Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers mounted one last run of greatness. Bradshaw had rough game for somebody who was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, throwing three interceptions.

But he also completed 14-of-21 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was a 47-yard pass to Lynn Swann in the third quarter.

The other would turn out to be the game winner. Facing a third-and-8, Bradshaw threw a long bomb over the outstretched arms of Rams cornerback Rod Perry and into the hands of John Stallworth, who went 73 yards for the score.

The Rams tried to answer with a go-ahead touchdown drive of their own, as they drove to the Pittsburgh 32-yard line. Then Ferragamo faked a run play and threw a pass toward Ron Smith 20 yards down the middle of the field instead of throwing to a wide-open Billy Waddy, as the L.A. coaches yelled at him to do from the press box.

The pass was intercepted by Jack Lambert at the 14-yard line and returned to the 30.

On the ensuing drive, the Steelers faced third-and-7. Bradshaw found Stallworth again, this time for a 45-yard gain.

A few plays later, Harris capped the drive for Pittsburgh with a one-yard touchdown. And with that, the Steelers had a Super Bowl ring to put on their pinky fingers.

Super Bowl XIV Extra Points

* No NFL team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium. However, with Super Bowl XIV being played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the Rams playing their home games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (less than 20 miles away from the Rose Bowl) at the time, the L.A. Rams set a Super Bowl record for closest proximity to a Super Bowl appearance.

* It was the Rams' last year at the L.A. Coliseum. They moved to Anaheim the following year (and no, they did not change their name to the Los Angeles Rams of Anaheim).

* As I previously stated, the Los Angeles Rams entered the Super Bowl with a regular season record of 9-7, the worst record of any Super Bowl entrant. In 2008, the Arizona Cardinals matched that record en route to Super Bowl XLIII, only to lose 27-23 to (what a coincidence) the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Super Bowl XIII: Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers Solidify "Team of the '70s" Status

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s were the Pepsi and Coca-Cola of the NFL.

You can't go wrong with either one of them. But in a head-to-head battle, (circle Pepsi or Coke, depending on your preference) is the better product.

Pittsburgh and Dallas had teams in the '70s that featured multiple Hall of Famers on both offense and defense. By winning multiple Super Bowls, those players already proved themselves as champions.

The question going into their head-to-head matchup in Super Bowl XIII was which champion was greater.

Going into Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers had the upper hand in head-to-head Super Bowl matchups, beating the Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X to win their second consecutive NFL title. With the victory, Pittsburgh gained a 2-1 lead in '70s Super Bowl victories over the Cowboys.

This time, however, Dallas entered the big game as the defending champs, beating the Denver Broncos 27-10 in Super Bowl XII.

This evened the score at 2-2. Super Bowl XIII would determine who would be known in NFL lore as the "Team of the '70s."

Just like in Super Bowl X, Lynn Swann was the Steelers' leading pass receiver, catching seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. This time, however, Terry Bradshaw also managed to complete some passes to other receivers.

One of those receivers was, like Swann, a future Hall of Famer: John Stallworth. Stallworth caught three balls for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

Overall, Bradshaw completed 17-of-30 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 119.2. His performance, a far cry from his role as a supporting player in his two previous Super Bowl appearances, earned him Super Bowl XIII Most Valuable Player honors.

His first two touchdown passes were completed to Stallworth for 28 and 75 yards. With the score tied at 14-14 in the second quarter, Bradshaw threw a seven-yard TD score to Rocky Bleier to put the Steelers ahead 21-14 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Cowboys had a chance to tie the game, having possession of the ball at the Pittsburgh 10-yard line. On third-and-3, Roger Staubach threw a pass to Jackie Smith in the end zone.

In what (fairly or unfairly) is known in Super Bowl history as one of the biggest moments of choke artistry, the pass went off the hip of a wide-open Smith and fell to the Orange Bowl grass.

Rafael Septien kicked a 27-yard field goal to decrease the Steelers' lead to 21-17. Now, Smith is not the only player to drop a pass in the Super Bowl, or even the only one to drop a potential touchdown catch.

However, it is a well-known drop for two reasons: Ultimate impact and the player to which it happened.

If Smith caught the ball in the end zone, the score would have been tied at 21-21. Plus, the Cowboys ended up losing this game by four points, so you have to wonder if you're a Dallas fan if the game would have turned out differently had Smith caught the ball.

Secondly, Smith was getting a chance of a lifetime. After 15 seasons with the St. Louis (football) Cardinals, Smith retired due to a neck injury.

At age 38, he returned to the NFL with a chance to finally play in the Super Bowl. His career should not be known for this drop, but it will, unfortunately, because it is the only part of his career in which he was nationally recognized.

In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys' misfortunes continued. Benny Barnes was called for a pass interference penalty when the referees ruled that he tripped Swann.

It is argued by at least some who saw the game that Swann ran up the back of Barnes' legs and, therefore, a penalty shouldn't have been called on Barnes. Regardless, the Steelers went on to score the touchdown on a 22-yard run by Franco Harris (arguably caused by a referee getting in the way of Dallas safety Charlie Waters).

On the ensuing kickoff, Cowboys linebacker Randy White (who was playing with a broken left thumb) bobbled the ball. Dennis "Dirt" Winston recovered the pigskin for Pittsburgh at the Dallas 18-yard line.

The turnover set up another Steeler touchdown, as Bradshaw completed an 18-yard pass to a leaping Swann. The score, which would turn out to be the game winner, increased Pittsburgh's lead to 35-17.

Just like in Super Bowl X, Staubach tried to rally the Cowboys from behind and nearly succeeded. He threw touchdown passes of seven and four yards to Bille Joe DuPree and Butch Johnson, respectively, to decrease the Steelers' lead to 35-31.

With 22 seconds left in the game, Dallas tried an onside kick to get the ball back in Captain Comeback's hands. But the ball landed in Bleier's hands, clinching the Steelers' victory and place in history as the "Team of the '70s."

Super Bowl History: Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers Win Round 1 over Dallas Cowboys

In sports, a dynasty often comes with an archrival whom it must beat multiple times en route to their multiple titles.

When the New England Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, their last two titles came after beating Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys' first two 1990s titles required them to beat Steve Young's San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

En route to winning the first two Super Bowls, the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers had to beat the Cowboys in the NFL title game. The second one came in the Ice Bowl, when Bart Starr scored the game-winning touchdown with less than 15 seconds remaining on a quarterback sneak.

In Super Bowl X, the Tom Landry-led Cowboys now found themselves in a battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the title of "Team of the '70s."

After the losses to the Packers and failing to beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, the Cowboys got the Super Bowl monkey off their backs by beating the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. The Steelers won Super Bowl IX by beating the Minnesota Vikings 16-6.

The battle for Super Bowl title No. 2 started off in the Cowboys' favor, as Roger Staubach threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson to give Dallas the 7-0 first-quarter lead. From there, the Lynn Swann show turned the tide in favor of the Steelers.

It is not a usual occasion for a Super Bowl MVP award to go to a wide receiver who only caught four passes. But the passes that Swann did catch would be some of the most memorable in the big game's history (and accounted for 161 of Terry Bradshaw's 209 passing yards).

Under today's NFL rules regarding concussions, Swann may not have played in this game after suffering a concussion in the AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders. He could not practice in the first week after that game and had a hard time concentrating in the second week of practice.

But with two spectacular catches in the first half, Swann erased any doubt about his ability to play. The first catch was a 32-yard reception in which he leaped acrobatically over Mark Washington and tip-toed inbounds along the sidelines.

That first-quarter catch set up a seven-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw to tight end Randy Grossman that tied the score at 7-7.

In the second quarter, Swann caught his second pass of the game, a 53-yard reception in which he leaped over Washington and cradled the football in his chest in mid-air after the pass was tipped.

The catch did not lead to any points, as Roy Garela missed a 36-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half. However, it would become a standard by which great Super Bowl catches are measured, shown on highlight reels for decades to come.

Swann's final catch came with 3:02 remaining in the game. With Pittsburgh leading 15-10, Bradshaw threw a 64-yard pass to Swann, who ran a post pattern past Washington and caught the pigskin to score what would be the game-winning touchdown.

After throwing the pass, Bradshaw was hit by Cliff Harris and Larry Cole, with Cole delivering a blow to Bradshaw's jaw with his helmet. An illegal hit by today's NFL standards.

As a result of the hit, Bradshaw didn't see Swann run down the field for the touchdown. Regardless, the Steelers had a seemingly-comfortable 21-10 lead.

I say seemingly only because Roger Staubach, a.k.a. Captain Comeback, was on Dallas' sideline.

Captain Comeback threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Percy Howard, who beat a stumbling Mel Blount. Then the Cowboys got the ball back after their defense forced the Steelers to turn the ball over on downs.

With 1:28 remaining and no timeouts, Dallas had the ball trailing 21-17. Staubach managed to get the Cowboys to the Steelers' 38-yard line with three seconds remaining.

Three weeks earlier, Staubach led the Cowboys to a 17-14 victory over the Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoffs by throwing a 50-yard touchdown heave to Drew Pearson with 24 seconds remaining. The play would coin the term "Hail Mary" as the standard definition of a miracle touchdown pass.

With a Super Bowl victory on the line, Captain Comeback went for Pearson once again hoping for another "Hail Mary" touchdown. Instead, Glen Edwards clinched the Steelers' second consecutive title by intercepting Staubach's heave.

For those keeping track of Super Bowl victories in the 1970s at the time, the scoreboard read Steelers 2, Cowboys 1.


Super Bowl History: Pittsburgh Steelers Begin '70s Dynasty over Minnesota Vikings

On February 6, 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers will make their eighth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

That will put them in a tie with the Dallas Cowboys for most Super Bowl berths. Of those appearances, the Steelers have won six of them, the most in NFL history.

With all that in mind, it may be hard to believe that Pittsburgh was once seen as the NFL's laughingstock.

Prior to 1972, the year that would mostly be recognized by Steelers fans for the "Immaculate Reception," Pittsburgh was the losingest franchise in the league's history, appearing in only one postseason game (a 21-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947) in their first 39 years of existence.

January 12, 1975, would turn out to be the coming-out party for the Steelers' new reputation as an NFL powerhouse as they beat the Minnesota Vikings 16-6.

The weather conditions for Super Bowl IX were not typical of what can be expected of a Super Bowl. At 2 p.m. CST in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium, it was 46 degrees and cloudy.

The Vikings' offense didn't look any prettier that day. The Steel Curtain held Minnesota's running game to 21 yards on 17 carries, limited Fran Tarkenton to 11-for-26 passing for 102 yards and did not allow the Vikings' offense to score any points.

The Steelers' defense also scored the game's first points, and the only points of the entire first half. Defensive end Dwight White tackled Tarkenton in the end zone for a safety.

In the third quarter, Franco Harris put Pittsburgh ahead 9-0 with a nine-yard rushing touchdown. Harris finished the game with 158 yards on 34 carries, earning Super Bowl IX Most Valuable Player honors.

Making its third Super Bowl appearance in six years, Minnesota scored its only points on a blocked punt. Matt Blair deflected the Bobby Walden boot, and Terry Brown recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown (the extra-point attempt was unsuccessful).

Terry Bradshaw was still coming into his own as a superstar quarterback at the time. He completed nine out of only 14 passing attempts for 96 yards.

But when it counted, Bradshaw showed what he could do. With the Steelers leading 9-6 late in the fourth quarter and facing third-and-goal from the four-yard line, Bradshaw threw a touchdown pass to Larry Brown to give the Steelers a comfortable 16-6 lead.

Tarkenton threw an interception on the next play from scrimmage, his third of the game. With that pick, the Steelers sealed their first-ever Super Bowl title.

It would be the first of four Super Bowls that they won in the 1970s.

Jeff Fisher Departs with Tennessee Titans after Long Tenure

When Jeff Fisher first started coaching the Titans franchise, they were still the Houston Oilers.

Bill Clinton was in the middle of his first presidential term. There were 28 NFL franchises, while the state of Tennessee had no franchises in America's four major professional sports leagues (now there's the Titans, the NHL's Nashville Predators and the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies).

I could talk forever about how long Jeff Fisher has been Bud Adams' coach, but now the long reign has come to an end. According to ESPNEWS, Fisher will not return to the Titans organization for a 17th full season as a head coach.

One of the big disagreements between Fisher and Adams (but probably not the only one; they've had many years to find things they disagree on) was that the once-longest-tenured coach in the NFL wanted to hire his son to be a quality control coach. So, in other words, he wanted to keep the Titans organization in his family.

Adams, however, refused to bend on his policy against nepotism. So instead of letting Jeff Fisher's son serve as prince and, maybe, take over the headset-shaped crown, Adams decided to part ways and start fresh.

At his age, it may be a little too late to start fresh. Maybe he can sell his franchise to a member of his family.


NFL's Potential Lockout: Best Reason to Watch the Pro Bowl

It is that time of year again where the best athletes that the NFL has to offer will play in one game: the Pro Bowl.

And by best athletes that the NFL has to offer, I mean the best players who did not opt out of the Pro Bowl due to injury, because they're playing in Super Bowl or just don't want to play. So why would we want to watch these players try not to get injured?

I have a reason.

Suppose, hypothetically, you have a son or daughter who you catch smoking a cigarette. Some parents would punish the kid by making him/her smoke an entire carton of cigarettes.

This way, the child will be so sick of cigarettes that he/she will never smoke again.

Due to the upcoming expiration of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, it is well-known that there is no guarantee of a 2011 season. Roger Goodell recently said he will reduce his salary to $1 if the NFL gets locked out because there is no CBA by the current one's March expiration.

Makes sense: If the NFL doesn't have a season due to a labor dispute, there will be a lot of people who deserve paycuts.

It was one thing when the NHL, in its tumultuous state, cancelled its 2004-05 season due to a lockout. But the most popular sports league in the country doesn't have enough money to avoid a lockout?

With the decisions the NFL has made lately, however, I wouldn't be in an absolute state of shock if money caused a season-long absence. After all, this is the same league that blacks out games in local areas if the home team doesn't sell out a stadium of 60,000-plus seats at hundreds of dollars per seat.

These billionaire owners are the same ones that force taxpayers to shell out money to build new stadiums. Not that I'm saying they are 100-percent at fault for this labor dispute; DeMaurice Smith has been just as stubborn at the negotiating table on behalf of the players.

So I wouldn't be surprised if they chose to take the 2011 season away from the fans over a matter of money as well. Therefore, we, as fans, will feel serious symptoms of football withdrawal.

These withdrawal feelings will be eased if we smoke up as much football as we can now.

The Hawaiian smoke may not taste as well as the Super Bowl. But we need to smoke up that carton before it's gone.

Super Bowl History: Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers Win One for the Road

January 14, 1968, marked the end of an era for the sport of football.

On that fateful day, the Green Bay Packers showed up at Miami's Orange Bowl for Super Bowl II still thawing from their Ice Bowl victory over the Dallas Cowboys. By winning in the frigid conditions, they earned their third consecutive NFL title and fifth in seven seasons.

According to Bob McGinn's The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Vince Lombardi, Green Bay's legendary head coach, had thought throughout the 1967 season about retiring to get away from the responsibilities of his role as the Packers' coach and general manager.

The Packers' offense already said goodbye to future Hall of Famers Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. And Bart Starr, at age 34, could sense the end of his playing career in Green Bay coming as well, finishing the 1967 regular season with a 64.4 passer rating, his worst since 1958.

Before Lombardi and the Packers dynasty could ride off into the sunset, they had a score to settle with the AFL's Oakland Raiders. Just like the year before, Green Bay was the heavy favorite, counted on to represent the NFL by beating the best team from a league portrayed as inferior.

But just like the Chiefs did the previous year, the Raiders hang with the Packers in the first half. Green Bay scored the game's first 13 points with two field goals by Don Chandler and a 62-yard touchdown pass from Starr to Boyd Dowler.

Starr was named the game's Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year, finishing the game completing 13-of-24 for 202 yards.

However, Oakland fought back to cut the Packers' lead to 13-7 with a touchdown pass of its own. Daryle Lamonica completed the 23-yard score to Bill Miller.

But with 23 seconds left in the first half, Raider punt returner Rodger Byrd fumbled a Donny Anderson punt. Green Bay linebacker Dick Capp recovered the loose ball, setting up a 31-yard field goal by Chandler that sent the Packers to halftime with a 16-7 lead.

From there, the Packers scored 17 unanswered points to put the game out of reach. The last of those points came in the form of a 60-yard interception return by Herb Adderley.

In the end, Green Bay won 33-14, sending Lombardi into retirement a champion. As the sun set on the Orange Bowl, two Packers players carried their iconic coach on their shoulders one last time.

The Packers' Super Bowl II victory marked the end of not only their dynasty, but of the NFL's superiority over the AFL as well. The AFL's New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs won the next two Super Bowls before the two leagues merged into one.


Super Bowl History: Green Bay Packers Show NFL Superiority over AFL, Chiefs

Recent Visa commercials have showcased a group of men who have been to every single Super Bowl.

Every year, these four men get to experience the greatest sporting event in the world live. I, personally, cannot watch those commercials without getting a little jealous.

I know a lot of die-hard football fans who have never been to a Super Bowl. For them, getting the chance to see the big game live is almost equivalent in terms of unfulfillable dreams to winning the lottery.

And yet these men have found a way to get an annual ticket.

Believe it or not, however, there was a time when getting a ticket to the Super Bowl was not so difficult.

The year was 1967. Back then, the big game (well, as I will explain later, it was not seen as that big a game) was not officially called the Super Bowl.

Back then, the inaugural Super Bowl was known as the NFL-AFL World Championship Game, pitting the champion of the National Football League against the title holder of the American Football League. For the former league, the game was merely a chance to show the world that teams from the latter league don't belong on the same field as the more established NFL.

In the 90,000-plus seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a crowd of 61,946 (including, of course the "Never Missed a Super Bowl Club") showed up at 1:15 p.m. PST to watch the grudge match between the NFL's Green Bay Packers and the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs.

The Packers just beat the Dallas Cowboys in a hard-fought NFL title game, winning the franchise's 10th NFL title and second in a row. For them, winning the NFL-AFL World Championship trophy would just put another notch on their belt.

According to Bob McGinn's The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Green Bay wide receiver Max McGee was spotted by Bart Starr at about 7:30 a.m. stumbling into the team hotel following a late night out on the town. Of course, the 34-year-old wideout was not planning on playing.

But Boyd Dowler injured his right shoulder on the second play from scrimmage, thrusting McGee into action. McGee's late-night action didn't affect his performance too much, it turns out, as he caught a 37-yard touchdown pass to give the Packers the early 7-0 lead.

McGee caught both of Starr's touchdown passes that day, hauling in 13-yard score to put the Packers ahead 28-10 in the third quarter. He finished the game catching seven passes for 138 yards; not bad for a guy who got less than six hours of sleep, if any.

Starr was named the game's Most Valuable Player, completing 16-of-23 passes for 250 yards and finished the game with a quarterback rating of 116.2 as Green Bay blew out the Chiefs as expected 35-10.

The championship victory was put into perspective by Vince Lombardi shortly after the Packers returned home.

"I don't think [the Chiefs] are as good as the top teams in the National Football League," he said to a group of writers in his office. "They're a good team with fine speed, but I'd have to say NFL football is tougher. Dallas is a better team, and so are several others."

This quote is a symbol of how the NFL felt about the upstart AFL. But as it turns out, the Lombardi-led Packers were better at that time than any team in the AFL (or the NFL, for that matter) could offer.

As Broadway Joe's New York Jets and the Chiefs later proved the AFL's legitimacy, the Super Bowl grew from its roots as an annual grudge match between two football leagues and blossom into the most-watched event in America.


Jay Cutler Tore MCL in NFC Championship Game

Watching Jay Cutler on the sidelines while the Bears tried to rally from the jaws of defeat, I'm sure a lot of people wondered why he wasn't on the gridiron.

I, myself, will admit that I assumed Cutler to have quit on Chicago. Maurice Jones-Drew and Kerry Rhodes also criticized him via their Twitter accounts.

Well, it turns out that he had a tear in his MCL in his left knee.

It's an injury on which many football players wouldn't have played no matter what the circumstances. And, really, it's not a good idea.

In the recent press conference, Lovie Smith said Cutler tried to get back into the game. It's probably a good thing that he didn't for two reasons: He would have foolishly risked a career-ending injury, and he wouldn't have given his team the best chance to win.

When he was in the game, Cutler was unable to move in the pocket to avoid pressure. One of the factors that improved the Bears' offense in the middle of the season was his ability to make plays with his running shoes.

When Hanie came into the game, he had the ability to move in the pocket. It was partially because of his quick feet that he was able to rally the Bears from the jaws of defeat and almost steal the George Halas Trophy.

So before anybody comes to any conclusions, make sure to get the facts straight.

Super Bowl XLV: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

Date: February 6, 2011

Time: 5:29 p.m. CST


Location: Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, Texas)

Odds: Packers -2.5

Green Bay Packers Survive Scare in Chicago; Will Beat Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV

The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Green Bay Packers.

The Terrible Towel vs. the Cheeseheads.

The City of Champions vs. Titletown.

Any way you put it, Cowboys Stadium will be hosting a Super Bowl matchup between the NFL's two most successful franchises. The Steelers have won an NFL-record six Super Bowls while the Packers have won 12 NFL titles -- including nine pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships.

Now Pittsburgh and Green Bay will meet in the Super Bowl to decide which team will claim bragging rights as the NFL's most successful franchise.

Packers 21, Bears 14

I apologize to readers expecting me to have recaps for these games yesterday.

I am a Bears fan, so, for obvious reasons, I couldn't gather the motivation to do so.

Well, what is there to say? When you're down to your third-string quarterback playing against one of the league's best defenses, it's hard to believe you have a chance to win.

But I will give Caleb Hanie props. He gave a performance that, his two dagger interceptions aside, that kept Chicago in a game that, really, looked like a blowout loss.

He completed 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. He gathered up nearly twice as many passing yards as Jay Cutler, who was 6-of-14 for 80 yards before sitting on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Hanie had every excuse in the book to put on a lackadaisical performance. Aside from not being able to practice with the first-string offense and being called into that big a game on short notice, his team should have made him the backup, but instead went to Todd Collins to replace Cutler.

Instead of taking it personally, Hanie manned up and did his job. I will always remember that fondly.

As for Cutler, I don't know too many specifics on his knee. There were times, however, when his mobility seemed non-existent; hence, he was being pressured into making some bad throws.

During the game, FOX said Cutler didn't know when he injured his knee. For all I know, it could have been injured before the game.

With the kind of mistakes he makes with his throws sometimes and his big arm, Cutler has gotten some comparisons to Brett Favre. Obviously, this is where the comparisons end.

Favre, being the drama queen that he is, might have milked his knee injury for the cameras. But there was no way you could have kept him on the field.

Some props also need to go to the Bear defense. Although Brian Urlacher and company allowed Aaron Rodgers to pass for 244 yards and run for 39, they did their job in keeping Chicago in this game.

They made third down the Packer offense's worst nightmare. And they stalled two Green Bay drives with key interceptions.

But overall, this Packers team was just too much for the Bears to handle that day.

Now, regarding the Super Bowl...

As I said before, if there is one chink in the Steeler defense's armor, it is in the secondary.

Besides Troy Polamalu (I won't mess with him under any circumstances), the Pittsburgh secondary almost let the team down yesterday.

Trying to rally from a 24-0 second-quarter deficit, Mark Sanchez almost succeeded, finishing the game with 233 yards passing and two touchdowns. Thanks to his uncharacteristic catch-up skills, the Jets scored 19 unanswered points and seemed to be one offensive possession away from stealing the game.

Then Pittsburgh's offense saved the day, as Antonio Brown came through once again for a big catch, this time hauling in a game-clinching first down.

New York's offense isn't terrible, but it is not the type of offense that is designed to rally from big deficits. The fact is, the Steelers have not faced any offenses this postseason that anyone would consider to be potent.

Imagine what type of damage Aaron Rodgers and company could do to this defense. They already put on a respectable performance against the Bears' highly-ranked defense.

I never thought I'd say this about the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they'll be hit with a strong air attack. And when it's all over, the Vince Lombardi trophy will go back to Titletown.

Packers 38, Steelers 14


Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears: A Look Back at the NFL's Oldest Rivalry

I don't know about you, but I'm glad ESPN decided to bring back Frank Gifford for its Monday Night Football broadcasts.

Over the past two years, before Hank Williams Jr. boisterously asked us if we were ready for some football, Gifford has put upcoming MNF matchups into a historical perspective by telling a story about a game from the past in which those two teams met.

With these blasts from the past, Gifford reminds me of James Earl Jones in The Sandlot, giving us stories from the good ol' days. Not stories about how people used to walk 15 miles through the snow, but stories we actually cared about.

In the upcoming NFC Championship Game, the NFL's two oldest rivals (the Packers and the Bears) will battle each other for the right to play in the Super Bowl. It is perhaps the biggest game in the rivalry's long history, a rivalry that has been met head-to-head 181 times.

Even though I am only 24 years old, I found it appropriate to go back into history and look at some of the most famous matchups in the history of the Packers-Bears rivalry. So the following are stories of five Green Bay-Chicago matchups from the glorious past.

As a Bears fan (and because the Bears have a 92-83-6 edge in the series), I found it appropriate to only list games in which Da Bears beat Da Pack.

Don't like it, Packers fans? Then write your own list.

December 14, 1941 (Wrigley Field): Bears 33, Packers 14

Believe it or not, the Packers and Bears have met in the postseason only once in the rivalry's history.

This playoff game came only a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many players on both teams would soon be drafted into military service, serving the country in World War II.

But first, there was a football season that needed to be concluded.

Both the Packers and Bears finished the season with a 10-1 record. Therefore, for the first time in history, the NFL's Western Conference title needed to be settled with a playoff game.

In front of 43,425 fans enduring 16-degree weather, running backs George McAfee and Hugh Gallarneau led a Chicago rushing attack that racked up 267 yards.

After Green Bay took an early 7-0 with a Clarke Hinkle rushing touchdown, the Bears scored 24 points in the second quarter. From there, they cruised to the victory.

The Bears went on to win the NFL Championship the following week, beating the New York Giants 37-9.

November 17, 1963 (Wrigley Field): Bears 26, Packers 7

Technically, this was not a playoff game.

But with the Packers and Bears both entering the game with 8-1 records, each team knew it would gain an inside track toward the Western Conference championship with a win.

Green Bay, under the legendary head coach Vince Lombardi, won the NFL Championship the previous two years. Under George Halas, however, the Bears were determined to knock them off the throne.

They had a good chance to do so, as Bart Starr was out with a broken hand and Paul Hornung was serving a suspension for gambling.

Right from the opening kickoff, the Bears, dubbed the "Team of Destiny" by former Chicago Tribune sportswriter George Strickler, dominated. Chicago defensive back J.C. Caroline hit Herb Adderley with a bone-bruising tackle inside the 20-yard line, and from there the Bears took over the game -- and the NFL Championship race.

Packers running back Jim Taylor was held to 23 yards as Green Bay was held to 71 yards on the ground and 232 total. The Bears' defense also forced seven turnovers, intercepting five passes from Green Bay quarterbacks John Roach and Zeke Bratkowski.

Meanwhile, Chicago's offense gained 248 rushing yards. Willie Galimore led the way for the Bears with 79 yards on 14 attempts.

Thanks in part to a 27-yard touchdown by Galimore, the Bears built a 26-0 lead and never looked back.

With a record of 11-1-2, the Bears won the NFL Championship, beating the Giants 14-10. The Packers finished the season with an 11-2-1 record, their only two losses coming against Chicago.

October 21, 1985 (Soldier Field): Bears 23, Packers 7

With the reference to Frank Gifford, you had to know that I was going to include a Monday Night Football game in this list, right?

On this fateful Monday, William "Refrigerator" Perry officially became a household name.

Mike Ditka originally got the idea of using Perry as a fullback from the previous year's NFC Championship Game. With the San Francisco 49ers' victory over the Chicago Bears in hand, 280-pound Guy McIntyre was put in at fullback for the 49ers, a move that did not sit well with Da Coach.

"I don't hold grudges, but I have a good memory," Ditka said on "America's Game."
In a rematch with San Francisco, Perry was used as a fullback late in the game as the Bears won 26-10.

Now Chicago got a chance to utilize "The Fridge" on the national stage. First, Perry bulldozed Packers linebacker George Cumby in the second quarter to make way for a two-yard touchdown by Walter Payton.

Then, less than five minutes later, he rammed through Green Bay's defense for a one-yard touchdown of his own.

And a star is born.

November 3, 1985 (Lambeau Field): Bears 16, Packers 10

Before the game, the Bears found some horse manure in their locker room.

"I showed it to the team and told them that this is what [the Packers] think of us," Ditka said on "America's Game."

Despite what Green Bay thought of them, the Bears won this rematch, thanks in part to another touchdown to their famous fullback.

We all know "Refrigerator" Perry can rumble into the end zone. But can he catch the ball?

Perry proved the answer to be a resounding yes, catching a touchdown pass from the red zone and adding to his legend.

And, as Harry Kalas said in his narration of this game for NFL Films, "giving new meaning to the term wide receiver."

In the fourth quarter, Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael sacked Jim Zorn in the end zone for a safety. Chicago went on to score the game-winning touchdown on a 49-yard drive following the safety.

Payton ran for 27 yards to get the winning score. He finished the game with 192 yards rushing.

September 19, 2004 (Lambeau Field): Bears 21, Packers 10

In his introductory press conference, newly-hired head coach Lovie Smith said he had three goals for the Bears under his regime.

1. Beat Green Bay; 2. Win the NFC North; 3. Win the Super Bowl.

In his first game against the Packers, Smith's Bears accomplished his first goal thanks in large part to what was our first taste of the opportunistic defense that the Bears would become under Lovie.

In the second quarter, Brian Urlacher stripped the football away from Ahman Green with the Packers deep in the red zone. Safety Mike Brown scooped up the pigskin and returned it 95 yards for Chicago's second touchdown of the game.

Thomas Jones led the Bears' ground attack with 152 yards and scored Chicago's final TD on a 54-yard run.

I find this game to be significant because, before Lovie Smith was hired, the Bears had only one playoff appearance since 1994.

Since winning this game, the Bears have won three NFC North Division titles, appeared in a Super Bowl and is now one win away from going to another Super Bowl.

Say what you will about Lovie, but he knew going in that beating Green Bay would start the foundation for success.

Now the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears renew their rivalry at Soldier Field. This time, for the first time in this storied rivalry's history, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

In the words of Frank Gifford, "Are you ready?"

Hue Jackson Replaces Tom Cable as Oakland Raiders Head Coach

An 8-8 NFL team can usually expect its head coach to return next season, especially if it's an improvement over previous seasons.

But then again, when the NFL team is owned by Al Davis, you never know what can happen.

After choosing not to fire Tom Cable in the wake of alleged assault against an assistant coach, Davis chose not to renew Cable's contract after his Raiders went undefeated in the AFC West.

Go figure.

Davis has chosen to promote from within the Raider organization to replace Cable, hiring offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

He is the fifth head coach to be hired by Oakland since its last playoff season, when the Raiders won the 2002 AFC Championship.

Jackson was hired as the Raiders' offensive coordinator in 2010, and oversaw an offense that scored twice as many points this past season than it did in 2009. And that's with the likes of Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski under center.

So we may expect some offensive firepower from Raider Nation in 2011.


Brett Favre Files for Retirement: 4 Things to Do Off The Gridiron

Listening to Brett Favre's press conferences this year and watching him on the bench for three of his last four games, it seems that he is finally ready to accept the concept of life beyond the football field.

According to FOXSports.com, Favre filed his retirement papers. Of course, he also filed those same papers after his one season with the Jets, so I wouldn't let go of all possibility of him returning to action next season yet.

However, Favre's career has to end sometime. The way this past season has gone, retirement looks long overdue.

So what will a man who has started an NFL-record 297 games do with the rest of his life?

Here are four ideas to help ol' #4 fight off the irritating itch to give his career one more painful year.


While contemplating retirement over the past two summers, Favre worked out with a local high school football team in Hattiesburg, Miss., to keep himself in playing shape and serve as an unofficial mentor.

I'm sure that football team would be more than willing to let him join his team as a quarterbacks coach.

Yes, I know that he was never the most fundamentally-sound quarterback. Throwing off his back foot, for instance, is not something he needs to teach kids whose arms are not as strong.

So, it's really simple: Favre should teach high schoolers to do the opposite of what he did on the football field. They'll listen.


Back when America (outside of Chicago, of course) liked Brett Favre, part of the reason for his likability was because of his personality.

Whether it was doing a Keith Jackson impression for a tight end whose name happened to be the same as the former ABC college football broadcaster or getting into friendly confrontations with Warren Sapp, he entertained us with his outgoing charisma. He can do the same in a broadcast booth.

Yes, I know that Favre has never been comfortable with wearing a suit on national television.

Well, I have a different idea: radio. No one cares if radio broadcasters wear their Wranglers to work (even if they're open-fly jeans, as seen on SNL) because, obviously, no one sees him.

Time with Family

When a famous athlete retires, he often says that one of the things he looks forward to doing in retirement is spending time with his family.

While Brett Favre has been busy on the football field (or on his lawn in Mississippi), some events have occurred within his family. Last summer, his daughter had a baby, giving him a rarity in the NFL: a grandfather on the football field.

In recent weeks, his sister made the news by getting arrested in connection with a methamphetamine sting. And, of course, he may have to work on his marriage in the wake of the Jenn Sterger scandal.

In retirement, Favre may figure out that time spent with family is going to be more important than anything that happened in the 297 consecutive games in which he started.

Backyard Football

Of course, if those three ideas are not enough to keep Favre off the football field, he does have a huge backyard.

On that gridiron, Favre can play without being confined by Brad Childress or pads. He can put his Wranglers on and just fling that pigskin anywhere and anyhow he wishes.


NFL Playoff Recap and Preview: Jets Shock Patriots, Will Continue Road Trip to Dallas

In order for the Jets to win a playoff game against the Patriots in Foxborough, they would have to, as Wes Welker so wittingly put it, "put [their] best foot forward."

Sure enough, that's what New York did. The Jets' defense, embarrassed on Monday Night Football not too long ago by Tom Brady's New England offense, put together a respectable performance to help put New York in its second consecutive AFC Championshp Game with a 28-21 win.

In the first half, they held Brady to 99 passing yards and intercepted him once while BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead ran for a combined 40 yards in that half. Brady ended the game completing 29-of-45 passes for 299 yar ds and 2 touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to rally from a 14-3 halftime deficit.

With 13 seconds left in the third quarter, Brady completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler. Sammy Morris ran for the ensuing two-point conversion to cut the Jets' lead to 14-11.

However, the Jets made it a two-score game with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes. The play was somewhat reminiscent of the Super Bowl XLIII game-winning catch, as Holmes caught the ball along the sidelines with his knee barely inbounds.

In hindsight, that would prove to be the clincher for the Jets. The Patriots scored a field goal later on to make the score 21-14, but failed to recover the ensuing onside kick.

New York hang on from there, but the real point of emphasis regarding the Jets' victory was the performance of Sanchez. In the first half, he completed 10-of-16 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

He finished the game with only 194 passing yards, but the statistic that really counts in this case is this one: no interceptions.

He didn't turn the ball over, and neither did the other team. As the Baltimore Ravens proved yesterday, an underdog cannot protect a halftime lead if it turns the ball over.

But the Jets didn't, and that's why they are traveling to Pittsburgh next weekend.

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers, 5:30 p.m. CST (CBS)

As I said before, the New York Jets earned the trip to Pittsburgh because its defense performed admirably and the offense didn't turn the ball over.

So if the Jets gain a halftime lead in this game, don't expect them to give the Steelers any pigskin-shaped gifts that could give them a chance to win this game.

It is likely that the Jets could get that halftime lead. As Baltimore proved with its short field in the first half, Pittsburgh's secondary is the chink in its defensive armor.

The Jets, with Santonio Holmes and Jericho Cotchery, have the weapons to exploit that chink.

For those that don't already know this, Jets head coach Rex Ryan is the son of Buddy Ryan, the former Bears defensive coordinator whose 46 Defense helped Chicago earn its only Super Bowl victory in the 1985 season.

Imagine it: On the silver anniversary of that season, the Bears play in the Super Bowl against the son of one of the coaches that was carried off the field following their Super Bowl XX victory.

Jets 21, Steelers 17

NFL Playoff Recap and Preview: Chicago Bears Blow Out Seattle Seahawks Thanks in Part to Running Game; Why They'll Be Super Bowl Bound

Many experts will tell you that the Chicago Bears' 35-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks was due mostly to Jay Cutler and the passing game.

They may also mention Mike Martz finding a way to utilize Greg Olsen in the passing game. They'll also talk about the always-stingy Chicago defense, which also performed admirably in this game despite giving up 24 points in the second half.

Brian Urlacher and company did, after all, shut out the Seahawks in the first half. Matt Hasselbeck threw for only 78 yards in the first half, and Seattle's leading rusher in that half was Golden Tate, with one carry for 13 yards.

Nobody thought Marshawn Lynch could repeat that long touchdown run against the Saints today. But three rushes for two yards in the first half?

Monsters! Monsters of the Midway!

But some credit needs to go to Martz's playcalling, as he used the running game to set up the passing game.

The Bears' first offensive possession started with two rushes for Matt Forte that went for a productive five and three yards. On third-and-2, the Seahawks anticipated another run.

Instead, Cutler found Olsen running down the field with man-to-man coverage by Lawyer Milloy -- an obvious mismatch.

The play resulted in a 58-yard touchdown that set the tone for the rest of the game, as Chicago put away the game by the end of the first half with a 21-0 lead. Cutler completed 8-of-16 passes for 177 yards in that half, as Olsen caught three of those completions for 113 yards.

But the running game should be given some credit, as the balanced offensive game plan set up the crisp passing half. Forte led the Bears that half with 10 rushes for 41 yards.

Chester Taylor helped out, carrying the ball four times in the first half for 16 yards and a touchdown.

Even Cutler got into the ground party, rushing for a six-yard touchdown for Chicago's third score and adding another rushing TD in the third quarter. At the 7:28 mark in the fourth quarter, Cutler ran for 46 yards on five carries.

Now the Bears are to set to host the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. They will play against their archrivals (to say the least), the Green Bay Packers.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears -- 2 p.m. CST (FOX)

Is it too early to predict the outcome of the NFC Championship Game? I didn't think so.

The key to this matchup of the oldest rivalry in the NFL will be the Packers' receiving corps going up against the Bears' secondary.

Aaron Rodgers has performed spectacularly against two defenses that are, at best, middle of the pack. Now we will see how he does against one of the best defenses in the league.

Don't expect any 80-yard bombs to be thrown against this defense, as Chicago's Tampa Two defense is designed to prevent such plays. The key to scoring points against this defense is to put together long drives until this defense bends too far.

Green Bay's offense has the capability to do that -- when the receivers don't fumble the ball after catching it. For those who haven't been watching Packers-Bears games over the past few years, there's a couple things you must know: the Packers' receivers tend to cough up the pigskin, and the Bears' secondary likes to take advantage of turnover opportunities.

Expect Charles "Peanut" Tillman and the Chicago secondary to strip the ball away from Greg Jennings and/or James Jones at least once in this game.

As for the matchup of the Packer defense versus the Bear offense, if Cutler and the Chicago offense performs the way they did against the Seahawks, expect them to put up some points (at least more than the three points they put up in Week 17).

As evidenced by Cutler's TD passes to Olsen and Kellen Davis against Seattle, he can utilize the tight ends. And he will need to do so, as Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes to send blitzers such as Charles Woodson.

If the Bears' offense can keep the game plan balanced and use the tight ends like they did against the Seahawks, and the defense can force some turnovers, Chicago will be Super Bowl bound.

Bears 24, Packers 21

NFC Divisional Round Recap: Green Bay Packers Surprisingly Blow Out the Atlanta Falcons

Wait a minute...I thought the team with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs was supposed to be the best team in the conference.

For the game's first 18:10, it looked like the Atlanta Falcons were on their way to proving that they are truly the NFC's best team. Eric Weems returned a kickoff 102 yards for the touchdown to give Atlanta a 14-7 lead.

Then, in a wave of 35 unanswered points, the Packers showed that the Falcons were mere pretenders, rather than Super Bowl contenders. Green Bay walked out of the Georgia Dome with a surprisingly-easy 48-21 victory.

The Packers scored all of their first 28 points in the second quarter. The last of their four touchdown was a 70-yard interceptin return by Tramon Williams as the first-half expired.

That was one of two interceptions thrown by Matt Ryan. The Falcons' quarterback completed 20-of-29 passes for a meager 186 yards and a touchdown.

Michael Turner couldn't find any more success in the running game for Atlanta. He carried the ball 10 times for only 39 yards.

In contrast, the Packers ran the ball for a total of 96 yards. James Starks ran the ball 25 times for a respectable 66 yards.

Thanks to the healthy mix of running and passing plays in the Green Bay offense, Aaron Rodgers found some places to throw to. He completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns while running for 13 yards and another TD.

With their recent postseason run heading to the AFC Championship Game, the Packers are reminding some football fans of the 2008 playoffs, when three of the teams competing in conference championship games were a fourth seed or lower.

As a Bears fan, I would like to remind you that the one team that reached a conference championship game that year after having a bye week in the Wild Card round (the No. 2-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers of the AFC) won the Super Bowl.

NFC Divisional Round Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers Rally in 2nd half to beat Baltimore Ravens

This playoff game between the brutal, smash-mouth rivals known as the Ravens and Steelers was a tale of two halves.

If a random person who did not watch the game and merely saw the final score (Steelers 31, Ravens 24), he/she would assume that the game was a back-and-forth contest between two high-powered offenses.

Instead, each half had a common theme: turnovers and field position. In each half, one team gave up the ball deep in its own territory and the other scored points off the turnover.

In the first half, the Ravens took advantage of two Pittsburgh turnovers, scoring a touchdown off each one. Suggs forced a Ben Roethlisberger fumble in the second quarter that Redding scooped up and returned for a touchdown before most players figured out that the play was not called an incomplete pass.

Then Rashard Mendenhall fumbled deep in Steeler territory, setting up a Flacco-to-Heap connection that resulted in a touchdown. At halftime, the Ravens held a surprising 21-7 lead.

Big Ben was sacked three times in the first half and completed only 7-12 passes for a meager 78 yards. Mendenhall led the Steelers' rushing attack with 10 carries for 27 yards.

In the second half, it was the Steelers' turn to take the ball away. The turnover parade began its turnaround when Ray Rice fumbled a pass completion, setting up the first of two touchdowns scored by the Steelers in the third quarter.

The second, and tying, touchdown was set up by a Flacco interception to Clark. The Ravens offense, as well as giving up the pigskin twice in the third quarter, could only produce -4 yards total in the quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh capitalized on yet another turnover (Flacco fumbled the snap, and the Steelers recovered) with the go-ahead field goal.

Overall, this was not a good offensive day for either team. Flacco completed 16-of-30 passes for only 125 yards while Rice only got 32 yards on 12 rushes.

For the Steelers, Roethlisberger passed for 226 yards while Mendenhall ran for 46. The only reason why this game was so high-scoring was that the offenses had short fields to work with due to the turnovers.

However, you have to give these offenses some credit. After all, each turnover turned into points, which is not something you can say for every game.

And when the Steeler offense needed to make the big play, it rose to the occasion.

On third-and-19, Big Ben completed a 58-yard bomb to Antonio Brown to set up a red-zone touchdown for Mendenhall.

The Ravens' offense had a similar chance to deliver when the ensuing kickoff was returned to Pittsburgh territory. However, they turned the ball over on downs after only four plays.

In the end, therefore, this is why the Steelers will be moving on to the AFC Championship Game: they made one more big play than the Ravens.  


John Fox: Denver Broncos Hire Former Carolina Panthers Coach for Same Position

I'm sure that I raised a few eyebrows when I proposed the idea of Tony Sparano becoming the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

Sparano is still the coach of the Dolphins. Therefore, the Broncos hired someone else who has recent experience as the leader of the NFL team: Former Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox.

One of the things I liked about Sparano, and now like about the hiring of John Fox, was that, unlike Josh McDaniels, he actually has experience as an NFL head coach.

The only thing McDaniels knew about being a head coach was everything Bill Belichick used to do. Therefore, he just tried to copy everything Belichick did; we saw how that worked out.

In Fox, the Denver Broncos now have a head coach who knows from actual experience how to lead a winning team, even if his Panthers have not had a winning season since 2008.

Minnesota Vikings Won't Pay for Roof on New Stadium; Wild and Gophers Should Pitch In for Retractable One

There was a time when the Astrodome in Houston was looked at in the same light as Cowboys Stadium is seen nowadays.

A modern marvel, sparking a trend by which other cities followed. Domes, once upon a time, were the preferred form of architecture for outdoor-sport stadiums.

One of the cities following that trend was Minneapolis, whose Minnesota Vikings and Twins started playing in the Metrodome in the early 1980s.

If the domed-stadium trend wasn't already dead before this year's winter storm, it deflated along with the roof of the now-maligned Metrodome.

Now, with the roof on the Metrodome ripped by the snow and the Vikings' lease on the stadium set to expire after next season, they are threatening to move away from Minnesota if they don't get the stadium they want at the price they want.

The Vikes have said that they would pay one-third of the cost to build the new stadium. However, they also said they would prefer to have an outdoor stadium because it would cost them too much money to build a stadium with a roof.

Lawmakers in the state of Minnesota, however, said they want the stadium to have a roof on it no matter what the cost.

"If you're going to put this much capital, this much sweat and tears into it, you're going to need a 365-day facility like the Metrodome," state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said to the Associated Press.

That makes sense. With the newly-built Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium being outdoor facilities, Minnesota does need a multi-purpose, indoor stadium to host events such as the Final Four.

But the Vikings have leverage, as Los Angeles has plans to build a new stadium. Unlike Minnesota, the weather in L.A. is usually sunny and warm, eliminating the need for a roof over the Vikings' head.

Plus, given what they've just been through with their current domed stadium, could you blame them for wanting to take their game outdoors?

So, what can be done to make the Vikings and the state law happy and keep the Vikes in Minnesota? I have a proposal that is a little out of the box, but could potentially work out.

Instead of the Vikings paying for one-third of the cost of a roof over the stadium, the NHL's Minnesota Wild and University of Minnesota athletics should pitch in some money for a retractable roof.

Why should they pay for a roof on the Vikings' new stadium, you ask? Because a two-word phrase that has become a new trend over the past few years: outdoor hockey.

Over the last four years, the NHL Winter Classic has become a New Year's Day tradition, pulling in millions of viewers on NBC and tens of thousands of fans into a frigid stadium.

This year's Winter Classic, played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, drew a capacity crowd of 68,111 and 4.65 million viewers on NBC. This is despite the game being delayed for about seven hours due to rain.

Outdoor hockey is a trend that hasn't been limited to the NHL. In December, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor hosted a winter classic between Michigan State and Michigan's hockey, a game that broke the record for most fans witnessing a live hockey game with an attendance of 113,411.

Just imagine what kind of crowds and viewers the Wild and Minnesota hockey team could attract by playing at the open-roofed new Vikings stadium. It would provide the potential for publicity that would more than make up for the cost of one-third of a retractable roof.

Plus, the thing about a retractable roof is that you can close it, something the Vikings can consider if they decide that -10 degree temperatures are too much to bear.

And I'm sure the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team wouldn't mind hosting the Final Four, or at least the Big Ten Tournament.


Mike Holmgren, Cleveland Browns Could Hire Pat Shurmur by End of Week

When searching for employment in today's job market, it helps to be well-connected.

It also helps when those connections are connected to the employer who is looking to fill the position as which you want to be employed.

That holds true whether you are looking for work as a construction worker or an NFL head coach.

With Mike Holmgren looking for a head coach to replace the terminated Eric Mangini, it looks like Pat Shurmur, with the help of his many connections, is the frontrunner for the Browns' head-coaching position.

For those Packers fans who think the same Shurmur should sound familiar, you are right. Pat Shurmur is a nephew of Fritz Shurmur, who was Green Bay's defensive coordinator during the Holmgren-led Packers' two-year reign as NFC champions back in the mid-1990s.

Pat Shurmur has also made connections beyond the luck of nepotism. He was an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid, who also served as an assistant coach to Holmgren while he was with Green Bay.

Shurmur went on to use what he learned from Reid, and what Reid learned from Holmgren, to mentor Sam Bradford as the St. Louis Rams' offensive coordinator. Using the West Coast offense utilized by teams coached by Holmgren and Reid, he helped lead Bradford guide the Rams to a six-win improvement in 2010.

Pat Shurmur has learned well from descendants of Holmgren. Now we may see what he can do while working directly under Holmgren.

Cleveland Cavaliers Lose Game, My Sympathy in Los Angeles

When I originally heard that the Lakers beat the Cavaliers by 55 points, I will admit that my first thought was, "How did LeBron James let this happen?"

Then it hit my mind that LeBron was with the Miami Heat. So I guess I still haven't fully gotten over "The Decision."

Judging by how this game went down, neither have the Cavs.

In their 112-57 victory over Cleveland, the Lakers set a new franchise record for fewest points yielded to an opponent. The Cavaliers set a new franchise record for fewest points scored in a game.

The 55-point blowout was the Lakers' third-largest margin of victory in their history.

The Cavs shot 29.9 percent from the field.

I could go on and on about how badly Cleveland got annihilated Tuesday, but instead I'll just get to the point: the Cavs stink.

This loss was their 11th in a row, and their 17th consecutive defeat on the road. Their record is now 8-30, the worst record in the entire NBA.

Look, I know losing a once-in-a-lifetime talent like LeBron James to free agency can be devastating to any franchise. But at a certain point, the Cavaliers as a franchise are going to need to stop their mourning period.

At some point, they need to start doing the things they need to do to become relevant again before their fans start becoming impatient.

That hasn't happened yet. Cleveland, according to ESPN, is second in the NBA in home attendance.

But soon the Cavs will need to show these fans that a plan is in place to someday (maybe not now, but someday) be able to play at the level at which they played with King James in Cleveland.

It starts with the ownership. Dan Gilbert needs to get over losing LeBron and show that he's willing to spend the money to get that next superstar and the supporting cast to get Cleveland the championship he promised to get before LeBron achieved his.

Trickling down, the front office, coaching staff and players need to show the same commitment to excellence. Being a Bulls fan, I know how quickly the fans grew impatient with their rebuilding plan following the departure of Michael Jordan and company.

General manager Jerry Krause was gone in 2003.


NFL Divisional Round Preview: Can Ravens, Packers and Jets Avenge Regular Season Losses?

Each Divisional Round matchup this weekend will serve as a rematch of at least one regular-season game.

The two AFC matchups are rubber matches, as each team beat the other once. However, the Steelers and Patriots, both of whom will host the matchups, won the last regular season matchups in games that will stick in the minds more so than the first one.

As I said in a previous post, I expect the Chicago Bears to avenge their Week 6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. But what about the Ravens, Packers and Jets?

Can they overcome teams that already beat them? Can they do it on the road?

Ravens at Steelers

Baltimore's victory over the Steelers was in Pittsburgh, but came while Ben Roethlisberger was serving his four-game suspension.

Big Ben has come back in a big way for the Steelers. Although the Steeler offense wasn't exactly potent in a 13-10 win over the Ravens in Week 13, Roethlisberger completed 22-of-38 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.

Troy Polamalu came up with the play of the game that Sunday night in Baltimore, forcing a Joe Flacco that Pittsburgh recovered and set up the game-winning touchdown. Polamalu currently is listed day-to-day with an Achilles injury, so it remains to be seen if the Steeler defense can rely on any big plays this time around.

Ed Reed is also questionable for this game, as he is visiting his family in the wake of his brother's disappearance last weekend.

Even if both of these players are held out of this game, expect this battle to he a hard-hitting, head-bruising one. If you thought Roethlisberger's nose injury looked serious, that's nothing compared to the aches and pains you'll feel from just watching this game.

Pittsburgh, however, has a slight upper hand in pretty much every category in this game, including playoff history. The Steelers won both playoff matches between these two teams since the Ravens moved from Cleveland in 1996; they beat Baltimore 27-10 in the 2001 playoffs and 23-14 in January 2009.

Expect more of the same this time around.

Steelers 21, Ravens 17

Packers at Falcons

The last time these two teams faced each other, Aaron Rodgers tried to carry the entire offense by himself to lift the Packers to victory in the Georgia Dome.

Rodgers completed 26-of-35 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. He was also Green Bay's leading rusher, with 51 yards and another touchdown.

But it was not enough, as the Falcons, behind Michael Turner's 110 yards on 23 carries, beat the Packers 20-17.

This time around, however, Green Bay will be packing (pun intended) their running game onto their plane to Hotlanta. Last week, James Starks bursted through the Eagles defense for 123 yards.

The question is will they be able to keep the Falcons' offense on the sidelines with their running game. The Packers couldn't do it in the end of their game against the Eagles, and they needed a Tramon Williams interception to escape Philadelphia with a playoff victory.

My brain tells me not to expect that to happen again with Matty Ice under center for the Falcons. But my gut is telling me to bet on the Packers.

With help from their newly-found running game, they look like one of those teams that catch fire once the playoffs begin, ala the 2008 Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals or 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Packers 24, Falcons 20

Jets at Patriots

Contrary to what Rex Ryan has been saying these past few days, he won't be lining up against Bill Belichick on the gridiron.

As Bill Belichick said in response, it's probably a good thing that Belichick is staying on the sidelines. Otherwise, I would have thought the Jets had a shot at winning this game.

Let's face it: New York's defense got exposed on that fateful Monday night. Without Jim Leonhard protecting Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in the secondary, Tom Brady had a field day, passing for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

The Jets' offense, as a result, was forced to play catch-up, a mode in which Mark Sanchez is usually anything but comfortable. He showed that by throwing for only 164 yards and three interceptions.

This time around, I don't expect an annihilation as bad as that 45-3 debacle. However, I cannot see any possible way that the Jets escape Foxborough with an upset victory.

Even if Rex Ryan's fat gut lines up at nosetackle.

Patriots 42, Jets 14

Michigan Hires San Diego State's Brady Hoke as Head Coach, Rejected by Les Miles

The Wolverines didn't get their first choice, as LSU's Les Miles decided to stay put.

But they got a very nice consolation prize in the Aztecs' Brady Hoke.

Hoke is a guy who knows about the Michigan way (obviously unlike his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez), as he served as a defensive assistant for Lloyd Carr. When you consider how badly the Wolverines played defensively in 2010, those who are fans of the Michigan way should be glad that their team hired a guy who will focus on making the play on that side of the ball better.

Plus, Hoke is a guy who proved twice to be a guy who can lead a team to glory. As a head coach, he has led Ball State to a MAC Championship and undefeated record.

At San Diego State last season, he led the Aztecs to a 9-4 record and a 35-14 victory over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Auburn is the National Champion: No Argument from TCU

Chris Del Conte, TCU's Director of Athletics, said in a recent statement he will celebrate his team's victory in the Rose Bowl rather than contemplate what could have been if college football's champion were determined by a better system than the BCS.

That is the correct approach. Make no mistake about it: Auburn is the champion.

It's not that TCU didn't deserve a shot to play in the BCS National Championship Game; they certainly did. It's that the Tigers and Ducks deserved it more.

Carolina Panthers Hire Ron Rivera as Head Coach

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Carolina Panthers hired San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to be John Fox's successor as head coach.

Last season, Rivera led a Chargers defense that ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL. That's right: the Chargers, not the Steelers or the Bears, had the league's best-ranked defense.

As a fan of the Chicago Bears, it did not surprise me that Rivera has turned San Diego into a place where defense is stingy. We all know how he helped turn the Bears, back when he was their defensive coordinator, back into the Monsters of the Midway in the mid-2000's with a healthy Brian Urlacher.

What surprised me is how long it took him to get his promotion to head coach. After Chicago's Super Bowl run, it was rumored that Rivera was a candidate for the Chargers' head-coaching position after Marty Schottenheimer was canned.

Heck, with Lovie Smith having issues with his contract, some speculated that Rivera would get the promotion with the Bears.

Instead, Smith stayed with the Bears. The Chargers hired Norv Turner as their head coach and Ron Rivera as...linebackers coach?

That's right: After leading a defense that carried the Bears to the NFC title, Rivera took a demotion.

Now, after turning San Diego into a defensive powerhouse as their defensive coordinator, he is finally getting his long-overdue promotion.

He will be taking over a team that had the 18th-ranked defense last year. But this defense, although challenged unfairly last year due to one of the worst offenses the NFL has ever seen, showed some fight last year and has the potential to be great, with linebacker Jon Beason leading the way.

With Rivera taking over the reins in Charlotte, offenses should beware of the Monsters of Tobacco Road.

Other NFL Head-Coaching Vacancy News

* Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has recently been interviewed by the Cleveland Browns, as they search for a replacement for Eric Mangini.

* Whoever takes over as the Raiders' head coach should bring a good defensive game plan with him, and Nnamdi Asomugha has become a free agent due to having his contract voided.

Cam Newton, Auburn win BCS Championship over Oregon with Help of Defense

It's an old saying that champions are not always great, but only great when they have to be.

That proved to be true for Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton as he tried to lead Auburn to its first national championship since 1957. He completed 20-of-34 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 64 yards.

And nobody can forget or legitimately downgrade the performance he put on to lead the Tigers to the BCS National Championship game.

But Newton proved to be human in this game. First, his offense fails to score a single point in the first quarter (the same goes for Oregon's offense, but we'll get on that shocking development later).

Then, with his team leading 19-11 late in the fourth quarter, Newton fumbled in Auburn's own territory. Oregon went on to score the tying touchdown and two-point conversion.

But in order to be a champion on a team sport, you need to have help from your teammates when you cannot be the one who brings the trophy.

Following Oregon's tying score, Auburn running back Michael Dyer ran for 37 and 16-yard gains to set up Wes Bynum's game-winning, buzzer-beating, 19-yard field goal.

Dyer finished the game carrying the ball 22 times for 143 yards, a 6.5 yards-per-rush average.

But perhaps Newton's biggest supporters in this game were the men who made up Auburn's stingy defense.

As I said before, the Ducks were held scoreless throughout the first quarter, shocking those who were expecting this game to be a shootout with points piling up like a pinball machine (on behalf of the two offenses and the media that hyped them up so, I apologize for disappointing you).

After Newton threw his only interception in the first quarter, the Tiger defense thwarted Oregon's following drive by coming up with a pick of its own with the Ducks near the red zone. Forced to throw the ball more quickly than desired, quarterback Darron Thomas was intercepted by Zac Etheridge.

That was one of two picks that Thomas threw in Glendale, Ariz. Otherwise, he did not perform terribly for the Ducks, completing 27-of-40 yards for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

Both of those TD passes were caught by running back, and Heisman candidate, LaMichael James. James finished the game catching four passes for 39 yards, but ran 13 times for only 49 yards and no touchdowns.

Plus, 19 points? I know Auburn's defense is a fairly-decent one, to say the least, but still.

Needless to say, I expected more.

The same cannot be said, however, about a single player on Auburn's team. Coming into the game, all of the attention paid to the Tigers focused on Cam Newton.

As great a season he had in 2010, no one player can win a national championship by himself in a team sport -- especially in football. Sometimes the other 10 players on the gridiron, and the 11 players on the other side of the ball, need to step up and do the job.

Sure enough, Auburn's "other" players did just that.

Two-point conversion

Apparently, scoring 17 points isn't enough for an Oregon Duck team that's used to aiming for something along the lines of 50.

So, following a go-ahead touchdown by James, coach Chip Kelly calls for a fake PAT kick. Kicker Rob Beard received the pitch from his holder ran in to give the Ducks the two points and increase Oregon's lead to 11-7.

Well, I don't exactly know what Kelly was trying to accomplish with that trick play. But I guess when something works, you're a genius.

And, I guess in a game like this, you need to get your points any way you can get them.


NFL Divisional Round Preview: Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears

Seattle performed admirably on their home turf on Saturday in knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints 41-36.

Now the Seahawks need to prove themselves on the road, as they face the Chicago Bears.

Those wishing for a competitive game will be quick to point out that one of the Seahawks' two road wins this year was a 23-20 win over the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 6. This, however, was back when Chicago was seen as a pretender in terms of competing for a playoff berth.

The big problem with the Bears was obvious: They couldn't protect Jay Cutler. The Seahawks, using multiple blitzers on several occasions, sacked Cutler six times.

Including two sacks by safety Lawyer Milloy.

Part of the problem was that Chicago was too one-dimensional. While Cutler completed 17-of-39 passes for 290 yards, running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor ran the ball a combined 12 times for 42 yards.

In their hot streak since midseason, the Bears have, for the most part, done a good job of mixing in some runs in their offensive game plan. If they keep the offense balanced in Sunday's matchup, Seattle's defense will be forced to stay honest and be unable to blitz as freely as they did in Week 6.

They could also call some screen passes, as both Forte and Taylor are both capable pass receivers out of the backfield.

If they do at least one of the two things suggested above, Week 6's loss to the Seahawks will be nothing more than an academic memory.

Bears 28, Seahawks 10

If Philadelphia Eagles Keep Michael Vick, Where Should Kevin Kolb Go?

In his exit interview with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kevin Kolb said he would like to be traded if the Eagles keep Michael Vick as the starter.

The Eagles told Vick that they would like to keep him as the starter, and Vick said he would like to stay in Philadelphia.

So what about Kolb? If he cannot start for the Eagles, he said he would like to be a starting quarterback somewhere.

It seemed, at the start of the season, that Kolb would finally get his chance to be the Eagles' leader after Donovan McNabb got traded to the Washington Redskins. Then Kolb got a concussion, Vick came in, and the rest is history.

As Vick recovered from a rib injury suffered against the Redskins, Kolb started three more games for the Eagles this season and went 2-1. In one of those starts, he completed 23-of-29 passes for 326 yards to lead Philadelphia to a 31-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

He deserves the chance to be a starter, but the Eagles are, at least in the short run, a better team with Vick under center. Although Philadelphia may not trade him too soon because of some complications with the NFL trying to get a new collective bargaining agreement, Kolb needs to go to another team to get a fair chance to get what he wants: A chance to prove himself as a full-time starter.

Who would be the most interested in his services? These three teams should scrap up some bargaining chips to see what they could offer the Eagles in exchange for Kolb.

Carolina Panthers

Many experts expected Carolina to take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Now that Luck has decided to stay at Stanford for one more year, the Panthers would do themselves a favor by drafting wide receiver A.J. Green out of Georgia instead of settling for a backup plan at quarterback.

Who will be throwing to Green? Jimmy Clausen?

I don't know if I'm the only one thinking this, but if I were a Panther fan, I would feel more comfortable with Kolb under center if they can get him.

Arizona Cardinals

Obviously, Arizona's offense does not click without a capable quarterback throwing to a dynamic wide receiver corps that includes Larry Fitzgerald.

But with Fitzgerald still in his prime, the Cardinals should think about putting a proven (at least to some extent) quarterback under center rather than picking one from the draft and rebuilding the offense from scratch.

Kolb to Fitzgerald?

It doesn't sound as sweet as Warner to Fitzgerald, but it beats Anderson/Skelton to Fitzgerald anyday.

Oakland Raiders

Despite having a talented young set of wide receivers in Heyward-Bey and Murphy, Oakland finished the season ranked 23rd in the NFL in passing yards.

Despite having the likes of Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski under center, the Raiders finished with an 8-8 record.

Imagine how good they can be if they had a capable quarterback throwing to a potentially potent wide receiver corps.


NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Game Times


Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.0) -- 3:30 p.m. CST (CBS)

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-2.0) -- 7 p.m. CST (FOX)


Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (-10.0) -- Noon CST (FOX)

New York Jets at New England Patriots (-8.5) -- 3:30 p.m. CST (CBS)

NFL Playoffs Recap: Packers Beat Eagles in Another Nailbiter

Once again, Packer fans, the aspirin and Prilosec OTC are on me.

Once again, Green Bay comes up with a critical defensive play to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia. In Week 1, the Packers won 27-20 after stopping Michael Vick on fourth-and-inches to thwart a drive that could've tied the game.

This time, with Green Bay leading 21-16, Tramon Williams intercepts a Vick pass in the end zone with less than a minute remaining to seal the win.

One person who can now breathe a huge sigh of relief is Aaron Rodgers. Kudos to him, as he takes the next step toward greatness with his first-ever playoff victory.

He completed 18-of-27 passes (about a 67-percent completion rate). Although he only accounted for 180 passing yards, he threw for three touchdowns to lead the Packers to their first road playoff victory since 1997, when they beat the San Francisco 49ers to win their second consecutive NFC title.

Running back James Starks provided a spark to Green Bay's offense, accounting for 123 yards on 23 carries to lead a heavily-criticized rushing attack.

But the game ball should go to the entire Packers defense. In addition to coming up big in the game's final moments, they yielded only 16 points to a usually-potent Eagles offense.

Although Vick passed for 292 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 33 yards and another score, he was unable to come up with any of the spectacular plays that made him an MVP candidate this season.

Meanwhile, running backs LeSean McCoy and Jerome Harrison were shut down, as they ran for only 46 and three yards, respectively.

Still, had David Akers been perfect this game and made all three of his field-goal attempts, the Eagles might have been able to win the game. Instead, Akers missed two crucial field goals, including one that could've given Philadelphia an early 3-0 lead off a Packer turnover.

As it is, the Packers will be traveling to Atlanta this weekend to play for a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

Breathe in, breathe out, Packer fans.

NFL Playoffs Recap: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens Dominate Kansas City Chiefs

For the most part, the Ravens did what I expected them to do in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

By beating the Chiefs 30-7, they orchestrated what has become a recent theme: domination of a playoff team on its home turf.

Imagine if they played against the Seahawks in Seattle. An unbeatable visiting team against an unbeatable home team; something would have to give.

After giving up nearly 100 yards of rushing to the Chiefs in the first half (including 87 to Jamaal Charles), the Ravens' defense did its part in the victory. They forced five Kansas City turnovers, including three interceptions off Matt Cassel.

And as any NFL head coach will tell you, it's hard to win a game--especially a playoff game-- when you lose the turnover battle (the Ravens turned the ball over only twice).

But there was one unexpected element to the Ravens' victory: Joe Flacco leading the offense. Stereotypically a running team, Baltimore relied on Flacco's arm for its offensive productivity.

Flacco finished the game completing 25-of-34 passing attempts for 265 yards and two touchdowns. His top receiver was Todd Heap, who caught 10 passes for 108 yards.

At one point in the third quarter, Flacco was the Ravens' leading rusher with 28 yards.

He finished third behind 57 yards by Ray Rice and 44 by Willis McGahee. Nevertheless, Flacco's ability to carry the offense has to be an encouraging sign for Baltimore as they prepare to face one of the best defenses in the NFL in the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Side Note

On one of the Ravens' scoring drives, they were aided by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Chiefs' defense.

The penalty occurred because a Chiefs defender landed on Flacco's right knee after the ball was thrown. It wasn't even a low hit; the defender barely touched Flacco's knee.

That was not a bad call, but a correct interpretation of a bad rule: A defenseless quarterback cannot be hit below the waist after he has thrown the ball. The rule was put in place after the 2008 season, the one in which Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury as a result of a low hit in Week 1.

When that rule came out, one of its biggest critics was Ray Lewis. No doubt, he would have had something to say about the penalty if it didn't work in his team's favor.

It wouldn't have made much of a difference in the outcome of the game, but it is ironic that such a penalty worked in favor of one of its most feared critics.

NFL Playoffs Recap: Seahawks, Jets Perform Admirably in Victory

If someone told me one of my Saturday playoff predictions would be wrong, I would not have guessed that the Seahawks would be the one to prove me wrong.

But I have to give Seattle credit. They knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints with a performance that proved their entitlement to a playoff berth.

Things did not start off the way that the Seahawks, and their always-boisterous fans, would have wanted. After the Saints took a 3-0 lead on their first possession, Seattle suffered a gut-wrenching turnover in the form of a Jabari Greer interception.

The turnover led to a Saints touchdown that put them ahead 10-0. At that point, it would have been easy for Pete Carroll and company to give into their critics' skepticism.

Instead, Matt Hasselbeck led the Seahawks on a drive that led to a touchdown pass to John Carlson.

So what if the Saints responded with another touchdown? Seattle responded with another touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Carlson.

And from there, the Seahawks, with the help of their "12th man," took control of the game and rode the wave of momentum to victory.

This performance has silenced skeptics (myself included) of Seattle's right to be in the playoffs despite a losing record. They belong, no doubt about it.

Now the question becomes about home-field advantage. That question mark got bigger, because now we have to wonder how much of an advantage home field is (and we still must wonder if a team that wins less games deserves that advantage merely because it won it's division.

It didn't account for much (if anything) in the nightcap, as the Jets beat the Colts in thrilling fashion.

I said in my prediction post that the Jets-Colts game would come down to the running game. The Colts tried to establish a running game, giving its duo of Rhodes and Addai 27 chances with the pigskin.

However, the Jet defense allowed the duo to run for only 93 yards.

Peyton Manning tried to make up for the lack of a running game, passing for 225 yards. It proved to be ineffective, as the Colts were held to 16 points (including a scoreless first quarter).

The Jet defense's performance allowed Mark Sanchez to do what he does best: avoid the back-breaking mistake and be great when he needs to be.

And sure enough, Sanchez leads a drive that results in the game-winning field goal as time expires.


Andrew Luck Stays at Stanford for Genuine Reasons

Normally, I would look at the decision of a likely No. 1 NFL Draft pick to stay in school with strong skepticism.

Why would he risk injury just to stay one more year in college and pursue a degree, something he could just do after his playing career is over.

For once, we see a student athlete who truly puts the student in student athlete.

If he didn't attend such a prestigious school such as Stanford, I would have wondered if he just didn't want to be an NFL rookie during a potential lockout. If he waited to see what coach Jim Harbaugh would do, I would have wondered if he was basing his decision on where his coach was going.

Instead, he made his decision to stay in school before Harbaugh decided to take his whistle to the Bay Area and to pursue his degree in architectural design at the Ivy League school of the West Coast.

I wish this true student-athlete well in his career. NFL and beyond.