Friday, January 21, 2011
WALLA WALLA - Reverse psychology gets you only so far.
And in the case of this year's NFL playoffs, not far enough.
After my predictions were a distasteful oh-for-four during the wild-card round of the playoffs, I deduced last week that I could rid the playoff field of certain undesirables by picking them to win during the division round. And by using that same logic, I strove to set up a Seahawks-Packers NFC title-game showdown in Seattle - picking them both to lose, of course.
Comme ci, comme a.
At least we don't have Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots to kick around anymore. The Jets took care of that with a 28-21 victory over New England in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday, vaulting the New Yorkers into the AFC championship game for a second straight year.
And the Packers did their part in sending the NFC playoffs back to the Pacific Northwest by stunning the Falcons 48-21 a day earlier in Atlanta.
But the Steelers didn't cooperate. They came from two touchdowns behind at halftime to overtake the Ravens 31-24 Saturday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
And, finally, the Seahawks didn't bother to show up at Soldier Field in Chicago until it was way too late Sunday in the snow and were soundly beaten by the cold-weather Bears 35-24.
This results in a less-than-satisfactory 2-for-4 for the weekend. Fair to middling but definitely lukewarm.
So now we're down to the four semifinalists. A pair of division champions - Pittsburgh from the AFC North and Chicago from the NFC North - and a pair of wild-card teams, the AFC East Jets and the NFC North Packers.
Sunday's conference championship games match Green Bay at Chicago in the early game and New York at Pittsburgh in the follow up.
The NFC game not only features division rivals - the Packers finished one game behind the Bears in the North - but it's also the oldest rivalry in NFL history dating back to 1921.
Between them, the Packers and the Bears have won 21 NFL championships and four Super Bowls. The Packers captured the first two Super Bowls in 1967-68 and won again in 1997; the Bears won their only Super Bowl in 1986.
Green Bay leads the overall series 92-83-6, but Sunday will mark just the second time in their history that the Packers and Bears have met in the postseason. Chicago defeated Green Bay 33-14 in 1941.
The Bears, by virtue of the division title, hold the home-field advantage for a second straight week. But the Packers, behind red-hot quarterback Aaron Rodgers, have won consecutive playoff road games at NFC East champion Philadelphia and NFC South winner Atlanta. And they're a slight Las Vegas favorite going into Chicago.
I, too, like the Packers, mostly because Rodgers has proven to be more dependable than Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Rodgers, in fact, has proven beyond doubt this postseason that he is worthy of "franchise quarterback" status.
So, too, has the Jets' Mark Sanchez.
Taken No. 5 overall by the Jets in the 2009 NFL draft, the second-year QB out of the University of Southern Cal has led his team to four playoff wins in five tries going into Sunday's game in Pittsburgh.
New York beat Cincinnati 24-14 and San Diego 17-14 last year before losing to the Colts 30-17 in the AFC championship game. This year, of course, the Jets have dispatched the Colts and the Patriots to reach the AFC finals.
It will be no easy task - and they're clear-cut underdogs going in - but the Jets stand a chance Sunday against a Steelers team that was anything but overpowering against the Ravens last weekend.
So against my better judgement - not to mention the negative mojo I've managed to conger on during these playoffs - I'll keep my fingers crossed and take the Jets.
If this year's playoffs have proven one thing, it's that the favorites don't always win. Just ask the Patriots and Falcons, who entered the playoffs with the NFL's best regular-season records. Or the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, who were stunned by a Seahawks team that finished the regular season two games under .500.
As for the Seahawks, well, Sunday's loss in Chicago was a dismal end to an uninspired season. Just as the victory over the Saints allowed Seattle fans a glimmer of hope, the loss to the Bears pointed out all of the shortcomings the team must address before it is a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
To steal a line coined by then Cardinals coach Denny Greene in describing his team's loss to the Bears in a 2006 game in Chicago, "The Seahawks are who we thought they were."