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Cinderella's wearing green this year

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"When you think you've got all the answers, I change the questions!"---Roddy Piper, sometime in the 1980's.

Piper's snarky, often arrogant take is an apt way of describing the NFL playoffs these last two weekends. As we move to the conference championship round next Sunday, both #1 seeds have been eliminated in excruciating fashion. The #2 seeds in both conferences will host the championship games, and it's entirely possible that Cinderella's dress for the Super Bowl on February 6 will have some green in it.

Start with the NFC. The Green Bay Packers have played second fiddle to the Chicago Bears all season, but after dispatching top-ranked Atlanta with surprising ease Saturday night, the Pack will head to Chicago, where Da Bears dismissed Seattle in what could be considered traditional playoff conditions. It snowed in Chi-town, and, more than anything, coach Lovie Smith might want to give someone at the National Weather Service a game ball. Just 3 plays into the game, Chicago was up, 7-0, and never looked back. Oh, Seattle made a game of it with some garbage time touchdowns in the 4th quarter, but by then the game was decided.

Packers-Bears III will be the ultimate throwback game, especially if it's really cold and more snow is in the forecast. It's not just "Bear weather", as they used to say, but it's old school NFL weather.

The same thing could be said of the AFC title game. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore on Saturday, and waited to see if they'd have to travel to Foxboro again to play the hated Patriots. The New York Jets had other ideas.

Having already avenged a loss in the title game last year to Indianapolis by dismissing Peyton Manning and and the Colts 8 days ago, the Jets, with the NYC tabloid media whipping the city into a frenzy, collected another receipt, this one for a 45-3 demolition at the hands of the Patriots last month, eliminating New England, 28-21. New England scored with under a minute to go for the final margin, but couldn't recover an onside kick. For the 2nd year in a row, the Patriots lost at home in the playoffs, proving that they are not invincible after all. Maybe coach Bill Belichick should give up trying to emulate the CIA and coach up his team the way everyone else does, because that'll be the only way anyone ever gives him and the Patriots any respect.

Worse for New England was an article in today's New York Daily News in which former QB Steve Grogan, who was on the losing end of a Super Bowl beatdown at the hands of Da Bears 25 years ago, claimed Belichick doesn't want the current Pats meeting former players such as Grogan. Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose father, Buddy, was the defensive genius for those Bears, brought in an ex-Jet, Dennis Byrd, for a pre-game pep talk. Y'think maybe Belichick should take the hint next time? Probably, but unlikely.

However, going into the AFC title game, it is Pittsburgh looking for payback. The Jets beat them during the regular season, though it would've gone the other way if 1) the refs bothered to call defensive interference on the Jets or 2) Ben Roethlisberger had completed at least one pass in the end zone in the final minute.

Both of next week's games are going to be tough to pick right now. It would make great theatre, however, if the 2 #6 seeds, the Jets & Packers, were to meet. Any combination coming out of next Sunday, though, be it Steelers-Packers, Steelers-Bears, Jets-Bears, or Jets-Packers, is sure to deliver plenty of thrills that first weekend in February.

When Buddy Ryan was hired as the coach of the Arizona Cardinals several years ago, he declared that he was a winner, but wasn't. Son Rex, however, could not only make the same claim in just his 2nd season, but make it the truth. The worst that could happen, though, would be if Cinderella's ticket to the big dance was lost, and the pumpkin coach was turned to pie before it was ready. We'll all have to wait & see.
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