Playoff Recap, SB Precap, Hines Ward Kneecap?

Many people look forward to the New Year with great anticipation, but few know why they do. The New Year means about as much to most people as jam to Winnie the Pooh. But for eight groups of people, the turn of 2009 meant something major: business. Naturally, those eight groups of people were the eight Wild-card-round NFL teams. But, surprisingly, business for some of these teams looked like business at K-Mart around New Year’s in 2002. The first day of Wild-card Weekend began in bad taste. The San Diego Chargers, who only made the playoffs by salvaging a division championship in the last game of their lackluster 8-8 season, hosted the Indianapolis Colts, but first the Arizona Cardinals, who were just lucky they could clinch their division as the only team to win even half their games (even though they dropped four of their last six) hosted the Atlanta Falcons, who were hot . But something unexpected happened; the Cardinals’ Edgerrin James’ 73 rushing yards (more than he rushed for in weeks eight through 16 of the regular season combined) keyed an astonishing Arizona victory. It was like he was LeBron James or something. A glitch had appeared in the NFL playoff system. By the end of the night, virus proportions were reached, as the Chargers and their Martian (not really) punter, Mike Scifres, lured the Colts (who were on a nine game win-streak) into their lair and fed on pony meat until the cows came home. Indeed, the playoff system in the NFL was showing sings of a virus, but it looked like Windows Vista by the time Wild-card Weekend was over. The next day, the stellar defense of the Baltimore Ravens stifled the team with the best giveaway-takeaway ratio in the NFL (the Miami Dolphins) by causing their quarterback to throw over half the interceptions in one day as he had in the previous 16 games combined. This was not totally surprising, but the loss of a super-fly Minnesota Vikings team to the Philidelphia Eagles, who could not even manage a win over the dreadful Cincinatti Bengals, was simply befuddling. Fans across the nation eagerly awaited the Divisional round, where each of these lucky teams would surely become a distant memory (sort of like Michael Vick.) But the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only bye-earning team to follow through, defeating the Chargers once and for all. Their divisional host counterparts were not so well-prepared. The Tennessee Titans, owners of the league’s best record, fell to the Ravens. The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants were defeated by the measly Eagles. And the Carolina Panthers were more embarrassed than Plaxico Burress after their loss to the Cardinals. The stage was set for arguably the most sissy-looking conference championship round in history, with 75 percent of the teams sporting avian mascots. Championship weekend rolled around, and no one knew quite what to expect out of the NFC. True to playoff form, the Cardinals opened an impressive 24-6 lead before halftime, proceeded to cough it up, going down 25-24 thanks to some flubby, unorthodox scoring mishaps by the Eagles, produced a touchdown drive that ate up a lot of time, managed a defensive stand, and won the first conference championship in franchise history. The AFC Championship was significantly more predictable. Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s defenses played each other tough, and Troy Polamalu put the game away with an interception that went for a touchdown. The stage was set for a Super Bowl very similar to 2008’s- with one team (Pittsburgh) a heavy favorite, and the other just lucky to be there. So fastforward; the Super Bowl is just days away, and questions remain concerning what to expect, but if there is anything to be learned from the road to this contest, it is that expectation is pointless (a lesson many learned from last year’s Super Bowl). Despite this, there are some things to consider: Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner will likely be under a lot of pressure from the Pittsburgh front, and without an effective running game, he will need to pass accurately. His favorite target, Larry Fitzgerald, will be closely guarded, so Warner will have to utilize his progressions (no easy task.) Look for the Pittsburgh offense to make a statement; the Cardinals’ defense has the potential to play them well if they get off on the right foot, but if the Steelers get rolling, it could be game over. On the sidelines, Arizona head coach Ken Wisenhunt was an offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh a few years ago, so he could benefit from some inside intelligence. Sunday’s game should be a great one, but avoid forming any expectations concerning it or its outcome; remember, that virus could spawn again at any moment.