Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Decisive Sunday

The AFC North could be decided on Sunday. Both the Steelers and the Ravens play their last opponent with a winning record, and both games are at home. But based on where teams are at the moment, the Steelers would seem to have a much better chance of beating the Jets than the Ravens do of beating the New Orleans Saints. If the Ravens lose, that pretty much makes the Steelers the AFC North champs, even if the Steelers lose Sunday. Even if they both win, the Steelers still have the edge, but if the Ravens win and the Steelers lose, the Steelers will have to win out-- two games against inferior teams, including the final game against the Browns.

But with the deck stacked like that, and too many commentators counting the Jets out, and with the Steelers at home and the Jets having never won in Pittsburgh, it's a perfect set up for the Steelers to make things difficult for themselves with a sloppy game and a loss. We'll see if this year's Steelers are that kind of team, as some Steelers teams of the recent past have been.

It could be a tricky game. If the Steelers run game isn't popping, it gets dangerous with the Jets excellent defensive secondary against the pass, and in a close game, Santonio Holmes has plenty of personal motivation to make the decisive catch for the Jets. Plus the Steelers have to shut down the Jets run game early. Jets qback Sanchez has had two poor games in a row, but he's also had games where he's made things happen under pressure.

But the flow is with the favorites so I expect the Steelers to win over the discombulated Jets and the exhausted Ravens to lose to the surging Saints on Sunday.

Update: The news that Troy Polamalu is not expected to play for the Steelers materially alters expectations for this game. Tight end Heath Miller also may not play, which really hurts the Steelers offense against the Jets specifically. The New York sports media is so down on the Jets, their coach and quarterback are under such pressure, that unless they are truly in complete disarray, they have more than enough motivation to win this game. This game could go either way now.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


The Steelers avoided a loss to the Bengals with the deceptively lopsided score of 23-7. But the Steelers offense didn't score a touchdown, and have scored only two in the past three games. Meanwhile, on a snowy windy field in Chicago, the New England Patriots offense tore apart yet another team (da Bears) 36-7. That's too many such games in a row to be a coincidence. And Brady is absolutely merciless--he never lets up. It's looking more and more like a New England-Atlanta Super Bowl--with Atlanta as the bigger question mark: New Orleans is their threat. But right now there isn't a defense in the NFL that can stop Brady.

The Steelers host the Jets next week, who lost a close game Sunday after being taken apart by the Patriots. They'll either be resurging for redemption or completely disoriented. Unless the Steelers offfense starts scoring touchdowns, none of it is going to matter. The defense can't win them all. But then Big Ben is looking like a Monty Python routine out there, getting whacked in the head, the face, the knees, the ankles, the foot--what else does he have? He's getting beat up with hits after plays that get flagged when they happen to other quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, the Lakers vulnerability looked pretty clear in their loss to the Chicago Bulls this week. When Gasol is out, they've got nobody to replace him. Bynum is due back soon, and he's not only their missing piece, he's got to stay healthy and produce in the playoffs especially, or (I believe) this could well be his last year as a Laker.