The Steelers got thrown outta of the playoff party before it even started. What happened here?
JAMAR: The Steelers never seemed to get their swagger back once Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury. That, coupled with the rift between Big Ben and Todd Haley that seemed to hover over the team since Haley was hired, has left Pittsburgh on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
GAMBLE: Coach Tomlin hustled-and-flowed his butt off, but putting just one side of the ball to the wall does not a Super Bowl make. The D has – for the most part – been Morten Anderson money, statistically the NFL’s tops. The offense has been John Starks, 94’ Finals-inconsistent. Big Ben is ticking slower, the backfield changes faces like the A-Team and the vaunted aerial trio never soared.
MICHAEL TILLERY: Pittsburgh is just getting old. An aging team, combined with health issues at the QB position, won't be able to stop/start as it once did. I thought Pittsburgh would somehow get into the playoffs, but you know what? I wouldn't want to play them any week in 2013, because Tomlin will have the Steelers re-energized and mad as hell.
BOADU: Injuries, Father time and Todd Haley happened to the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger missed games, James Harrison missed games, Troy Polamalu missed the entire damn season, because that guy that stepped on the field this season wasn't Polamalu. Also, offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a bad Katt Williams joke. Your girlfriend could probably call better plays than Haley.
MAURICE: The horror movie music started for the Steelers once they hired Todd Haley to replace Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite man on the sidelines, Bruce Arians, as the O-coordinator. Once Big Ben said that Haley’s offense wasn’t a big play offense, that it was dink-and-dunk, Pittsburgh’s demise was as sure as the black guy getting killed first in a scary flick.
Green Bay has quietly won nine of the last ten and seems to be getting healthy at the right time. Can they do this year, what they did in 2010?
JAMAR: Green Bay is peaking at the right time – and doing so without much fanfare. If they can carry this momentum into the playoffs, and hope for a healthy Jordy Nelson to return, the Packers will just need to keep a continued focus on what has been successful the past few weeks.
GAMBLE: Cats were canning the Packers like used toilet tissue, after a rocky 2-3 start. A start that was wind-aided by The Stooges “aka” the scab refs, whose ineptitude eventually ended the 2012 referee lockout. The season can’t be playing out any better for Aaron Rogers and Co., who got the kinks out early. If they have 2010 motivation, not 2011 cocky-complacency, sky is the limit.
BOADU: The Packers need to focus on their running game. They've been riding Aaron Rodgers like Kramer was riding his whip with the gas light on. Can't depend on Rodgers forever. Playoff football is a different beast; you're going to have to be able to run the ball against the Falcons, Bears, and/or the 49ers.
TILLERY: I was shocked to see Green Bay 10th in defense, so you can't blame the D. The Pack are one of the few teams in pro sports that can win it all every year. The biggest cheese head opponents are the names above their own lockers. Aaron Rodgers is great, but it's on him to do something in the practice facility to galvanize and psych this team up based on a consistent example of leadership. If he does, you can't count GB out.
MAURICE: Telling the Packers to focus for the playoffs is like telling Usain Bolt to focus for the Olympics. Sure, they’ve had some missteps—they got sonned by the Giants 38-10 at Met Life. But once I saw Aaron Rodgers go ape*hit on the Texans in Week 6 for 338 yards and 5 TDs, I knew they’d come together like Voltron.
Houston's sudden downward trend is noticeable. Will they be able to shake their recent play off and make a strong 2nd season run? Or are they one and done once the postseason gets here?
JAMAR: The Texans still have a lot to prove in the eyes of a lot of fans. And until they show the can maintain a high level of play into the postseason, that skepticism will remain. Houston needs to make sure it finishes strong against the Colts and holds on to the top seed. If not, it may be more of the same in the postseason for the Texans.
GAMBLE: We gave H-Town its props for rockin', knockin' the boots off the AFC South months ago. Now isn’t the time for a clique with championship or bust boasts, to go flat. I’m not going to rip on them if they fall short because everybody’s been waiting for the Texans’ self-destruction anyway. Just can the Super Bowl yapture. Win a playoff game first.
TILLERY: Houston and Atlanta are separated at birth. High power everywhere, but something is paper fake until they show and prove in the playoffs. One and done. It is what it is. Teams like this are in every sport. Pretty packages that just don't seem to have enough soul. Who will put the franchise on their back and shut me the hell up? We'll see in two weeks.
BOADU: Downward trend? The Texans are still 12-3. They lost to the Patriots on the road two weeks ago, and beat the Colts to win the division last week, so of course they had a let down game against the Vikings. They took their foot of the gas pedal. The Texans will be well rested in the playoffs when they beat the brakes off of the Ravens or Bengals.
MAURICE: Pressure busts pipes. First, Houston get the yips against Green Bay and New England, looking like they can’t get up for big-time opponents. Then, they let Minny come into their house and beat them up right before the playoffs. I wish I was wrong in this, but it looks like the Texans ain’t ready to play in any reindeer games.
The Saints just played spoiler to the Cowboys, setting up a massive game against Washington next week. It's early, but so what. Who you got for next weeks 'Skins/Cowboys battle?
JAMAR: The Redskins and Cowboys are playing each other on the last game of the season with the division title on the line. As a football fan, what more can you ask for? It will be the biggest game ever at FedEx Field. RG3 was limited against the Eagles and still had a solid game. Another week for that knee to heal? Expect a dominating performance from the Redskins.
GAMBLE: The NFL gets a fortunate mix of history, hated-rivalry and polarizing players in Cowboys-Skins, Game 16 for the NFC East crown. There are limitless storylines with RG3 trying to lead Washington to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and Tony Romo still looking to shut haters up. It should be high scoring and tight, but the Skins haven’t lost in six games. Why would they start now?
BOADU: The only reason the Skins beat the ‘Boys on Thanksgiving was because RGIII was faster than a Howard University freshman. RGIII has a bum knee. The Cowboys have actually been playing with some heart the past month and Romo has been relentless. Cowboys win.
MAURICE: I got the Skins. RGIII’s wheels may be a little wobbly, but Washington is on the precipice of something great here —7 in a row and their first playoff berth since 2007. It’s amazing to me that they are in this position after their own coach counted them out. Hell, I counted ‘em out. Chocolate City is rockin’ at the right time, so I’m thinkin’ the Boys will leave FedEx Field with bumps, bruises and an L.
TILLERY: I got the Skins. There are no secrets we don't know about either of these teams. My sister was not an RG3 fan until yesterday. She likened his no panic button poise to that of Kobe's. He's such a great player already, I think many will be shocked if he doesn't dust Dallas off and shock the world in the playoffs. RG3 and Morris? Favored teams beware. Dez Bryant is a beast though.
I don't think anyone expected such an overwhelming performance from Baltimore. Guys, explain that Ravens/Giants game?
JAMAR: You have to give credit to the Ravens for going back to their bread and butter – the run game. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for 230 yards rushing. And with the Giants reeling, and without Justin Tuck and Kenny Phillips, it was the perfect recipe for the Ravens to get back on track and for Big Blue's struggles to continue.
GAMBLE: The writing was on the wall. The Giants were on that “bass, how low can you go,” catching ass-whipping after head-cracking until they turned a 6-2 start into a Death Row disaster. GM Jerry Reese has some tweaking to do. Tom Coughlin gets some shade for another second-half collapse. The way these chumps went out makes last year’s Super Bowl look a bit suspect.
BOADU: Don't drink your own Kool-Aid! That's for them, not you. The Giants started listening to myself and everyone else that dismissed their recent slump. "They'll get it together in December, they'll turn it on." The Giants ain't paid their damn light bill to even turn the lights on.
TILLERY: Giants are missing players. Like Pittsburgh, when injuries to key players happen, it's a morale killer and difficult to overcome. Teammates look and see Justin Tuck on the sideline, with that NFL injured player look of uncertainty, and wonder if they can do it alone. Baltimore doesn't lose often at home even to good teams – so the win wasn't unexpected. The Ravens are a scary team. When do the playoffs begin again?
MAURICE: The timing of A$AP Rocky’s “Pretty Flacko” remix dropping and Baltimore QB Joe Flacco’s 2-touchdown, 309-yard performance is more than just coincidence. I’m bettin’ Joey Flac bumped that track all weekend on up until game time. He wanted that AFC North title like thirsty cats on Instagram want Joe Budden’s girl, Kaylin Garcia. I still don’t expect the Ravens to wreck shop in the playoffs, though. As for the Gents, their season is a wrap like presents under the Christmas tree.
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