Sunday playoffs

Friends, we’re down to the final four of the NFL, and this weekend’s football will be delirious. In the NFC championship game we have the Atlanta Falcons traveling to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. In the AFC, the defending World Champion Patriots will visit the Pittsburg Steelers

Last weekend’s games answered two main questions: Could the Patriots’ defense handle the white-hot Colts offense? And could the Eagles bounce back from what amounted to a four-week vacation for their stars? The answer, in both cases, was a resounding yes.

New England decimated Peyton Manning and crew, shutting out the record-breaking QB, largely thanks to the brilliant work of a frothing, berserk Teddy Bruschi. And the Eagles roared out of the gates, Donovan McNabb lofting gorgeous arcs to his back-up wide outs, who answered the call in TO’s absence.

So, what’s in store for this weekend? Here we go, out with the Crystal Pigskin, battered but unbowed:


12 p.m.: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

Obviously, the marquee match-up here is that of the two quarterbacks, Michael Vick of Atlanta and Donovan McNabb of Philadelphia. An important sidebar here is that this game guarantees that an African-American QB will play in the Super Bowl, the first since Steve McNair. These two brilliant leaders will have their hands full with the opposing defenses, both of which are rock solid. But the heart of the Falcons is their league-leading rushing attack, the Ds of Atlanta’s "DVD": Duckett and Dunn.

These two bruisers ate the Rams for dinner last week, and they’ll look to do the same in Philly. If the forecast is accurate, it will be cold and snowy at the Linc, but don’t assume this will hurt the indoor Falcons, who keep it on the ground much more than the Eagles. Philadelphia will use Jevon Kearse as a "spy" on Vick, trying to use The Freak’s stunning athleticism to counteract the Vick Experience, and Jeremiah Trotter will have to have a big game against those rushers for the Eagles not to lose for a fourth straight NFC championship game. This is bound to be a fabulous, close game.

3:30 pm: New England Patriots at Pittsburg Steelers

In my mind, perhaps the most telling stat with regards to this game is that Patriots’ coach Bill Belichik is 13-0 when playing a QB twice in the same year. The last time these two teams met, the Steelers handed the Pats their helmets- but the Patriots were without five starting defenders, including Bruschi and Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law. Partially as a result, Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger played a brilliant game, throwing two touchdowns and chewing through the defending champs.

Last week, however, he showed up in his rookie costume, and it was only a gift from the New York Jets that gave Pittsburg the victory. The Steelers should have lost that game, but they squeaked through, which is potentially a championship trait.