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Conference Championships

Conference Championships
ATL at PHI - 2:00 PM EST - AD
NE at PIT - 6:30 PM EST - CB

For The Season
(163-93) Straight Up - 63.6%
(145-106-5) Against The Spread - 57.7%

Atlanta (+5) at Philadelphia
In a world often beset with anomalies, one thing has been certain for the past four years - the Philadelphia Eagles are plenty good enough to reach the NFC Championship game. And despite the many mysteries that plague NFL prognosticators on a weekly basis during the regular season - and sometimes the first couple weeks of the playoffs - a trend has developed over the past three years that for me, with my vocal, self-pronounced loathing of anything Philadelphian, has become a comfortable assurance of the city's suffering. Losses. Pain. No Super-Bowl for you, Eagles.

Once again, just one team can prevent the City of Brotherly Love's precious Eagles for reaching the big game - an event they haven't enjoyed since the 1980 season. Unfortunately for the Eagles, who have problems stopping the run, its a Falcons team that rushed for 327 yards on 40 carries (8.2 per) versus the Rams last week.

While the Falcons were sparked by a 47-yard run by Michael Vick on the third play of the game and a 62-yard run from the diminutive but effective Warrick Dunn, they beat the Rams off the ball all game. Both Vick and Dunn finished with over 100 yards on the ground, and the game was never in jeopardy.

If the Eagles are to overcome the misery of a fourth straight loss in the NFC Championship Game, they'll have to subdue Vick and get some interior pressure. The Falcons offensive line moved around the St. Louis front four pretty easily, which needed much more than Leonard Little's pursuit of Vick to control his wayward ramblings of 10+ yards a pop, but the Eagles line is a little better.

Defensive tackle Corey Simon and defensive end Jevon Kearse will need to get past their blockers and reach Vick early. Linebackers Jeremiah Trotter (MLB) and Mark Simoneau (WLB) will need to reach an effective balance in the defensive scheme of blitzing and run coverage in order to thwart Vick.

Little spoke after Saturday's game about the problems defenses have in facing the Falcons when Vick is in top form. "With Vick, it really gets you back on your heels because you just down know if he's going to run or throw," said Little. "They really had their thing going."

Although its not the same Falcons team that lost 20-6 to Philly in decrepit Veterans Stadium two years ago in the playoffs, Vick will still need to avoid turnovers and stay explosive throughout the entire game. If anything, this Eagles defense is better than the one Atlanta faced in 2002 and features an excellent secondary made up of C Lito Sheppard, CB Sheldon Brown, SS Michael Lewis and FS Brian Dawkins. But this Falcons defense is a heck of a lot better, too. They are led by arguably the best defensive line in football, including DE Patrick Kerney, DT Rod Coleman, DE Brady Smith and DT Ed Jasper. LB Keith Brooking, LB Chris Draft and SS Bryan Scott also had good years.

With no Terrell Owens until the Super Bowl, the QB Donovan McNabb will have to hook up with WR Freddie Mitchell before the Atlanta line gets to him, sparking the offense with an occasional scamper and protecting the football in the open field. RB Brian Westbrook is a solid option, but the Falcons will no doubt be keying on McNabb and Westbrook and applying pressure from the outside to keep them contained. If there is was defense designed to stop the Eagles without Owens, it would be this Falcons squad, which relies heavily on its pass rush and containing quarterbacks and receivers out of the backfield with good tacklers in its capable secondary.

Final Score: Falcons 23, Eagles 20

New England (-3) at Pittsburgh
Well things got back to normal during the divisional round it was kind of a slap back to reality. It is no coincidence that all four teams that are left are among the best defensively in the league. However I would have preferred to see more offense in the final four. But hey it will be two great games as it is.

The top four seeds all advanced but not without a little drama for one of those four teams. That team would be the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers avoided what would have been one of the biggest upsets that I can remember in some time. The Steelers didn't win this one Doug Brien lost it. What a choke that was. They 42 yarder at the end of regulation was not even close. It was wide left about 10 yards. Those are things that will get you fired. In any event the Steelers best season since 1970 lives on.

The Steelers have some warts to figure out come Sunday. Big Ben was not very good last week as he had two almost very costly interceptions. One of those was taken the distance by the Jets and the other should have sealed their fate late in the fourth. He is going to have to take care of the ball better than that against Big Bill on Sunday or you can go ahead and make arrangements to Jacksonville if you are a Patriots fan. The Patriots are no Jets, Steeler fans. If you watched last weekend they absolutely erased one of the best seasons by a QB in NFL history. They never smelled the end zone. But give the Steelers some credit. The marched right down the Jets throats and won that game in OT. It wasn't pretty but it was a victory.

The Steelers are 1-3 in Championship Games under Cowher. That lost the three all at home and each time they were heavy favorites. Turnovers will play a key role here. Bettis is usually sure handed but his fumble was another turnover that almost gave the game away when he fumbled inside the Jets 24 yard line. That Polamalu is a monster. He is probably one of the best safeties in the game. The Steelers know they can beat the Pats at home but the question is can the Pats be beat in the playoffs. All of that regular season stuff goes out the window on Sunday.

The Patriots played one of the best playoff games I have ever witnessed. But I am coming used to saying that when we talk about the Pats in the playoffs. Hey I am the first to say that I agreed with Antonio and his prediction. I too thought this was Manning's year and Vanderjagt was right that the Pats were ripe for the pickings. With, again, their two best cover corners out with injuries they absolutely stifled the league's best offense. The defense was the key here. The Patriots defense played one of the best games ever and wanted it more than the Colt's offense. Manning is now 0-7 in Foxboro and it is safe to say that he may always be a bridesmaid and never a bride.

This will be the Pats third trip to big game in four years if they win. I can assure you that Bruschi, McGinest, and company will have a well thought out game plan to stop the Steelers offense. They know that the Steelers are really one-dimensional right now and will concentrate of stopping the running game. Making Big Ben make the throws necessary to win and hope he makes similar mistakes as he did on Sunday. Is he ready for primetime? This writer doesn't think so. This defense held E. James to 39 yards rushing and you didn't hear his name in the fourth quarter. Bettis is a good running back but he is no James. Also I would venture to say that the Colts O-Line is just as good as Pittsburgh if not better. See a theme here?

Brady did not have a big game last weekend but that was not the game plan. The game plan was ball control and they worked it perfectly. Dillon rushed for 144 yards and Kevin Faulk added another 56 yards to the tally. The defense forced two fumbles and an interception. One of those fumbles was basically a drag down takeaway from Bruschi on Rhodes. He had both fumble recoveries by the way. They will come in with added motivation to win this one as they did get manhandled in the first meeting. Here is saying that Big Bill will have a perfect game plan for this one too.

Final Score: Pats 24, Steelers 14