I am befuddled. I don't know which team is best. Here's my best shot at it.
1. Green Bay (12-6). Mike McCarthy's calling plays like Sean Payton last year, and Aaron Rodgers is executing them the way Drew Brees did. And the defense can pressure and cover.
2. Pittsburgh (13-4). I really like those young receivers, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Seven catches, 129 yards Saturday night. Not bad for sixth- and third-round draft picks, respectively. But now Pittsburgh has to find a way to beat the cloud-covering Jets secondary, which Tom Brady just couldn't do.
3. New York Jets (13-5). Has any team beaten three Super Bowl-champion quarterbacks in the span of 16 days, all on the road? The Jets, having dispatched Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, are about to find out if they can make it three with Ben Roethlisberger Sunday in the 'Burgh.
4. New England (14-3). They're 0-3 since Super Sunday three years ago, scoring 14, 14 and (a soft) 21 in those three games. I know, I know. A lot of people would want the Patriots' problems. But they'll start 2011 seven years removed from their last Super Bowl title, and that's not good enough for Bill Belichick.
5. Chicago (12-5). If Jay Cutler plays the way he did Sunday, and if the defense plays the way it did against the Pack in Week 17, the NFC Championship Game will be one of the best of all time.
6. Baltimore (13-5). I don't blame Joe Flacco in the vociferous way many Raven fans do. If Anquan Boldin catches a ball that hits him in the numbers in the end zone, Baltimore leads 28-24 with four minutes left; instead the Ravens kicked a field goal to tie it. With one minute left, Flacco should have converted a fourth-and-18, but a perfect pass bounced off T.J. Houshmandzadeh's chest at the Steeler 24. Those balls get caught? Very well could be a different game. But in a series like Baltimore-Pittsburgh, those type of mistakes decide games.
7. Atlanta (13-4). You don't win a lot of games -- home, road, on the North Pole -- when you get outgained 442-194. "They were the better team tonight,'' Mike Smith said afterward about the Packers. Coach, I think they'd be the better team on eight of 10 tonights.
8. New Orleans (12-5). Not sure how tough a call it is for the Saints on Reggie Bush and his $11.4-million contract for 2011. To stay, Bush will have to agree to take a mega-cut.
9. Philadelphia (10-7). Sean McDermott replacing Jim Johnson turned out to be like Dave Van Gorder replacing Johnny Bench. Didn't quite work out.
10. Indianapolis (10-7). I wonder how many collegiate offensive linemen the Colts watched video on last week. For their sake, I hope about 100.
11. Tampa Bay (10-6). Do you realize what a gift LaGarrette Blount was this year? For free? On waivers from Tennessee? To get 1,007 yards and 5.0 yards per rush? Amazing pickup by GM Mark Dominik -- and nice usage by Raheem Morris and the coaching staff.
12. Kansas City (10-7). Now we now Mike McCoy (who chose to work for John Fox in Denver) won't be Matt Cassel's third offensive coordinator in 18 months. But who will be replacing Charlie Weis?
13. San Diego (9-7). Should have hired Rob Ryan. At least pursued him.
14. New York Giants (10-6). The healing process for Eli Manning begins: 4,002 passing yards, good. Thirty turnovers, bad.
15. Seattle (8-10). The Pacific Northwest shed a tear Sunday, but let's face it: The Seahawks won last week with the best game we've seen Matt Hasselbeck play, and a major homefield edge. You've got a good home field when the earth moves because the fans are going wacky so often. Imagine what'll happen when Pete Carroll gets another offensive weapon, two more offensive linemen and another good rush end.
"All we hear is about their defense! They can't stop a nosebleed!''
-- New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, in a 48-second rant to ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on the field in Foxboro after the Jets' 28-21 playoff win Sunday. He apparently believes the New England defense is overrated.
"Special day. This probably was my best performance. The stage, the importance of the game. It was a pretty good night.''
-- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, after going 31 of 36 (.861), the most efficient playoff game for a quarterback in club history.
That means better than Bart Starr and Brett Favre, people.
-- Ben Roethlisberger, asked why he has a seven-game winning streak over his arch-rivals, the Ravens.
Not buying it, Ben. You're pretty good, especially on third-and-19.
"It's incredible. If we said words back when I was playing, we'd have to stand up in front of the team and take about a one-minute berating from the coach. Now, it's coming from the coaches.''
-- CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms, on the volume coming from teams critical of other teams in football these days.
"I am finishing my 45th year with my law firm as a labor lawyer. I have been the primary negotiator, which I am not here -- here I am counsel to the negotiators -- I have been the primary negotiator, the chief spokesman, in hundreds, and I can't even tell you how many hundreds, of collective bargaining agreements over those 45 years. Many hundreds. Of those many hundreds, I have had literally a handful of strikes, and as best as I can determine, two or three lockouts. All of the rest have been successfully and quietly negotiated peacefully. I am successful at what I do because I am a deal-maker, not a lockout artist. I make a very good living, and I am very successful, because I avoid problems. I don't create confrontations.''
-- NFL legal counsel Bob Batterman, who was counsel to the NHL when the hockey league locked out the players and resulted in the ultimate cancellation of the season. Batterman told the Washington Post last week that the players association leadership wanted a lockout.
"Any suggesting that we want a lockout is coming from outer space.''
-- NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelson.
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