1. Pittsburgh (14-4). I don't know if a defense can play a better half in the clutch than the Steelers did in the first 30 minutes against the Jets: one rushing yard, zero catches for Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. Wow.
2. Green Bay (13-6). Five straight weeks the Packers have been in a must-win scenario to survive. Beat the Giants by 28 and Bears by 7 to win the sixth playoff spot. Beat the Eagles by 5 and Falcons by 27 to win the right to play the NFC title game in Chicago. Beat the Bears by 7. Now they're favored to win the Super Bowl. What a run.
3. New York Jets (13-6). I'll say this about the Jets: They don't die. That's a gallant team. There's much to hand-wring about this morning, including trying to determine who should have picked up Ike Taylor on the corner blitz that ended up costing the Jets the game. But the Jets have the kind of fortitude that rolls downhill from the coach. I like it, and I like the team.
4. New England (14-3). The Patriots staff will be in Honolulu this week. But they have to be sick about not being in Foxboro, preparing for their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 10 seasons, after seeing Pittsburgh win the AFC ... after the Patriots dominated Pittsburgh on the road during the season.
5. Chicago (12-6). When the Bears look back on this game -- in an offensive vein -- they'll say: "Too much Forte.'' They ran 64 offensive plays. Seventeen were rushes by Forte (for 70 yards, which is good). But 15 passes were thrown his way. He caught 10, for 90 yards. And 160 yards on 32 touches is good ... But Devin Hester never touched the ball from scrimmage, Johnny Knox touched it twice, and the tight ends (such a big factor last week) totaled three catches for 30 yards. The offense needs to be more diverse, even with a third-string quarterback who has to rely on the back more than a Jay Cutler might.
6. Baltimore (13-5). Ray Lewis is telling friends he definitely wants to return for a 16th year, whenever that may be. He'll do it under a new defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano. Interesting Pagano trivia: He was an assistant on the University of Miami staff in Lewis' last year there, 1995.
7. Atlanta (13-4). More Sean Weatherspoon impact in 2011, please.
8. New Orleans (11-6). Not to make excuses for the Saints or anything, but I have to say I've never seen a team get so many running backs hurt in one year. Ever. Five on IR. Two more in the first three quarters of the playoff game.
9. Philadelphia (10-7). Kevin Kolb's not getting traded, folks.
10. Indianapolis (10-7). This is what happens when you have the worst running game in the NFL over a two-year period, as the Colts have had (although some of that is in Peyton Manning's hands): your running backs coach for the last 18 years, Gene Huey, gets the ax.
11. Tampa Bay (10-6). Ron Rivera has the toughest job of any of the new head coaches, in Carolina. When the Bucs are the third-best team in the division, and you're eight wins behind them this year ... tough duty right there.
12. Kansas City (10-7). Taking the Chiefs an awfully long time to fill that offensive coordinator's job.
13. San Diego (9-7). Those rumblings in Southern California are not tremors from a quake. They're tremors of fear that the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles.
14. New York Giants (10-6). Just what the natives wanted to hear: Eli Manning's in a big Double-Stuf Oreos Super Bowl commercial.
15. Seattle (8-10). So you wonder why Pete Carroll brought Jeremy Bates with him from USC and then fired him 12 months later? Couldn't get along with Alex Gibbs, forcing the highly respected offensive line czar's departure just before the start of the season. Never integrated Marshawn Lynch into the offense as much as the muckety-mucks would have liked after the midseason trade from Buffalo. Never got the quarterbacks to play well. Never got Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate to be the offensive weapon the Seahawks were sure he'd be when they used the 60th overall pick on him last spring. That should just about do it.
"We'll be back. You'll see.''
-- Jets coach Rex Ryan, after his team lost in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year.
"Jay was hurt. I don't question his toughness. He's tough as hell. He's one of the toughest players on our football team. He doesn't bitch, he doesn't complain when he gets hit. He goes out there and plays his ass off every Sunday, he practices every single day, so no we don't question his toughness. I love jealous people watching on TV making judgments when their season is over."
-- Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, defending quarterback Jay Cutler against charges from players around the league that Cutler was soft for not returning to Sunday's NFC Championship Game because of a sore knee.
"We play enough games. We have a system that works. Why add [games]?''
-- Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, now the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, to a small group of reporters in Pittsburgh Friday, commenting on his opposition to the NFL discussing increasing the number of regular-season games from 16 to 18.
Rooney, because of his diplomatic job, is not a part of the negotiating committee working on a new collective bargaining agreement. But I wish he were. The league needs more influential voices of reason to challenge the cockamamie idea of adding games in an era when concussions and injuries make it obvious that more games will dilute the quality of the product.
"There is no question we're going to win the division.''
-- Oakland coach Hue Jackson, at the news conference announcing his hiring by owner Al Davis.
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