Playoff Picture
by Kevin Monroe

As we enter into the home stretch of the NFL playoffs, let's take a look at what the remaining teams have to offer and how they will fare in the upcoming ball games.  With the elimination of the pre-playoff favorite Indianapolis Colts and reigning champion New England Patriots, the playoff race would appear to be wide open for the taking.  The teams that are still standing are: Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and Seattle Seahawks.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Last week’s performance vs. the Colts was truly phenomenal.  They not only ran the ball with success, but they came out throwing the football.  Rothlesberger completed 7-8 passes including a touchdown pass to Antwan Randal El on their opening drive which really set the tone for the game.  As impressive as the Steelers were on offense, it was their defense that won the ball game.  The play of safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Joey Porter was just amazing.  Peyton Manning was left scrambling with nobody to throw the football to all game long.

Denver Broncos:  The Broncos have been a solid team ever since their week one loss to the Miami Dolphins.  Quarterback Jake Plummer is a bit more mobile than Manning, and has the offensive line and running game to slow the Steelers down.  Offensively the Broncos have not been overly impressive.  Pro Bowl receiver Rod Smith has had an awesome year, but he is their only offensive standout.  Denver’s defense has been the reason for their success this season.  Linebacker Al Wilson, safety John Lynch, and corner Champ Bailey are among the best in the league at their respective positions.

Seattle Seahawks:  Matt Hassleback was the NFC’s leading rated passer, and will start in the 2006 pro bowl.  Shawn Alexander broke the NFL’s single season touchdown record with 37 and wide receiver Darrell Jackson put up career numbers at wide out.  Seattle has proven they can score many different ways with many different players, as they proved Saturday when Alexander left in the first quarter with a concussion.  Rookie linebacker Lofa Tatupu leads a young and energetic Seahawk defense.

Carolina Panthers: The season-ending injury to Stephen Davis and then last week’s injury to DeShaun Foster may slow the running game, but the one constant has been wide receiver Steve Smith.  Last week’s 15 catches for 218 yards against the Bears was probably the most impressive performance by a receiver all year.  The Panther defense was one of the top five in the league all year long.  The great play of corners Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas has allowed the Panthers to blitz at any time and take chances other teams don’t have the luxury to take.

I am picking Pittsburgh on the road against Denver by 6 and Carolina on the road vs. the Seahawks by 3.  This weekend should be a great one for football, let’s see how each of these teams will perform under the pressure of a conference championship game.

Kevin Monroe