Hair Aside, Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews May Not Change Super Bowl

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One of the headlines surrounding the Super Bowl in the week off was the deal Packers linebacker Clay Matthews signed with a hair product company. That agreement rivaled a sponsorship deal Steelers safety Troy Polamalu has with a similar product, and the golden-locked linebacker received plenty of attention for the deal. Though both players are fantastic and receiving headlines leading up to the big game, I question how much they’ll be able to influence the contest next Sunday.

Looking strictly at Polamalu, the safety has seven interceptions in 16 games in addition to 70 tackles (playoffs included). He made a game-changing play against the Baltimore Ravens in week 13, sacking Joe Flacco and creating a turnover that helped his team win the game. A week later he picked off two passes against the Bengals. There’s little doubt that Polamalu is one of the finest safeties in the league, but how much of an impact will he have on this game?

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Did Pittsburgh Steelers Benefit from Call on Ike Taylor Strip Sack of Mark Sanchez?

I’ve often complained that the Pittsburgh Steelers get every call, and it frequently feels like that is the case. I couldn’t help but feel like the same thing was happening Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. Pittsburgh hung on for a 24-19 win over the Jets, shutting things down after going up 24-0 in the first half. They were already dominating early going up 17-0, but the touchdown to make it 24-0 made the lead nearly insurmountable. And much like the tuck rule call between the Patriots and Raiders, this play seemed sketchy.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was already in a bad situation facing a 3rd and 17 at his 26 with his team down 17-0. As he dropped back to pass, he wound up to make a throw. Steelers CB Ike Taylor hit Sanchez as the quarterback was moving his arm to attempt a pass, and the ball was knocked loose. William Gay recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown, making it a 24-0 first-half butt-whooping. I thought for sure the play would be overturned, but I was wrong. Here are some pictures of Sanchez’s arm when he was hit:

NFL.com has the video for you to decide your thoughts on the call. I maintain Sanchez’s arm was moving forward and making a throw when he was hit. Seeing it in real-time and in slow motion only confirms what I felt. What do you think? Because for me, it was pretty clear the Jets got screwed on the call.

Sam Shields Helps Send Green Bay Packers to Super Bowl

Packers cornerback Sam Shields entered Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Bears with two career interceptions. The undrafted rookie from Miami doubled his career total with two big picks against Chicago in a 21-14 win, helping to send his team to the Super Bowl.

Shields answered a fluke Aaron Rodgers interception by intercepting Jay Cutler late in the second quarter. Cutler had been looking right but threw back across the field, bombing one towards Johnny Knox. Shields had Knox blanketed, and capitalized on the ball thrown in the middle of the field because he was playing the inside shoulder. The turnover helped keep Green Bay in front at a time when it appeared as if the Bears had a momentum-changing play.

Then with the game on the line in the final minute, Shields intercepted another pass on 4th and four to seal the win for the Packers. He was playing man defense on Johnny Knox and stepped in front of the receiver for his second pick of the game, icing the victory.

On top of the two interceptions, Shields had four tackles and a sack late in the second quarter that backed the Bears up to their 23 for a punt. The youngster has combined with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams to form one of the best secondaries in football. Though Green Bay’s stellar pass rush pressures quarterbacks into making poor throws, the talent of their defensive backs has been evident all season. It’s no surprise they’ve made it to the Super Bowl with both sides of the ball playing so well.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Jay Cutler Ripped by Peers for Leaving NFC Championship Game with Knee Injury

Emergency quarterback Caleb Hanie was forced to enter the NFC Championship Game for the Chicago Bears after starter Jay Cutler left with a knee injury and Todd Collins stunk. Cutler played poorly in the first half, hobbled off the field with a bum knee, but started the third quarter. After leading a three-and-out his first drive of the quarter, he did not return. People immediately began questioning his toughness and determination for leaving the game.

Players infrequently have the opportunity to play for a Super Bowl berth, and here was Cutler giving it up. No details were immediately available about the extent of Cutler’s knee injury, but it didn’t matter to his critics, many of whom were current or former players.

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew wrote on his twitter “Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now… When the going gets tough……..QUIT..” That was after seconding a tweet suggesting Cutler was suffering from a bruised ego more than anything else. He followed up his initial tweet saying “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee… I played the whole season on one…”

Former Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks added to MJD’s tone. He tweeted “HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart” and that was on top of saying “the knee injury has to be VERY VERY INJURED, if you come out, Philip RIvers p[layed on torn acl ,now its pick,SERIUOSLY JAY CUTLER.” You can overlook all the typos and poor grammar to get the point: everyone is questioning Jay Cutler’s toughness after he pulled himself out of the NFC Championship Game.

Eagles CB Asante Samuel wrote “‘If he was my teammate I would be looking at him sideways. … I luv my QB @mikevick he has the heart of a lion. I guess others are scared of success.” Jags linebacker Kirk Morrison was similarly perplexed, saying “If my knee was hurt or acl/mcl/pcl sprain, I would not be standing up on the sideline.”

No matter how poorly he was playing and how much he was bothered by his knee injury, there is no excuse for taking yourself out of such an important game for anything less than a debilitating injury. Cutler will have a lot of explaining to do after permanently ruining his reputation amongst the media, critics, teammates, and peers. Maybe DeAngelo Hall was right about him. And honestly, the only excuse he could possibly have at this point would be a concussion. If the Bears want to protect their franchise quarterback, that’s what they need to say happened.

Can Chicago Bears Defense Stop Packers Offense? Will Jets Beat Steelers on Road?

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Both Doc and Del went 2-2 on their playoff picks last weekend, each nailing the Bears win and Packers upset while missing on the Ravens and Patriots. This weekend it’s the AFC Championship Game and the NFC Championship Game. It’s the final four of the NFL — winners move on to the Super Bowl, losers lament how close they came before ultimately failing.

So who will get it done? Can Jay Cutler — the guy we call the heart breaker — really lead a team to the Super Bowl? Will Ben Roethlisberger make history and join these legends? Will Rex Ryan avoid a third straight loss in the AFC Championship Game or finally break through? Can the Packers keep rolling on the road? We provide our predictions.


Doc’s Pick: Green Bay has been the story of the NFC playoffs, beating the Eagles on the road and destroying the Falcons in the dome. Aaron Rodgers is playing like a champ and the defense is packing the heat. They appear to be the better team and the one the public likes, but I caution you against getting carried away. Take a slight stroll down concussion-free lane and you may recall that in week 17 the Packers struggled to score against the stingy Bears defense. Keep in mind that was at Lambeau Field with the Packers needing a win to get into the playoffs, and the Bears having little motivation other than to try and keep Green Bay out. Chicago held the vaunted Green Bay offense to just three points most of the game. The Bears defense has an excellent chance of shutting down the Packers. They also can make plays in special teams and they’ve scored points offensively. I think the Bears will pull off the stunner, but can’t bring myself to pick Jay Cutler to reach a Super Bowl before Aaron Rodgers. Packers 20 Bears 17

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Is the World Ready for Ben Roethlisberger to Win a Third Super Bowl?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are hosting the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. It’s a familiar spot for the Steelers — they’ve now reached five conference championship games in the last 10 years. They lost their first two to the Patriots, won the next two, and went on to win the Super Bowl both times. Both Super Bowl wins have come since Ben Roethlisberger became the team’s quarterback, meaning the young QB has a chance to win his third championship in only seven years in the league. With only four teams left in the NFL playoffs, I ask if the sports world ready for such history to be made.

It was only March that Big Ben was investigated for his second sexual assault allegation. The man was ridiculed by the media and fans alike, and he was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. People like me figured the suspension spelled the end of Pittsburgh’s season — no way they’d make the playoffs if Roethlisberger missed the first four games. Sure enough, the team went 3-1 without him, showcasing what appeared to be the league’s stingiest defense. Adding the QB to the mix has made the team only more dangerous — they finished the regular season 12-4 and earned the second seed in the AFC playoffs.

While the Jets have been talking their way through the playoffs and celebrating as if they’ve won the Super Bowl, the Steelers have been quietly awaiting. The Jets won in Pittsburgh in week 15 22-17, but New York has not been as focused for this game and face a potential emotional let down after beating New England. While New York busted out in the AFC title game last year, the Steelers know how to maintain the focus that can result in them sneaking into their third Super Bowl in the last six years.

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Deion Branch: Some Jets Were Classless After Win with Excessive Celebration

The Jets pulled off the upset win over the Patriots Sunday and celebrated as if they had won the Super Bowl. You had Braylon Edwards doing gymnastics, and half the defense flying around the field like a bunch of airplanes. That was after the game. While it was still going on, Shonn Greene pretended to sleep in the end zone after scoring to make it 28-14. Unlike Jim Nantz who was outraged, if there was ever a time to take an excessive celebration penalty, it was when Greene did it. The Patriots certainly took note and didn’t appreciate the antics.

Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, who dropped a key 4th down pass preventing New England’s comeback, had some words for the Jets after the game. “There was a lot of classless play on the football field after the game. But you have to expect that from some of the guys over there,” Branch said. “Some of the guys … that was the only thing that was embarrassing. I think right now, there’s just a lot of frustration.

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