2008 NFL Playoffs: Conference Championships Round

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The Conference Championships of the 89th NFL Season, titled “Believe In Now”, are upon us and for the final four teams (Steelers, Ravens, Eagles, and Cardinals) it is now or never in order to achieve their goal of playing in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, FL.  The 2008 NFL Season has truly been a wild rollercoaster type affair, where not even the best prognosticators could have seen the many ups, downs, and strange twists that have flipped the script on NFL history.  But the key for the four remaining teams is focusing on their precious opportunity to move-on to the Super Bowl and everything else that has transpired in the past 18 weeks doesn’t matter anymore.  As Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb recently said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “We’ve got another week of work”.

After a divisional round where both #1 Seeds (Giants and Titans) were easily vanquished, the Conference Championships have been left with a #2 Seed (Pittsburgh), #4 Seed (Cardinals), and two #6 Seeds (Eagles and Ravens) to fight it out for a ticket to Tampa.  For the first time since 1997 there will be no #1 Seeds in the Super Bowl additionally two number six seeds playing in this round is NFL history.  I have heard arguments on both sides regarding whether “parity” is helping or hurting the NFL.  Of course I grew-up on perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners, Cowboys, and Raiders bullying the rest of the teams with road to the Super Bowl running through these prestigious franchises.  But I have to admit I am a fan of the kinder “Anything Can Happen” version of the NFL rather than the ’70s and ’80s Super Team model.  C’mon you have to admit that it is pretty cool that the Cardinals and Eagles, two teams that were left for dead entering the playoffs, will play for the coveted NFC crown. 

BTW: Both championship games (Ravens at Steelers and Eagles at Cardinals) are rematches, so you know familiarity may lead to most important game-changer turnovers.

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers from Championship Sunday include:

Several Hot Teams are left – Over and over we say that it does matter how you start in the NFL, but how you finish.  This has never been more prevalent than this season as since the midseason, Arizona has won six of their last 10; Baltimore has won 8 of 10; Philadelphia has won 6 and tied one in their last 10; and the Steelers have won 7 of 10. 

Good Quarterback Play is the key this time of the year – We know that quarterbacks get too much praise for wins and too much blame for losses.  But this time of the year, the quarterbacks have to protect the football and be efficient. I hate to pile on Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, but his six turnovers were the major reason the Panthers had significant trouble in the divisional round.  This year’s final four QB’s includes 3 former Super Bowl participants (Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, and Ben Roethlisberger) and rookie Joe Flacco (first rookie to win two playoff games).  The four quarterbacks remaining have been very good at not turning the ball over (only 3 INTs by the group last week) and they will need to continue that trend against a several tough defenses.

Road Warrior Teams in the playoffs – For years, teams fought to get home-field advantage in hopes that they would have an easier road to the Super Bowl.  However the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants showed that teams can get it done in hostile environments on the road to Super Bowl titles.  This year is following the aforementioned model as through the first two rounds, road teams have won 5 of 8 games tying 2005 for most road wins since the NFL went to 12 playoff teams in 1990.

Instant Replay for University of Phoenix Stadium – Sunday will mark the second time in NFL history that a stadium – Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium – has hosted a conference championship game the year after hosting a Super Bowl (Miami’s Orange Bowl did with the 1971 AFC Championship after Super Bowl V).

Defenses coming to play – It has been said through out NFL history that defense wins championships and this year is no different.  The conference championship round will feature the Top 3 ranked defenses – Steelers (237.2 yards per game), Ravens (261.1), and Eagles (274.3).  The Cardinals, who were 19th in total defense during the regular season (331.5), have picked it up in the playoffs limiting their opponents to an average of 259.5 yards.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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