THE FINAL 8

January 12, 2015

THE FIRST WEEKEND of the postseason showcased the NFL at its meritocratic finest. In the wild-card round, the Steelers were limited without injured running back Le'Veon Bell and lost to the Ravens. Minus A.J. Green, the Bengals' offense (just like their four-man pass rush) did nothing at Indy. Goodbye, again. The Cardinals had no quarterbacks or running backs left, and therefore no chance at Carolina. The Lions were healthy but couldn't stay vibrant for four quarters against the Cowboys, losing at Jerry World. In each game the better team won.

If the trend continues in this weekend's divisional round, we'll see a fourth Brady-Manning AFC Championship showdown. That's extra intriguing this season, considering that the Patriots and the Broncos also boast the two best man-coverage-based defenses in the AFC.

We should also see a Week 1 rematch in the NFC Championship Game between the league's scariest offense (the Packers) and its scariest defense (the Seahawks). At midseason, I picked Green Bay to top New England in Super Bowl XLIX. That was before the Seahawks rediscovered their turbo button and clinched home field advantage. It's hard to envision any visitor winning in January at CenturyLink. But being loyal (or stubborn) and having marveled at Aaron Rodgers and those receivers so much this year, I'll stick with my preseason and midseason pick: PACKERS over PATRIOTS.

AFC

Preview

16

NFC

Preview

20

Faces in the Crowd

24

Dan Patrick

Steve Levy

25

Big Board

Chris Walker

26

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY DARROW

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)