Two days from the AFC and NFC title games, and the 5-at-10 is calling in the big guns. After a rocky 2-3 showing with the picks last weekend (the 5-at-10 is a sluggish, but not overly expensive 5-5 through two playoff rounds), we tried to imagine how Al Davis would pick these games. Here we go (with some extra analysis this time, and it's all for the same price as always)
Regular-season meeting: Jets won 22-17 at Pittsburgh in December
Does that tell us anything: Not really - not since safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller missed that game for the Steelers, who had the ball at the Jets' 10 for the game's last two plays.
Quarterbacks: Huge edge for the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger. Two quick points here: 1. Steeler Fan, who is one of the original fans of the show sent along an interesting link to a New York Times story on Big Ben's penchant for pump faking. 2. Who has more to gain in the next three weeks than Roethlisberger? He wins out, he has three rings - as many as Brady and two more than Manning - and with the sound structure the Steelers have around him, the 28-year-old Roethlisberger could challenge the record for most Super Bowls for a quarterback. Think about that. Plus, if he leads the Steelers to their seventh title, who had a bigger turnaround in 10 months considering the sordid memories and allegations and overall gross-ness of the offseason charges of sexual assault? Seriously, a Super Bowl title for Big Ben means he went from being in legal hot water to potentially being on the trading block to possibly being cut by the tradition-proud Steelers to serving a four-game NFL timeout to start the season to jumping on the short list of starting QBs with three Super Bowl titles. (That list by the way is Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman and that's it.)
Stat to know: Roethlisberger gets the edge, but Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is now 4-1 in the playoffs - all on the road, mind you - and he's in his second season. Nice.
Personal matchup that matters: Darrelle Revis is the game's best cornerback. You know this. Revis knows this. But the slightest misstep by Revis or whichever Jets defensive back is covering Mike Wallace will result in a huge play. In a game with two defenses this good, one 50-plus yard touchdown will be paramount.
Style matchup that matters: The Steelers run defense leads the free world. The Jets rely on the run. Sometimes it's just that easy.
What Al would say: "I hate the Steelers. They cheat. We were looking at drafting that safety, Teddy Polamalualase, but our scouts said he would have trouble getting a work visa. The Rooneys pulled some strings to get him here; they got connections, I mean Art is some sort of foreign dysentery or something like that. Where was I? Oh yeah, gimme the Jets... Namath is money."
5-at-10 pick: The Jets have an inner belief that has galvanized their locker room, and that's a credit to head coach Rex Ryan. For all the bluster and banter, Ryan has done an excellent job with this team. That said, the ride ends here. A big play by a wide receiver will be the difference - either Wallace or Hines Ward gets free for Pittsburgh or Braylon Edwards drops a big one for the Jets.
Gambling pick (for entertainment only of course): Steelers (minus-3) win 24-19, which means the game goes over the 38.5.
Regular-season meetings: The division rivals played twice with each team winning at home - Bears 20-17 in Chicago; Packers 10-3 in Green Bay
Does that tell us anything: It lets us know that this game more than likely will be pretty close.
Quarterbacks: Huge edge for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. No player has made the leap in the last three-plus months like Rodgers, who has gone from good to great to elite.
Stat to know: Guess which quarterback led the league in rushing this year. Yes, it was Mike Vick. Know who was second? That's right, it was Rodgers, and you better believe that has the Bears pass rushers concerned.
Personal matchup that matters: Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers vs. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Capers has the Pack attacking quarterbacks from all sides. Heck, Green Bay flummoxed the Falcons to the extent that Matt Ryan still may be looking over his shoulder for an unaccounted for pass rusher. Martz has worked a miracle in Chicago, making people believe that Jay Cutler has become reliable. Cutler can be great and he can be gross, and he can often be both in the same week, day, game and even drive. But Martz has the Bears using all the weapons - from Matt Forte to Greg Olson to Cutler to Devin Hester. Two guys that are doing very good things will match wits Sunday, and it will be fun to watch.
Style matchup that matters: The Packers' pass rush, which comes from all angles and is led by linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson, against the Bears' pass protection. When the Bears struggled this year it was when teams could get to Cutler.
What Al would say: "I'm looking forward to this game. Two teams from the old school. Two teams that have big-time young quarterbacks: Green Bay's Kenny Rogers and Chicago's Jay Cutlery. Cold football, real fans, real tough guys playing a real tough game they way it's supposed to be. Give me an iced mocha frappe and my Snuggie and go away. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Where was I? Yes, give me the Bears. Ditka, DITKA."
5-at-10 pick: The Packers seem like a team of destiny, no? From all the preseason injuries to the ascent of Rodgers to the emergence of Matthews, this has been quite a ride. And it's not over yet.
Gambling pick (for entertainment only of course): Packers (minus-3) win 28-20, which means the game goes over the 44.
Al Davis, one of our favorites
Before he became a cartoon character, Al Davis was one of football's true pioneers. He's the only NFL owner who has coached an NFL team. He and a small collection of others - including Titans owner Bud Adams - created the AFL, engineered the merger that created the Super Bowl, and truly challenged the traditional and conservative NFL to extremes that in large part crafted the current-day NFL into the best thing in professional sports.
He was a football visionary, which makes him the namesake of and a first-ballot choice for the 5-at-10 Al Davis All-Al team. Here's the inaugural class and some of the ones that just missed:
• Al Davis
• Al Kaline
• Al Iverson
• Al Michaels
• Al Roker
• AL East (way better than the AL Central and the AL West)
• Al from "Happy Days"
The ones on the outside looking...
• Al E-babba (he got a lot of help from his 40 thieves, who were way underrated)
• Al Cohol
And sadly the voters forgot the...
• Al Amo
Points well made
NASCAR is floating the idea of changing the points system, switching from the tempered scale to a relatively simple 43 points first to 1 point for 43rd. Yawn. OK, that's great. Until they address putting more emphasis on winning races than minor bonuses, the system will need work.
The changes will be announced by Brian France next week in Charlotte, N.C. Quick sidenote: Ever notice that NASCAR is the only professional sport that has an owner and not a commissioner? Something seems rather strange about that, right? Right?
Anyhoo, two quotes from drivers in the AP story about the points-system changes caught the eye of the 5-at-10.
"I don't care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship, I could care less," Jimmie Johnson said, "because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances."
"If I am running 12th or something, I don't even know how many points that is worth and I have been doing this long enough that I should know," Carl Edwards said.
Even if you don't know a lugnut from a doughnut, it's not too hard to guess which driver has won five consecutive points championships and which is an also ran that is known more for backflips than anything else.
Bulldogs barking again
At least professionally, Thursday was the best day Mark Richt has had in a long, long time - maybe since his Georgia Bulldogs held on to beat rival Georgia Tech on Nov. 27.
Richt and the Bulldogs landed non-binding verbal commitments from two of the state's top high school players. And in Georgia this year, if you're one of the state's top players, you're one of the nation's top players.
Jay Rome, the No. 4-ranked tight end in the country, and Malcolm Mitchell, the No. 1-ranked cornerback, said they would become Bulldogs on national signing day in 10 days. Rome picked Georgia over Clemson and Tennessee; Mitchell picked Georgia over Alabama.
Plus, these two high school teammates were part of a collection of South Georgia talent that has been in high demand from the major football programs in the country. Defensive end Ray Drew and running back Isaiah Crowell - who are ranked among the top 15 high school players in the country - also are from South Georgia and also have Georgia among the finalists among their future college destinations.
If Richt and Co. can finish strong in-state, it could be one of the best recruiting class in Richt's decade with the Dogs.
Now, Georgia Johnny Fan, does a top-five recruiting class nationally increase or decrease the heat on Richt? Is it a sign that the Bulldogs are reloading or is it another nationally respected class that underwhelms?
Those responses vary from perspective, and the answers will be finalized in the Fall. Until then, though, the 5-at-10 knows that last night Richt had a big smile and enjoyed an extra glass of apple juice or whatever his drink of choice is.