By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 30, 2013

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The Pittsburgh Steelers had to win and needed three other teams to lose. It almost worked.

And the Atlanta Falcons came within one win of being the first 11-win team to miss the playoffs since the 2008 Patriots.

All this postulation and guessing and analyzing permutations is mercifully over. It's time to actually play the playoff games, now that we know who will play who and where. Patriot Nation has to wait a week, as do fans in Denver, Carolina and Seattle. But for the other eight playoff teams, they have a week to get ready for The Tournament.

First, a little post mortem on Pittsburgh. A Post-Gazette writer correctly admonished the Steeler fan base to "complain about the 0-4 start, not about the Kansas City Chiefs". Steeler Nation didn't care too much for Andy Reid resting his entire starting defense and most of his starting offense. As it turned out, San Diego nearly pulled off the biggest gag job in NFL history by almost losing at home to a team that wasn't bent on winning. A Ryan Succup field goal attempt from 41 yards went just wide right, sending the game to overtime. The Chargers were able to get a field goal and hold off the Chiefs on the ensuing drive to send themselves to the playoffs and eliminate the Steelers.

What Steeler Nation should complain about, albeit in vain, is an NFL memorandum that came out on Monday. It said that on the missed Succup field goal, San Diego was in an illegal formation but no penalty flag was thrown. The league said that San Diego should have been assessed a five-yard penalty, and the kick should have been re-tried. The league apologized for the mistake, which most likely cost the Steelers a postseason berth and saved San Diego from eternal shame. Again, if Pittsburgh doesn't start 0-4, maybe the season doesn't come down to this. The sad thing is that if that mistake hadn't happened, their incredibly improbable playoff combination of them winning and Miami, Baltimore and San Diego losing should have worked.

But San Diego is in and Pittsburgh is not. End of story. Build a bridge and get over it, Steeler Nation. Time to move on.

The playoffs begin next Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the Colts will take on the rested Kansas City Chiefs. That game will be followed by the New Orleans Saints visiting the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals will host the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium. Following that game the San Francisco 49ers will travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. Cincinnati is a seven-point favorite over San Diego; Philadelphia, Indianapolis and San Francisco are all 2 ½-point favorites.

Indianapolis and Kansas City should have a good game. It will basically hinge on how well Andrew Luck plays versus Kansas City's long penchant for playing lousy in the playoffs. The Chiefs haven't won a championship since Super Bowl IV, and have won only three playoff games since the last game in AFL history, none since 1993. Being at home will make Luck more comfortable. Having Reid as a coach helps Kansas City, but he has never won the big one and his Eagles sometimes came up lame in the playoffs. Choice: Colts.

If the Eagles are favored over the Saints, it will only be because of possible cold weather which should make things hard on a dome team like New Orleans. Philadelphia had to survive a winner-take-all game at Dallas, and didn't secure the win until Kyle Orton, backing up the injured Tony Romo, threw a late interception with less than two minutes left. Meanwhile, Drew Brees remains one of the most potent quarterbacks in the league. If the weather is not a problem, New Orleans probably wins this game. Philadelphia has to root for frigid weather and a great day from LeShawn McCoy. Nick Foles needs to be on his game also, but if the elements rule, then it's a game for the defense and that would be Philly's best chance. Choice: Saints.

The match between the Bengals and the Chargers will be more interesting than good. You have two teams with lousy playoff histories doing battle, and one of the two teams has to win. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since 1990 and is 0-for-Marvin Lewis. San Diego literally shouldn't be here, and Phillip Rivers has never shown that he is a championship quarterback. Again, Cincinnati is at home, so they should win. They deserve the biggest point spread thanks to the fact that San Diego almost spit the bit on the game that got them here. Choice: Bengals.

Another sidebar on this game is that this is a rematch of the famous 1981 Ice Bowl (the game was played in January 1982), when these two teams did battle at old Riverfront Stadium in weather that was sunny with a wind chill of -40 degrees Fahrenheit. San Diego had just won a classic overtime game in warm and humid Miami, and had no chance in Antarctica North. The Bengals went on to lose Super Bowl XVI to San Francisco.

Wrapping up next weekend will be the Packers and the 49ers, who have authored some terrific playoff games over the years with other stars providing the drama. Like Philadelphia, the Packers had to win a winner-take-all game on the road, surviving a wild affair in Chicago, 33-28 thanks to an insane 48-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb on fourth down and eight for the win.

In this game, the Packers will also root for cold weather like the Eagles will. Colin Kaepernick might be easier to contain in cold, rain or snow. But if the weather is balmy, San Francisco should win and advance. Rodgers just returned from an injured collarbone, but even if he reverts to his old Super self, Green Bay will face a stiff challenge from the defending conference champs. Green Bay is the only home underdog this weekend. Choice: 49ers.

If these results hold up, Cincinnati heads to New England and Indianapolis would travel to Denver to face its former franchise figurehead. New Orleans would travel to Seattle, while San Francisco would be off to Charlotte, North Carolina. Of these four games, the one that would be the most interesting would be Carolina and San Francisco. Carolina won 10-9 at Candlestick Park earlier this year, and Cam Newton would be severely tested by a 49ers defense bent on revenge. Peyton Manning is never a sure thing in the postseason, especially in his first playoff game, and especially if Denver is having a bad weather day.

That said, we'll just let next weekend play out before we predict who will move on to the Conference Championships. All the games should be entertaining and compelling. At least these teams don't have to worry about new head coaches or War Rooms right now.


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