I get to relax this weekend; the Steelers aren't playing. By beating the Browns last week, they earned the advantage of sitting out the first round of playoff games. That's an extra week to rest up, layout a strategy for their game the following week, and to mentally prepare.
I will pay attention to this week's AFC games with little more than a passing interest. I don't think it really matters which team moves forward from the Jets-Colts match-up. Although it's true that any team can beat any other team on a given day, the chances of either the Colts or Jets beating the Patriots the following week are slim at best. Likewise, unless something goes terribly wrong for Baltimore, the Steelers will face the Ravens in two weeks. I suspect Baltimore is the team the Steelers are preparing to play.
When the Steelers faced the Ravens in the playoffs in 2008 on their way to winning Super Bowl 43, the pundits made much of the fact that Pittsburgh had already beaten Baltimore twice during the regular season, and it would be very difficult for them to pull off a hat trick against a very formidable Raven's team. So much for conventional wisdom. No telling what those same pundits will offer up this year with the Ravens and Steelers splitting their two regular season meetings. It is worth noting here, though, that in the first Steelers-Ravens game -- the one the Ravens won -- Rothlisberger had yet to rejoin the team, and Steelers kicker Jeff Reed, who suddenly developed two left feet this season, was still on the roster.
Regardless of the outcome of the coming playoff game, it is going to be a very physically beat-up winner that faces the Patriots. The Ravens-Steelers game will be a slugfest of the first order.
I am feeling pretty good about Pittsburgh's chances. This team seems to be peaking, and just at the right time. It looks like starting defensive end Aaron Smith will be back in the lineup for the first time since the beginning of the season. Polamalu is healthy. The prospect of his coming nuptials seem to be having a positive impact on Big Ben. He had a hell of a game last Sunday. Perhaps some stability in his love life is just what he needed.
So, I am going to kick back and relax this weekend as the AFC playoff picture sorts itself out. But for the Steelers, I think the road to the Super Bowl is through the Patriots and the road to the Patriots is through the Ravens.