Pittsburgh Steelers (13-5) at Denver Broncos (14-3)
Point Spread: Denver -3
Over/Under: 41.5 points
Carolina Panthers (13-5) at Seattle Seahawks (14-3)
Point Spread: Seattle -3.5
Over/Under: 43.5 points
These figure to be some high-quality games today. I'm 5-3 picking games in the playoffs, which is nothing special, especially since I was most wrong about games I was most confident about. I'm also 5-3 against the spread, but I think everyone is: In every game so far, the favorite covered the spread, or the underdog won outright. I have no confidence in my ability to logically predict an outcome here, so I will offer a smorgasbord of theories to help guide your predictions and wagers.
Dominant Animal Theory: Steelers and Panthers. Hey there, you might protest. Steelers aren't animals! To that I say, a Steeler is a human being - the most crafty and dangerous animal of all.
Phil Simms Quarterback Grooming Theory: Steelers and Seahawks. This theory is almost the polar opposite of the Beard to Success Ratio Theory. Phil Simms likes a man that's "neater, trimmer, and better-looking", so Jake Plummer's mountain man beard clearly loses out to Ben Roethlisberger's beard, because Big Ben appears to shave his neck. Matt Hasselbeck is less likely to shave before the game, but his baldness gives him the neatness advantage over the wild-haired Jake Delhomme.
Most Niner Theory: Steelers and Panthers. Before the divisional round, I proposed the "Least Niner Theory" as an indicator for playoff success. My reasoning was that having been a 49er was like a reverse pedigree, and that a team that needed to look to San Francisco for players was not a team that inspired confidence. However, the team with the most former 49ers has gone 6-2 so far in the post-season, forcing me to re-examine this theory. Perhaps having experienced the misery and constant losing that go along with being on the 49ers, these players are revitalized by their move to a winning team. That might have been the thinking behind the Broncos' decision to acquire four former Cleveland Browns defensive linemen in the offseason. Someone blogging in Cleveland can figure out the "Most Browns" theory if they really want.
Google Disrespect Theory: Steelers and Panthers. Players and coaches on all four remaining teams will be claiming to be respected inadequately leading up to the game. To find out, who's truly disrespected, you have to go to Google. For the search string "'I don't respect' + [team name]", the clear winners were the Steelers and Panthers, as well as for the search string "[team name] sucks". The Panthers had an overwhelming total for the latter phrase, which I at first attributed to the presence of another sports team called the Panthers. However, even accounting for the college and NHL varieties of Panthers, the Internet still thinks Carolina is three times suckier than Seattle.
Honolulu Coaching Experience Theory: Broncos and Panthers: The Pro Bowl takes place the weekend after the Super Bowl in Honolulu's Aloha Stadium. While most sports assign All-Star Game coaching duties to the coach with the best record, the NFL makes the coach who lost the Championship Game lead his conference's Pro Bowl squad. Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher has led the AFC squad four times (and is undefeated!), which is the third-most coaching appearances ever, behind John Madden and Tom Landry, and tied with Marty Schottenheimer. Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren coached the 1996 NFC team. Denver coach Mike Shanahan has never led a Pro Bowl squad, nor has Carolina coach John Fox.
Dominant Cheerleader Theory: Broncos and Panthers: The Broncos have great cheerleaders, the Steelers have no cheerleaders. Easy call here. I haven't seen the Carolina cheer squad this post-season, but earlier this year, two Top Kat cheerleaders got into an altercation after allegedly having sex in a bathroom stall. Panthers clearly win this one.
Dustin Reed Favorite Band Hometown Theory: Broncos and Seahawks: I can't think of any bands that have come out of Pittsburgh, but I think Dustin likes the Apples in Stereo. The real difficulty comes in deciding between Carolina's Archers of Loaf and Seattle's Nirvana. While Dustin loves the Archers, he never had an Eric Bachmann sticker on his bass, so Seattle wins this one.
"Mike" Theory: Broncos and Seahawks: Denver and Seattle have far more Mikes among their head coaches. If I had evidence that either Holmgren or Shanahan had been named "Wade" at birth, I would pick them with zero hesitation.
Punter's Revenge Theory: Broncos and Panthers: Before the season, Denver traded its punter, Jason Baker, to Carolina, for punter Todd Sauerbrun. If they faced off in the Super Bowl, the stakes would be incredibly high, the reputation of the punters and the team's general managers hinging on every punt return, every touchback. And even though it probably won't happen, I would absolutely love to hear an extended exchange of trash talk on both sides. "What's up, Baker? You want to go, bitch? Snap the ball to me. I'll drop it inside the 20 right now. You can't call a fair catch when Todd Sauerbrun throws down, sucka."
Quarterback Snake-Similarity Theory: Broncos and Panthers: One might argue that Matt Hasselback's lack of hair is serpentine, or that Ben Roethlisberger's penchant for trick plays is deceptive, but Plummer and Delhomme have them trumped. No matter what, if your name is Jake, you are "The Snake".
Hypothetical Quarterback Nicknames From My Sister Molly Theory: Broncos and Panthers. Jake "Liquid" Plummer beats Ben "Mothless Burger" Roethlisberger. Jake "From Casa" Delhomme beats Matt "Portcullis" Hasselbeck (Hasselbeck -> Castle back -> portcullis).
Head Coach Mustache Theory: Steelers and Seahawks: This might be infair to the clean-shaven coaches in Denver and Carolina, but if they have a problem with it, there's a simple and elegant solution: Grow a mustache.
Clearly, the smart money should be on the Broncos and Panthers today. As for myself, I am going to test out the "Twelve Chips will Fit In my Mouth At Once" hypothesis and the "Jim Nantz Double Entendre Corollary" to the "Phil Simms Homoeroticism Theory".