For 18 National Football League teams, it's time to book tee times -- well, except for those heading to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. But for 12 other teams, the march to the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas continues.
AFC: Don't look now, but the conference championship should be a 1-vs.-2 seed matchup, Pittsburgh's brute force against New England's athletic finesse. The Steel Curtain has a few dings though, as the face (hair?) of the defensive squad, safety Troy Polamalu, is a bit nicked up, but is expected to be roaming the field when the Steelers play on the 15th. For the Patriots, Tom Brady has been on a hot streak for much of the season.
This weekend, expect Baltimore to collect a road win over the surprising Kansas City Chiefs, who won their division for the first time since 2003. The Indianapolis Colts should fare better at home against the New York Jets.
NFC: The Atlanta Falcons continued their resurgence behind quarterback Matt Ryan, and claimed their first division crown since 2004 with the best record since their Super Bowl squad of 1998. The rest of the NFC are the definition of parity, except for the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, the first division champion in NFL history with a losing record. The second seed Chicago Bears started the season slowly and didn't clinch their spot until the closing weeks of the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles could be a trendy pick for success, what with the redemption of Michael Vick. A very interesting storyline would have Vick and the Eagles taking on his old team in Atlanta for the conference championship. However, the Eagles have to get past Green Bay in action this weekend. Atlanta will also likely have to get past the New Orleans Saints, who are keen to defend the Lombardi Trophy, but must get past the Seahawks in Seattle before advancing to Atlanta.
The Vick redemption storyline could continue to take an interesting turn if all plays out and the Eagles and Steelers survive their challenges in the weeks ahead, to face each other in an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl in Texas. Vick and Ben Roethlisberger, who have certainly overcome more than their share of off-field woes, meeting in the NFL's ultimate battle? Don't bet against it.