Goat: Roger Goodell, the media and the officials. The media have devoted 75% of airtime to 25% of the AFC/NFC finalists i.e. the New York Jets. Steeler fans may welcome the lack of intrusions but what about the Bears & Packers who are the NFL's two oldest franchises both with incredible histories and a storied border rivalry all of it played in mostly brutal weather? All we're getting from reporters in Chicago are a load of by-the-numbers pregame updates. Meanwhile, extended segments on the Life And Times Of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez And The Rest Of God's Chosen People Including The Fans Most Of Whom Are Wearing Chrebet #80 Jerseys are on heavy rotation.
Goodell and the NFL earn goat horns for putting a game in the CENTRAL time zone ahead of a game played in the EASTERN time zone. Who cares if it's a New York team? It's preposterous to believe that all four sets of fans won't be watching regardless of kickoff time, especially when it's 8 ****ing degrees out across the northern US and everyone is indoors already. Further proof that Manhattanites view the large landmass beyond the bridges and tunnels as a foreign land full of rubes who deserve what they get and are lucky to get it.
There's no need to wait until gametime to decry officials' bias. Think they don't know the NFL along with Jets TV, er, ESPN, is absolutely dying to get the Jets to the Super Bowl?
Let's all take a moment to remember Tim Donaghy. Sleazy crooked basketball official who was in thrall to the bookies, they said. The NBA and its media partners did their level best to discredit and destroy him but they could do nothing about his claims that the league demanded and engineered desired outcomes of certain games and playoff series - probably because the claims were true! David Stern lost his permanent smirk for a few weeks while he worked feverishly to stifle coverage of that subject. Several years on NBA fans (hands up, both of you) are supposed to believe that, gee whiz, the Finals matchup is just a one of those flukes (again)!
The NFL does its outcome-tilting with a bit more style due to the larger audience involved but there are a host of issues such as advertising (read: big markets come first) that are higher on the list than objectivity. The replay system, ostensibly designed to aid officials and 'get the call right' has become another tool for the league office to influence results from afar while providing cover for the on-field officials since all parties can blame an inanimate object - deus ex machina. NFL referees don't make calls; they make speeches. But if the rulebook - lovingly cared for and modified by the competition committee (themselves inherently biased since they attempt to alter the rules to favor their own franchises) - is unambiguous why the need for the Hamlet soliloquy? It's because trotting out a load of codswallop enables the 'neutral' NFL to make a show of claiming the referee 'interpreted the rule correctly/incorrectly' - all after the fact of course and if your team took it in the shorts better luck next year. Shouldn't they all get together BEFORE the season to agree on interpretation of rules?
The point is: if there is a close call it will favor the Jets. The Steelers should be prepared for it and brush aside any feelings of surprise, anger, injustice, etc. In fact, they should assume that they are down 7-0 at the beginning of the game and make no less than a 14-point margin their target in order to mitigate the tinge of green that will be visible on the black and white striped officiating crew.
Outcome: 23-17 Steelers. The only problem with advancing so far in the playoffs is that Bruce Arians looks at himself in the mirror and convinces himself (again) that the team is winning due to, not in spite of, his trickery and guile. Like Robert Stack in 'Airplane!' who orders the runway lights turned off because 'that's just what they'll be expecting,' Arians will serve up a contrarian game plan that uses the most talented players as decoys and ignores high-percentage plays regardless of down and distance. Everyone is obsessed with the matchups between the Steeler starting WRs and the Jets DBs but that will likely be a stalemate. Loads of passes underneath to the sure-handed Heath Miller seem to make eminent good sense but Miller will find himself ignored again. Arians will pass even when the defense is ripe to give up running yards simply because he views it as a contest of oneupmanship with Rex Ryan. Let us not forget that last week's offensive game-changer came about because BR7 vetoed Arians' original playcall.
The Arians/Tomlin axis will settle for field goals and make the game closer than it should be - a regrettable Pittsburgh 'tradition' since Chuck Noll was in charge and certainly continuing during the Cowher era. The Jets will get a TD from an INT, PR or KOR which will give them a huge emotional lift in addition to the free 7 points. LeBeau will make extensive use of the nickel as he attempts to prevent Braylon Edwards et al from running streak patterns all day while relying on a 3-man rush and his trusty LBs.
Intangibles: the Jets' reaction to finally vanquishing their division mate Patriots was somewhat over-the-top and one is reminded of the Arizona Cardinals' giddy reaction to winning the NFC title game especially in contrast to that of the Steelers who, after winning the AFC, symbolically shrugged their shoulders on the way to packing their bags for the real prize. Perhaps only Barack Obama has enjoyed better PR from the East Coast press than Mark Sanchez but he is still a 2nd year QB and facing a defensive coordinator with, oh, only 50 years' more experience in the game. Let's hope the virus known as false confidence infects both Sanchez and his offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.