Audience Participation Time II — Help Choose My New Car

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , on February 25, 2011 by thelasthonestman

So this is what my wife and I have been reduced to on the road.  My wife’s car, a Ford Escort bought back in 1999, has well over 200,000 miles on it.  The engine was replaced a couple of years ago on the relative cheap, and while the vehicle is still running well enough — for now — it’s evident that this car is on borrowed time.  My own car, a 1996 Ford Mustang, has only a little more than 73,000 miles showing on its dashboard — of course, that’s more a result of a broken odometer than it is a lack of use.

Which all means that it’s finally time for us to buy a new car.  With my wife driving an hour to work every day, and with gas prices continuing to rise to obscene levels, fuel economy is probably going to be the number one priority when we choose our new vehicle.  With that in mind, we have some choices that have come immediately to the forefront at we begin our search.

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

The Chevrolet Cruze Eco would be our first choice if we had to make it today, though it’s no slam dunk.  What we like about the car is the outstanding gas mileage (42 mpg on the highway), its top-ranked safety ratings, and the good reviews we’ve read on it.  Plus, my wife likes the way it looks.  Also on the radar is the Ford Fusion, which gives us a couple of options itself (the S version which gets slightly better mileage than what my wife’s current car does, or the Hybrid which gets even better).  And then there’s the Toyota Prius, which get the best mileage of all of them — but which has been described in some reviews I’ve read as handling like a “toaster” on the road.

We’re not locked into just these options, but they seem to be the best candidates so far.  So who out there has some suggestions for me?  Chime in with your opinions in the comments about these three options as well as any suggestions you might have.

Last Comic Book Buyer To Leave, Remember To Turn The Lights Off

Posted in Comic Books, Rants with tags , , , on February 24, 2011 by thelasthonestman

Marvel and DC executive believe that this = profit.

I wrote a month or so ago about the media attention Marvel Comics was getting for their latest “Death of a Major Character” nonsense that they’ve continued to thrust upon their dwindling readership, and I’ve already talked about how both the company and the other major publisher in the industry, DC Comics, seem to be doing everything in their respective powers to kill the comic book business once and for all.  And just when you think the companies can’t get any more creatively bankrupt, you have the Senior Vice President of Sales at Marvel admitting this past weekend at a retailer summit in Texas that the company will “kill a major character every quarter in an effort to drive sales — because why try to revive a dying form of entertainment by trying something positive for longer-term growth when you can rely on short-sighted gimmicks instead?

Don’t get me wrong — I love comic books, and I’m devastated at the idea that in twenty years, the business might be gone forever.  At least I’m not the only one who thinks that way — there’s a host of other comic fans like myself who are sick of much of what passes for modern comic books these days (another good take on this can be found at this link on one of the many comic book blogs I frequent).  I buy a fraction of what I used to ten years ago so far as new material goes (concentrating my money mostly these days on older books), and I can see a time when even a die-hard like myself doesn’t buy anything new anymore.  I definitely will be saddened if I’m part of the last generation to care about comic book characters as something other than movie headliners or television cartoon adaptations.

It’s sad that, as is clearly evident with each passing month, Marvel and DC just doesn’t care.  They’re already reaping what they’ve sowed with what’s currently the lowest sales in their histories — and those dire numbers only look to be getting worse in the future.

Flu 1, The Last Honest Man 0

Posted in Boxing, Personal, Sports with tags , , , , on February 22, 2011 by thelasthonestman

So it’s been a while — and so much for that Super Bowl pick from me you were doubtlessly waiting on (for the record, I was going with the Pack).  So what happened for the last couple of weeks?

The flu — and a terrible case of it.  I ran a fever for more than a week, a fever that got close to 105 at times and made me feel — well — pretty much as bad as I’ve felt in a long time.  At my worst, I felt like Marvis Frazier facing off against Mike Tyson back in the day.

What was worse, I tried to work through it at first — and let’s just say that my strategy didn’t work out so well.  It took me two weeks to feel anything close to better, and even now, I’m still coughing stuff up from my lungs.  Bleh.

Needless to say, I fell behind on everything — including updating here — as getting through each day while sick was about the only thing on my mind lately.  As I’m trying to catch up on everything else — work, home stuff, my upcoming fantasy baseball drafts, etc. — I’ll also try to catch up here as well, so thanks for being patient.   And stay away from the flu — you’ll be glad you did.

Comic Book Wednesday

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by thelasthonestman

There’s a lot of news in the comic book marketplace, both from the publishing aspects as well as the far-more-profitable-these-days movie-making aspects.  None of the subjects today are earth-shattering or new, but there’s items I thought were worth mentioning (and due to a busy schedule, that I hadn’t been able to get to until now).

Pictured here: Marvel editors coming up with new ideas to save the dying comic book industry

The Fantastic Four is catching the attention of the mainstream media, as the news surrounding the latest issue of the team’s title — which features the “death” of one of the team’s members — was broken early, before the book’s actual release into comic book shops.  I’m not going to spoil here who bites the bullet — though clicking on the link above will bring you to an article that has the deceased hero’s identity — and I’ve already pretty much ripped Marvel and the comic book industry as a whole for their lack of vision in keeping our industry alive, so there’s not much reason to rehash things again here.

What I will add in is the latest in ridiculous proclamations by comic book heads — this time by Joe Quesada — who tells us that, if the deceased in question makes a return from the dead at sometime in the future — you know, because we’ve never really seen deaths and rebirths in comic books as a story-telling device in a while (sarcasm alert!) — that “… I can assure you that it’s going to be very, very interesting and not what anyone expects.” (emphasis mine).  Maybe Quesada should have said “It’ll be what everyone is expecting”.  If he had, at least he’d be speaking honestly as to one reason why the sales of new comic books continue to drop to frighteningly low numbers.

— And in another sign of changes in the comic marketplace, there was the announcement that Wizard Magazine (and its sister publication for toys, Toyfare) was ceasing publication, ending its run after almost twenty years (While Wizard was founded in 1991, Toyfare was strarted later, in 1997).

For those seriously invested in the industry, Wizard had stopped being relevant a long time ago.  The price guide — what was left of it — was inaccurate, and the magazine came under heavy criticism at times for being a shill for certain companies and their products, and not an impartial observer of the marketplace.  In recent years, the magazine began covering seemingly everything but comics — movies, television, video games — as its circulation numbers declined heavily.  Still, with all of its fault, the advent of Wizard at the time was a big deal in the industry, and the loss of the magazine is a noteworthy event nonetheless.

— As is often the case these days, the exciting news in the comic book industry revolves around nothing in the publishing arena, but instead in the movie world.  There were two very good tidbits that came out in the last week — and one that was … uh … not so good.

First, the good.  One of the comic-book based movies I’ve been waiting for anxiously for a long, long time has been a Captain America movie worth seeing — and this summer, my wish will become a reality with the release of Captain America: The First Avenger on July 22.  I’ve long thought that a serious take on the heart of Marvel’s universe set in World War II would be a winner, and that’s exactly what we’re going to see in director Joe Johnston’s film.  Early pictures from the film have been leaking for a while now, and this photo of Cap in his war attire makes me feel confident that this picture will be on the right track.

Also making news is the announcement that Anne Hathaway has been cast as Selina Kyle/The Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane in the third installment of  Chris Nolan’s Batman epic, The Dark Knight Rises.

The choice of Catwoman as a villain/love interest in the film wasn’t surprising (even if  the casting of Hathaway was a minor surprise — this sure beats her playing a female Vulture in Sam Raimi’s aborted Spider-Man 4, though), and Hardy’s presence wasn’t a shock either, considering his track record of working with Nolan.  What was a surprise, however, was the choice of Bane as one of the primary bad guys.  I liked the decision myself; the Bane in the comic books was (and is) an intelligent, ruthless, powerful adversary capable of defeating his opponent wither through brawn or through strategy.  Anyone who only knows Bane from his god-awful portrayal in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin entirely missed the potential of the character.  Judging by Nolan’s work so far, that’s not a concern I have here at all.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the first photos getting leaked out from the new Spider-Man film.  I was already critical of the approach that the film seemed to be taking early on — particularly with the unnecessary retelling of an origin that was done perfectly by Sam Raimi less than a decade ago — but I was at least happy with some of the initial casting announcements that were being made (Emma Stone as Spidey’s first love, the doomed Gwen Stacy and Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy among many), even if I was still worried about the film turning into “Twilight with webs”.  But I was a lot more concerned when I saw the first photos of Spider-Man’s costume hitting the web.

That’s not — terrible — but it looks like it”s immediately deviating from the classic portrayal of the costume (which was nailed 100% true by Raimi in his trilogy).  My obvious question is — why?  Why go away from something that’s iconic and instantly recognizable?  If there’s good reason to — like changing Batman’s garb somewhat in Nolan’s films — then I understand the reasoning entirely.  But change for the sake of change isn’t smart.  My growing skepticism on this film also wasn’t helped by the news that one of the most iconic characters in the Spider-Man universe — J. Jonah Jameson — doesn’t appear in this film either.  Considering that Jameson was a pivotal character in Spider-Man’s earliest years — and that he predates both of the Stacy’s in the character’s history — his omission from this film is bizarre, even if there was no way another actor was going to nail J.K. Simmons dead-on portrayal of the character that we saw already.  As big a Spidey fan as I am — I’m not feeling excited about this movie.  At all.

Later this week I’ll be at the New Orleans Comic-Con — pictures hopefully to come!

Jay Cutler Has His Career Defining Moment — Standing On The Sidelines

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by thelasthonestman

We’re a little more than twenty-four hours after the Green Bay Packers punched their ticket to the Super Bowl by eliminating the Chicago Bears 21-14 at Soldier Field on Sunday (a result I expected, but sadly, wished I had been wrong about).  But the story coming out of the Windy City as the game came to an end wasn’t the tremendous playoff run by the Packers to reach the title game, it wasn’t about the emergence of Aaron Rodgers, and it wasn’t about the ending of a surprising season from the upstart Bears.  Rather, it was about Jay Cutler — not about what he was doing, but what he wasn’t doing.  Namely, playing.

With the Packers leading 14-0 as the third quarter got underway, it was Todd Collins under center for the Bears, as Cutler stood silently on the sidelines, the same blank expression on his face that those of us who’ve followed the Bears closely recognize.    Watching the game at home while trying to assemble a piece of furniture and talking on the phone with my friend Steven, I almost didn’t notice the switch at quarterback at first (it took him to point out that it was Colllins trotting onto the field to me).  I asked my friend if I’d missed Cutler getting hurt — neither of us could remember seeing a play that had suggested that the Bears quarterback had been injured.

With Cutler simply standing on the sidelines, helmet off, showing no obvious signs of pain or discomfort, my first comment was, “He must have gotten a concussion — that’s why he’s not in.”  That was, to me, the most likely explanation — especially when it became obvious that Cutler wasn’t going to be returning to the game.  I guessed that it was a hit to the head and a subsequent concussion diagnosis that, with the stricter rules now in the NFL, would be the only thing that would keep the Bears starting quarterback out of such a huge game — as I told my friend, “All of his limbs are attached and he’s still breathing — I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be in otherwise.”

I was mistaken.  As it turns out, Cutler had suffered a MCL sprain of his knee — the actual severity of which has still not be officially reported.  Even before the game had ended, I imagine that every Bears fan was in some way questioning Cutler’s toughness or heart — and unbelievably (at least, with the culture of the NFL), Cutler’s peers — other players around the NFL — were questioning him as well.  Some of the most vocal critics were Maurice Jones-Drew, who tweeted “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one.” Arizona’s Darnell Dockett posted “If I’m on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room! #FACT.”  Even former coach Mike Ditka had weighed in, saying, “Myself, I would have had to have been paralyzed to come out of the game. I don’t want to say that word. I would have had to be completely knocked out to come out of that football game.”

Harsh words for Cutler — but are they justified?

We’ll never know for sure exactly what Cutler was capable of doing on Sunday and what he wasn’t — only Cutler knows that for certain.  His Bears teammates are sticking by him publicly — for now — most notably, linebacker Brian Urlacher.  His coaches and GM are doing the same — Lovie Smith placed the decision for Cutler not to return on his shoulders and not the quarterback’s, saying, “If you’re going to attack somebody, you should be attacking me. As a head football coach, and our medical staff, we’re the ones … he wanted to go back in.”

The support for Cutler from his teammates and coaches should be expected, and because of that, should be taken with a grain of salt.  It is true, however, that none of us who were watching the game at home were able to examine the knee and determine the extent of the injury, and it’s also not up to us to say whether or not he could have continued or not.

But that’s not going to stop you or I from speculating.  My own take was that I’ve seen other quarterbacks play through injuries that seemed to be far worse than what Cutler experienced on Sunday.  Phillip Rivers once played an entire AFC Championship game on a torn ACL, and I watched Brett Favre play much of the last two seasons  while being held together by duct tape.  Former Bears legend Jim McMahon, during their 1985 Super Bowl season, led the Bears to a comeback win against the Vikings after spending part of the week before the game in the hospital.  Matt Cassell played barely a week after having an appendectomy this season.  And so on.  I found myself asking afterward “Would Tom Brady have left a similar game in that situation?  Or Peyton Manning?  Or Ben Roethlisberger?  Or Joe Montana, John Elway, or a host of other great quarterbacks?”

And there now lies Jay Cutler’s dilemma in Chicago.  Gone is the goodwill he built up with his solid second half play.  Forgotten is the fact that he helped bring the Bears to the NFC Championship game to begin with.  As poorly as Cutler was playing before he was injured (6-14 with 0 TD’s and an interception), the Bears weren’t winning on Sunday even if he had stayed in — but the minute Todd Collins came on, the Bears were finished.  Before yesterday, Cutler’s career had been defined by his often poor attitude, a whiny disposition that led to forcing his way out of Denver, and tons of turnovers — now, that’s been replaced by the image of his standing sullenly on the sidelines while the Bears’ Super Bowl chances slipped away.  And unless he manages to lead the Bears the final step to play for a championship, that’s an image that — for most Bears fans — won’t fade anytime soon.

2011 NFC And AFC Championship Game Picks — It’s All About The Quarterbacks

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2011 by thelasthonestman

We’re down to the last four standing in the NFL, as the wildly entertaining and exciting playoff season draws closer to its conclusion.  That also means it’s time for my penultimate picks of the football year; after going 3-1 (2-2 against the spread) last week and going 5-3 (4-4) overall, I’m looking to emulate my perfect end from last season to finish strong — but will i have to pick against my favorite team to do it?  There’s only one way to find out — let’s get on with the show!

Pittsburgh (-3.5) over N.Y. Jets

This man is one game away from leading the Jets to the Super Bowl

This game will be a rematch of their Week 15 match-up (also played at Heinz Field) that the Jets won 22-17.  The Jets were reeling at the time, having lost two games in a row and their playoff chances suddenly slipping into jeopardy.  But New York won the game with a great defensive effort and a solid, mistake-free performance by their second-year quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  Sound familiar?

It should — it’s the formula that’s gotten the Jets on the cusp of their first Super Bowl appearance since the days of Joe Willie Namath — and it’s a formula that head coach Rex Ryan’s team will have to follow again on Sunday if they want to beat the Steelers on the road.  If they able to do that, it will be the latest in a stunning series of playoff accomplishments for the Jets.  They’ve already vanquished two of the all-time greatest quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — with their four Super Bowl rings between them — in hostile environments, and this Sunday they’ll face another Super Bowl winner, two-time champion Ben Roethlisberger.  It’s a feat reminiscent of the Saints march through the playoffs last season (when they beat Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, and Manning en route to their title).

Meanwhile, the Steelers continue to do what they do best — quietly win while the spotlight has shines brighter on other teams.  In the AFC this season, the focus has been more on the Patriots and the Jets all season, while Pittsburgh remained somehow under the radar — an astonishing feat for a team that now finds itself arguably the Super Bowl favorite.  It’s even more of a stunner considering how much the Steelers and their quarterback were in the news all off-season for all of the wrong reasons.

Thankfully for him and the Steelers, it's been a relatively quite season out of the headlines for Big Ben

But Roethislberger has stayed out of the spotlight since his return from suspension, and the Steelers have continue to follow their own winning plan for success.  Their defense was statistically better than the Jets’ much-hyped unit this season — in fact, it was the top-rated defense, and it was by far-and-away the stingiest defense when it came to shutting down the running game.  For comparison, the Jets were ranked 4th in the NFL in giving up 3.6 yards a carry.  The Steelers, however, gave up a paltry 3.0 yards a carry, a full half-a-yard better than any other team in the NFL.  And that’s where the Jets are going to be faced with their biggest problem on Sunday.

Sanchez doesn’t have to carry the Jets on his shoulders if the team can run the ball successfully and take pressure off of him.  But as talented as the Jets running back tandem on Shonn Green and LaDainian Tomlinson are, they’re going to have trouble moving the ball against the Steelers on the ground (they tallied 106 yards the first time around) — and if they can’t do that, then it’s going to be up to Sanchez to put points on the board.  That’s a challenge that the young signal-caller has answered so far in the playoffs — but can he do it again?

I think this week, at least, the answer will be no.  This match-up is similar to the Steelers game against the Ravens last week — two teams with great defenses and two teams that will have trouble running the ball against the other.  And as it was against the Ravens, the difference for Pittsburgh will be in the quarterbacks and their play.  Roethlisberger is better at this point in his career, and if one quarterback makes a crippling mistake to his team’s chances, I don’t think it’s going to be him.  Sanchez has made great strides this season, and he might win a Super Bowl with the Jets at some point.  It’s just not going to be this year.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Chicago

And now, the hard part.

I survived the Bob Avellini era -- though the scars still remain

I asked my friend Steven yesterday if, as a die-hard Bears fan for thirty-five years of my life, as a Bears fan who lived through the agony of a thousand awful quarterbacks (from Bob Avellini to Chad Hutchinson), as a Bears fan who still carries the great memories of Walter Payton, of the glory days of Mike Ditka, and the immortal 1985 Super Bowl team, if I could go against all of that and pick against my beloved Bears on Sunday.

Sadly, the answer to that is yes.

I have to go on record (yet again) that, on the subject of the 2010 Chicago Bears, I couldn’t have been more off on my predictions if I had tried to be.  I (and many others) thought this season was going to be a debacle of epic proportions, while the Bears have instead come together as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  I thought that Jay Cutler would be a disaster this season under center, while instead he put up one of the finest performances of his young career last weekend at Soldier Field against the Seahawks.  I thought that the coaching staff — which features no less than three former head coaches under head man Lovie Smith (Mike Martz, Rod Marinelli, and Mike Tice) — was going to be hopelessly outclassed this season, while instead the Bears coaching has gotten a great effort across the board, particularly from the much-maligned Martz.

I will maintain, however, that the Bears improvement this season was due to avoiding the problems that I had harped on previously — most importantly, avoiding costly turnovers — and to a fundamental change to the way Martz ran his offense.  As I pointed out last week, the Bears prior to the bye this year were a pass-happy team that made way too many mistakes and were headed for another disappointing season.  The Bears after the bye morphed into a team with an offense that ran the ball effectively, controlled the clock, and added a great defense to boot.  That was a change that led to Chicago reaching the NFC Championship Game across from from their bitter rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

A Super Bowl win would put Rodgers in an elite class of quarterbacks -- if somehow you didn't think he was there already

Green Bay is playing their best football of the season at just the right time.  Their running game has shown a sign of life, but it’s really Aaron Rodgers’ amazing performance at quarterback that’s led the Pack to this point.  Rodgers’ talents and numbers have already made him one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (even if the general public hadn’t realized it yet), but his playoff run is setting himself up to be talked about in the same conversation those elite who wear a Super Bowl ring — think of Drew Brees at this point the same time last year as a relative example.   What’s worth noting is that, as great a career as he had, Brett Favre won a lone Super Bowl in his time with Green Bay (and in the NFL) — Rodgers can equal that total in just a few short weeks.

Much like the game in the AFC, the NFC Championship clash features two teams with a lot of the same characteristics.  There will be some great defense played from these two teams, and much like their game in Green Bay at season’s end, I don’t think there will be a lot of points scored at Solider Field on Sunday.  As is usually the case in games like these, the winner and the loser will likely be separated by turnovers and mistakes — the winner will avoid them.  That’s where the quarterbacks come in, and like in the AFC, that’s where I think the game will be decided.

Cutler was magnificent in his first playoff start last week — but these aren’t the Seahawks he’s facing this week.  Only four teams gave up fewer yards and three teams fewer touchdown passes than did the Packers, and only one team had more interceptions than Green Bay’s defense did.  As good as Cutler has been most of the time this season, he’s still had ugly moments — and while Martz has had his worst tendencies kept in check, he still is capable of producing some true head-scratchers (like his call for an option throw by Matt Forte that we saw last week with the Bears winning 28-3 — a bone-headed might have led to a comeback if a better team had been on the field against them).

As a Bears fan, what I’m deathly afraid of is exactly those moments rearing their ugly head up on Sunday — and while the optimist in me wants to believe in the Bears winning, the realist in me is sees at least one play where Cutler makes a terrible decision or Martz makes a terrible call.  As evenly as these two teams may be matched, that one play is likely all the Packers are going to need in order to meet the Steelers in the Super Bowl — as much as it pains me to say that.  On the bright side, if I’m wrong, I’m perfectly okay with that.

Quick Thoughts On The Rest Of The NFL Weekend That Was

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2011 by thelasthonestman

Time is short today, so I’ll give some brief thoughts on the rest of the games we saw in Week 2 of the NFL Playoffs — my take on the Jets win over New England is already posted here.

Jay Cutler has plenty of reason to look happy -- his team is one win away from the Super Bowl

— The biggest news (for me at least) on Sunday was the Bears’ dominant victory over Seattle.  While Pete Carroll’s team certainly quieted some of the outrage over their appearance in the playoffs with their victory over the Saints, they were never a real threat to go any further than they did — and thankfully for the NFL, Chicago sent them home, keeping the league from the embarrassment of seeing a team at .500 playing in the Super Bowl in Dallas.

The tone was set from the outset, first with the tremendous anthem by Jim Cornelison, and then by the wintry weather — making it a perfect football atmosphere for the playoffs.  In his first playoff game, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler made almost no mistakes (his one gaffe that could have turned the game around — a potential pick-six on the Bears second scoring drive — was dropped), and his touchdown pass to Greg Olson on Chicago’s opening drive gave his team a lead it would never relinquish.

The defense was stellar when it mattered as well.  The Bears won the way they have all the second half of the season — with solid defense and a mistake-free offense.  Their upcoming match-up against the Packers will be only the second time the two rivals have ever played in the playoffs, and it should be a classic.

The man carrying the Packers on his shoulders will try to do it again this upcoming weekend

— Speaking of the Packers, they won on Saturday with one of the best playoff performances in recent memory by their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers would misfire on only five passes in his thirty-six attempts, throwing for three touchdowns while the Packers torched the Atlanta defense for a franchise playoff record 48 points.  Atlanta could never get untracked, as their running game was non-existent (the Falcons ran for only 45 yards, 39 coming from Michael Turner), while their quarterback Matt Ryan has a miserable night, throwing two interceptions and fumbling the ball away for a third turnover.

Now one step away from the Super Bowl, the Packers — who looked like they were dead in the water after Rodgers’ injury during the team’s huge loss to the Lions in Week 14 — are favored going into their clash against the Bears.  If Rodgers continues to play at the insanely high level he reached on Saturday night, it’s going top be hard to see any team beating them.

— And finally, the Steelers finished off a remarkable comeback against the Ravens earlier on Saturday, rallying from a two touchdown deficit at the half to beat their bitter rivals yet again in the playoffs.  Early on, it looked like it would be the Ravens’ day, but Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would rally the Steelers back and send them to their 4th AFC Championship appearance in the last six seasons.

Joe Flacco couldn't deliver a win to the Baltimore faithful on Saturday

As I predicted on Friday, neither running game was able to accomplish much (the two teams combined for only 106 yards on the ground, and they averaged a putrid 2.2 yards a carry) — and it would be the performance by the quarterbacks that would be the difference.  While Big Ben would make the big plays when the Steelers needed them, his Ravens counterpart Joe Flacco struggled all day, throwing for only 125 yards and turning the ball over twice.  With the Jets upset over the Patriots, Pittsburgh now will host the AFC Title Game — and will be favored to advance to their 8th Super Bowl (which would tie them with Dallas for the most of any franchise) while looking for a 7th title.

— With my busy schedule, I likely won’t be back until Friday, when I’ll deliver my predictions for the Conference Championship Games.  Until then, have a safe week.