The season is over and after 17 long weeks of the best football on earth, the finalists for this year's NFL Championship have been determined!
As you all know, the teams playing in the Super Bowl are determined by the National Football League Championship Series (NFLCS), widely praised by the NFL as the best way to decide the league champion. The NFLCS uses several factors -- win-loss record, two polls and three computer indexes -- to determine the ten best teams in the NFL. The top two teams proceed directly to the Super Bowl, while the other eight play in the four NFLCS Bowl Games. Only division winners are eligible for the NFLCS, along with second place teams with 10 or more wins and Notre Dame.
Now, there's nothing more exciting than learning who will be playing for the Lombardi Trophy, so let's get started with the NFLCS bowls and work our way up to the Super Bowl!
Iron Bowl, Cleveland, Ohio
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Miami Dolphins
Even though the Steelers are hated in Cleveland, their fans "travel well" so the Iron Bowl couldn't help but invite them. They get a great matchup between two former MAC quarterbacks in Roethlisberger and Pennington. Let's hope there's some classic Cleveland weather for a real old-style game!
Under Armour Capitol Bowl, Washington DC
Baltimore Ravens vs Minnesota Vikings
Another homer pick was announced by the Capitol Bowl, who will see a huge crowd of local Ravens fans. The uninspiring Vikings provide the opposition, as the Bowl Committee didn't want to have a re-match featuring the Patriots. That wouldn't sell tickets!
Lone Star Bowl, Dallas, Texas
Arizona Cardinals vs San Diego Chargers
Gun slinging Kurt Warner and the Cardinals head down to Texas to take on the Chargers, who barely qualified for the NFLCS with a Week 17 win against Denver. NFLCS-eligible Atlanta and Indianapolis are pretty angry that they get the shaft while the 9-7 Chargers play for the big money.
EA Sports Madden 2009 Sunset Bowl, Los Angeles, California
New York Giants vs New England Patriots
Wow, what a surprise this is! The defending Super Bowl champion Giants have a 12-4 record and have been playing as well as any team in the league. They don't make the cut for the Super Bowl though as they finish with only the third-best NFLCS rating. We'll get into the details of how that happened coming up but it's likely their last-second loss against the Vikings coupled with that last-second Panthers win swayed more than a few poll voters!
Not only aren't the boys in blue playing for the title, but they have to face the 11-5 Patriots led by surprise QB Matt Cassel. It's a do-over of last year's amazing Super Bowl XLII and a great matchup for the Sunset Bowl. It's a chance for two great teams to finish the season on a high note and who couldn't be happy about that?
Super Bowl XLIII, Tampa, Florida
Tennessee Titans vs Carolina Panthers
The Titans sport the best record in the league at 13-3, so there's no surprise that they've been selected for the Big Game -- even with their miserable performance against the Colts on Sunday. The big story is the Carolina Panthers. They sport a great 12-4 record (just like the Giants) but everybody is talking about how the Giants BEAT the Panthers just a few weeks ago. Doesn't that make it obvious that the Giants are better than the Carolina? Not according to the NFLCS! Take a look at how the scores for the Panthers and Giants worked out:
|Win/Loss||AP Sportswriter Poll||USA Today Coaches Poll||ESPN "Swami" Index||CNN/SI Peter King Index||FoxSports "Howie's Heroes" Index||Total|
Could it be much closer? And hey, what's up with Peter King's rating on the Giants? Still upset about the Patriots losing out on 19-0, huh Peter? Those grumpy New Yorkers may complain, but that's the way it goes in the NFL. If you don't like the NFLCS, too bad!
So let's get ready for the Titans and Panthers for the NFL Championship in Super Bowl XLIII. We'll have a football champion determined the way they should be: on the field!