The NFL playoffs are all about matchups, especially when no dominant team exits.
If the Steelers get the right opponent for their divisional-round game next Sunday, they could be on the correct path toward the Super Bowl.
If they end up with a team that matches up well with them, they could face a second straight season of one-and-done.
The Steelers are playing at the same level as the best teams in the NFL, so they are a legitimate championship contender. However, the defending champion New York Giants would have to be the top overall favorite heading into the playoffs.
Here's a stab at how the playoffs may unfold:
Wild-card weekend: The four road teams all have good chances of winning.
In the AFC, the most intriguing game is Indianapolis at San Diego, since both teams were considered nearly eliminated at various times this season. They're both on a roll, but San Diego is the pick due to an overall talent edge.
In the other AFC game, Baltimore should get past Miami in a low-scoring contest.
In the NFC, Arizona is good at home and should be able to edge the favored Falcons. Philadelphia may be the second-most complete team in the playoffs, next to the Giants, and will knock off the Vikings in Minnesota.
Divisional-round weekend: In this scenario, the Steelers would face the Chargers in a rematch of the infamous 11-10 game. The Steelers should have won that game by a wider margin and will take care of business this time.
Baltimore and Tennessee would also meet in a rematch. Look for Tennessee to create some turnovers and advance to the AFC Championship.
In the NFC, the Eagles and Giants would meet in a rubber match. The Giants are the pick because they've been more consistent.
The Cardinals and Panthers would square off in the other NFC semifinal, and even though the Cardinals are not a good road team, we cannot pick all four home teams this round. The Cardinals have the talent to pull off the upset.
Championship weekend: The Cardinals-Giants game would be a no-brainer with New York advancing to the Super Bowl again.
In the AFC, the Steelers would avenge their regular-season loss to the Titans.
Super Bowl: It says here the Steelers should beat just about any team in the playoff field, except the Ravens, Giants and Eagles. Those are the teams they should hope to avoid.
In this scenario, the Giants, with their pounding running game, efficient passing game and pressuring defense, would repeat as champs.
The Steelers will host the Titans in the regular season in 2009 and travel to Miami.
It was assumed the Steelers would not play the AFC East champ on the road in two straight years, but that assumption was wrong.
The NFL schedule, even with its standardized format, still contains quirks.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.