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Something to anticipate now and later

Now that Ron Rivera has been given the codes to the magnetic doors at Bank of America stadium, he has brought with him something that went missing throughout the Carolina Panthers' grease fire 2-14 season.


That's almost like an extra draft pick. It may not be better than Andrew Luck but it's better than dwelling on last season. Then again, an ingrown toenail is better than last season.

Now there are coordinators to hire, potential No.1 picks to evaluate and time to stare at Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair while he explains the difference between Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker.

There's something to look forward beyond this weekend's games.

BALTIMORE at PITTSBURGH: This one should be as subtle as a pipe wrench to the knees.

It has more macho packed into one game than you get in a 12-pack of pickup truck commercials.

The Ravens are the epitome of tough, which makes them hard to beat but occasionally difficult to watch. They hang around like snow piles in the shade, which comes in handy this time of year.

The Steelers, meanwhile, are a January institution. They don't win with style, just with substance. That's enough. Steelers 16, Ravens 13.

GREEN BAY at ATLANTA: Like our fair city, not-so-Hotlanta spent the first half of this week dealing with snow, ice and how to keep the kids occupied while they were out of school. That once-a-winter storm probably produced some chuckles in the land of the cheeseheads, where it looked like just another Tuesday.

Scrape away the lingering icicles and this game has an interesting look. The Falcons are the No.1 seed and have been tougher at home than a North Korean dictator.

The Packers, though, are the trendy pick to play their way into the Super Bowl. This is the time of year when every Monday morning quarterback likes to say I told you so and the Packers are their team of choice. That's one way to look at it. Falcons 27, Packers 24.

SEATTLE at CHICAGO: It was a nice story last weekend when the Seadogs, uh, Seahawks listened to all that noise about how they didn't belong in the playoffs then sent the Saints back to their beignets.

Now they're a win away from possibly hosting the NFC championship game. It's true. If the Seadogs, uh, Seahawks win and the Packers win in the ATL, the title game will be played in the Emerald City. Mr. Peppers will make sure that doesn't happen. Bears 27, Seahawks 13.

NEW YORK JETS at NEW ENGLAND: This one may get uglier than Oregon's football uniforms. The Jets are chirping like an over-caffeinated parakeet, pointing fingers at Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for pointing fingers at them during New England's 45-3 laugher in the regular season.

It's one thing when Jets coach Rex Ryan starts taking little digs at Bill Belichick and Brady, but it's something else when someone named Warren Cromartie starts salty talking Tom Terrific like he did this week. Tugging on Superman's cape has never been a good idea.

The Jets are feisty. That's a good thing. The Patriots are the best team in the NFL. That's a better thing. Patriots 31, Jets 21.

Playoff record; 3-1