1. Just because the Pittsburgh Steelers have home field in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game game against the New York Jets doesn't mean they have an advantage. For starters, the Jets went into Pittsburgh and won 22-17 on Dec. 19 in a game that went down to the last play. Secondly, road teams are 5-3 in these upside-down playoffs, and the Packers — seeded sixth, like the Jets — have a great shot to win at Chicago for the NFC title as well.
2. There’s also the Steelers’ underwhelming home history in AFC title games in the post-Terry Bradshaw era. Since 1980, they are 3-5 when playing for the AFC title, including 2-4 in the Steel City. That includes home losses in 1994 (Chargers), 1997 (Broncos), 2001 (Patriots) and 2004 (Patriots again). The two wins came in 1995 over the Colts, when Jim Harbaugh nearly pulled it out on the game’s final fling; and 2008, a 23-14 win over the Ravens in a brutally violent game. So, yeah, at this point (gulp) I like the Jets to finish off an impressive triple and knock out Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in successive weeks.
3. Heading up to Orlando this morning for two days of East-West Shrine Game workouts. Check back frequently in this space the next couple of days for updates. This game always takes a back seat to the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29, but there’s plenty of talent to go around.Take a look at the rosters, and you’ll see North Carolina DT Marvin Austin (one of several Tar Heels suspended last season); Penn State RB Evan Royster, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher; Idaho QB Nathan Enderle (6-5, 233 pounds);. Delaware QB Pat Devlin; and plenty of other potential draft picks. Send me your personal watch list and especially which players you would like to see me interview on camera, and I’ll do my best to put them here on Season Ticket. Locally, the East-West game will include University of Miami RB Graig Cooper and CB Demarcus Van Dyke; Florida Atlantic WR Lester Jean; and St. Thomas product Wes Byrum, who kicked Auburn to the national championship last Monday night. Jean, in particular, is supposed to be a real burner who fell 12 yards shy of 1,000 yards in an eight-TD senior season. Looking forward to watching him and seeing how that speed plays against better competition.
4. Being captain means more than wearing a big “C” on your sweater. In hockey, at least for Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe, it meant playing the final 2 1/2 periods on Saturday with not just a broken finger but a broken jaw and several facial bones. McCabe suffered the injury when a puck bounced off his face during the Panthers’ 3-2 win over the Devils. He finished with 21 shifts and more than 16 minutes of playing time and is expected to miss at least two weeks following surgery. One of seven Panthers with expiring contracts, McCabe presented team officials with a strong argument as to why he should be retained. Said Panthers coach Pete DeBoer: “He wants to lead this team to where it needs to go and is willing to do whatever it takes.” Apparently so.
5. Someone please stop Evander Holyfield before he hurts somebody. You know, like himself? The washed-up champ has been licensed to fight in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where he will face Sherman Williams (not the former Cowboys running back) on Saturday night in a pay-per-view exploitation, er, event. The Real (Sad) Deal is 43-10-2 for his career and seems bent on continuing to fight until he runs out of greedy states that will grant him approval. Doesn’t mean we have to watch.