As if the excitement of the divisional play-offs wasn't enough, a number of NFL stars took it upon themselves to raise the temperature yesterday ahead of a potentially thrilling weekend.
The Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs was perhaps the most provocative, sporting a t-shirt insulting the city of Pittsburgh, but he wasn't alone.
Suggs's t-shirt featured an image of a purple Raven saying "HEY PITTSBURGH," the middle finger of its hand raised in the time-honoured fashion. As if that wasn't enough, he went on to describe Baltimore's match against the Steelers today at Heinz Field as "World War III".
"There isn't any message," Suggs insisted about his t-shirt. "This is just, like I always say, I put on for my city. They rep their city, and I'm repping mine. So, here we go. We're looking forward to walking into Heinz Field with a certain swagger." The Ravens have never won in the play-offs at Heinz Field.
In the other fixture on the American Football League side of the draw, between New England Patriots and New York Jets, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady an "asshole" and dared the Patriots' star to make him a target when they face each other tomorrow at Foxborough, Massachusetts. Brady responded that he'd been called the same thing by his own coaches: "[Coach Bill] Belichick has called me that, our offensive coordinator has called me that," Brady said. "I know that they like me, so maybe he really likes me." Pittsburgh's Anthony Smith challenged the Patriots in a similar manner three years ago and was subsequently humiliated as Brady enjoyed a superb match.
Jets coach Rex Ryan did not exactly attempt to diffuse the situation. "You shouldn't like who you are going up against," he said. "This is the play-offs. I can tell you our whole team respects Brady and the Patriots. But hey, we don't like any of them right now."
On the other side of the draw for the National Football Conference sides, the build-up was a great deal more reserved. When the Chicago Bears face Seattle Seahawks tomorrow, running back Matt Forte, who ran for 717 yards over their final nine games, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, expects his side to change their style of play from when they lost against their opponents earlier in the season. "I don't think we have a choice," Forte said. "We can't go out and do what we did last time and throw the ball 40 or 50 times and run the ball 10 times. We have to have a balanced offence."
That win for Seattle back in October was one of the highlights of their season – as was their stunning victory over Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints last Saturday, leaving them full of confidence going into this match.
In the remaining tie of the playoffs the Green Bay Packers, who won their last three games of the regular season when one defeat would have ended it, are up against Atlanta Falcons who beat them by three points in November.
AFL Divisional Play-offs
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens @Heinz Field
Sky Sports 4, 21:30-00:30
New England Patriots v New York Jets @The Gillette Stadium
Sky Sports 2, 21:15-00.00
NFC Divisional Play-offs
Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks @Soldier Field
Sky Sports 2, 18:00-21:00
Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers @The Georgia Dome
Sky Sports 4, 01:00-04:00Reuse content