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Canadiens' Gallagher breaks down NFL playoffs

by Brendan Gallagher

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher showed the hockey world during "EPIX presents Road to the Winter Classic" how big of a football fan he is, and more specifically how devoted he is to the Cincinnati Bengals. With his beloved Bengals out of the NFL playoffs, Gallagher has agreed to share his thoughts and his picks on for the remaining playoff games and the Feb. 7 Super Bowl.

Gallagher’s first installment this week explains how he became a Bengals fan and how he experienced their gut-wrenching loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday.

When I first started getting into the NFL it was Chad Johnson's breakout year. He was taking the league by storm with his touchdown celebrations, and as a young kid I thought they were pretty funny to watch. I kind of enjoyed the fact when I was younger that no one else cheered for the Bengals so I picked them as my team and I've stuck with them ever since. I just love them more and more as the years go on.

That's what made the Bengals' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL playoffs last week so devastating.

I was on the ice playing against, coincidentally, the Pittsburgh Penguins when the game started. But I got home for the second half. The Bengals were losing 15-0 when I got home. We had already lost 3-1 that night so I wasn't feeling great about things. But then the Bengals started playing well all of a sudden and I was thinking there's still time for them to do this. Then they kicked a field goal and I was mad. But it turned out to be a good play. Well, sort of a good play.

Then the touchdown to wide receiver A.J. Green happens, the Bengals are up 16-15, and I'm celebrating. I'm texting everyone, all the Steelers fans I know. I got a little cocky. Then the Bengals get an interception.

They win. The game's over. They're going to run down the clock and they're going to kick a field goal. The Steelers were going to get the ball back with about 30 seconds left and have to go score a touchdown. It's not going to happen.

Then the mistakes started piling up.

But before that I want to talk about the hit. That game got out of control because of the hit on Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. You could just see it from the Bengals players. We've been in that situation. I remember when forward Lars Eller was hit in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Ottawa Senators. As a teammate the things that go through your mind can be hard to control. You say to keep your emotions in check but it's so hard to deal with. So part of me can kind of understand.

But once Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict made the interception and the coaches told him four or five times to slow down, you can't take the penalty he did.

Still, as a Bengals fan I kind of knew it was coming. I told my dad they should get Burfict off the field because he's going to do something crazy. And he did.

Then it was time for the mistakes. They were still OK after the fumble, same position they were in before. But then they had them in a fourth-and-three, and for some reason they only rushed two guys and sat back and gave them an easy completion. I didn't agree with that. Try to win the game and stop them.

Then the 15-yard penalty to Burfict. I'll say it was a good call because it was. But the call on cornerback Pacman Jones, there's no way a coach should be in that position where he's egging on a player. I didn't agree with the 15-yard penalty. And if you are going to call a rinky-dink penalty, call it on the other coach as well so it evens up.

Then I'm thinking maybe he'll miss the field goal. But of course the Bengals lose in a way only the Cincinnati Bengals can lose a football game.

And it was devastating.

Did I sleep that night? No. And honestly, for the first time in my life I felt like I couldn't be a fan of this team anymore. But then I came to my senses about an hour later. I've been through so much as a Bengals fan, this has to be rock bottom. It can’t be any worse. I can't feel any more pain than I felt that day.

I'm sticking with my boys. I had an hour there where I was a little weak; they hurt me bad. But I got back on board and I'm looking forward to next year.

But in the meantime I'm going to tell you who I'm picking to advance in the NFL playoffs this weekend. I took so much pride in my fantasy football team and I've watched the experts talk so much about football that I feel like I have the knowledge that they have. Obviously you can be the judge of that.

I don't know if it’s cockiness or confidence, but I feel like I can do this.

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

Gally's pick: Patriots

Kansas City is arguably the hottest team in the league entering this game but I think their magical run ends in New England. With the combination of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick and playing at Gillette Stadium, you just don't pick against them. Add to that the fact that wide receiver Julian Edelman is returning for this game, and I see the Patriots moving on to the AFC Championship Game.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

Gally's pick: Broncos

Pittsburgh embarrassed the Denver defense in the second half of their earlier meeting this season, but the Steelers are coming into this game with a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and with wide receiver Antonio Brown questionable on an offense that already is hurting without running back Le'Veon Bell. All three of those players were injured by Burfict. And although the Steelers probably beat the Bengals last week because of Burfict, I also think those injuries will be the reason the Broncos move on with a healthy Peyton Manning at quarterback. Denver's defense will be much better prepared after already playing the Steelers earlier this season. And in what could be Manning's last NFL season, I think he's destined to go head-to-head with Brady once more in the AFC Championship Game. Denver wants New England!

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

Gally's pick: Cardinals

Although Green Bay looked much better last week than they did at the end of the regular season, I still think they have too many holes on both sides of the ball to win a game in Arizona. The Cardinals do everything well. And even with some key injuries this year it hasn't slowed them down. Arizona beat Green Bay easily in their earlier game this season when Cardinals running back David Johnson had his way with the Packers, and I expect nothing to change this week. Although I'm sure quarterback Aaron Rodgers will find a way to make it entertaining, Arizona wins and moves on to the NFC Championship Game.

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Gally's pick: Panthers

These two teams played earlier this season and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton played the hero, driving his team down the field for a game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds left. Seattle has been a powerhouse in the NFC the past few seasons, including back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. But I think their run ends Sunday. With both teams being very similar with outstanding defenses and quarterbacks that can hurt you with their arm and their legs, I think the fact this game is being played outside of Seattle makes all the difference: Newton continues his dominant season and knocks off quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

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