Welcome to The Pulse, the place to find out what the sports world is thinking. Every day on ESPN.com, SportsNation registers its opinion on a wide range of topics by casting votes and chatting with experts in The Show. We collect the daily highlights and put them in The Pulse.
Story of the Day: SportsNation's Super Pick
Bill Cowher doesn't seem like the kind of guy to kick back with a copy of Jack Kerouac, but Cowher's Steelers are churning out masterpieces on the road these days.
Sunday's visit to Denver for the AFC Championship Game will be Pittsburgh's fifth road game in the last six weeks. But all those frequent-flyer miles aren't enough to keep SportsNation from installing the Steelers as the favorites to win Super Bowl XL in Detroit (where they would be looking for just their second win in a dome since 1996).
So what has voters so confident about Pittsburgh's potential to become the first No. 6 seed to win a Super Bowl? The stingy defense and powerful running game are obvious choices, but don't discount the faith people have in Ben Roethlisberger. Despite Jake Delhomme's Super Bowl experience and the regular-season success of both Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Plummer, it's Roethlisberger who earns top marks among quarterbacks from SportsNation voters.
Which team will win Super Bowl XL? (112,184 votes)
34.1% Pittsburgh Steelers
22.4% Denver Broncos
21.9% Carolina Panthers
21.4% Seattle Seahawks
Which team impressed you most in winning its divisional-round game? (102,296 votes)
64.0% Pittsburgh Steelers
15.6% Carolina Panthers
13.9% Denver Broncos
6.4% Seattle Seahawks
Who is the best quarterback left in the playoffs? (86,001 votes)
35.2% Ben Roethlisberger
27.7% Jake Delhomme
23.2% Matt Hasselbeck
13.7% Jake Plummer
Which conference title game will be more competitive? (9,130 votes)
75.0% Pittsburgh at Denver
24.9% Carolina at Seattle
Voice of the Fan
The Steelers were 15-1 last year and thought to have been the best before losing in the playoffs. They had injuries this year and got healthy at playoff time. They have a strong running game, strong offensive and defensive lines. They are clearly the best team now, in my opinion.
The NFL admitted the referee in the Steelers-Colts game blew the call in reversing Troy Polamalu's interception, but will Joey Porter take a hit for speaking the truth? Nearly 58% of voters think Porter shouldn't be punished for blasting the call, but it remains to be seen if Paul Tagliabue will agree.Vote!
"Joey Porter has a big mouth, but he's right. You can't fine him if the league has already said that the refs screwed up on Polamalu's pick."
Scott (Watertown, Mass.) in the Quickie chat
I'm taking the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are balanced and I'll take Big Ben over Plummer. Their defense was on fire Sunday. The only concern is a letdown against the Broncos, but come on, Jake Plummer? And the NFC won't win anything.
As insufferable as they are off the field, the Steelers look nasty right now on it. The defense is reducing opposing offenses to rec-league squads, and Big Ben is getting plenty of points on the board. They've got the talent, along with the most fire of any team still left.
In the AFC, it's gotta be Pittsburgh. Denver would have lost last weekend if not for the five turnovers. On the NFC side, I'm guessing the Panthers will win because the Seahawks will give up roughly 3,900 yards to Steve Smith. In the Super Bowl, the Steelers double-cover Steve Smith and blitz Delhomme into the ground. So I think the Steelers have the best chance right now of winning it all.
Matt (Washington, D.C.)
Carolina has the experienced quarterback and the Panthers have the ability to use the short passing game as a run game just as effectively as DeShaun Foster or Stephen Davis could. And they have Steve Smith.
Collin (Framingham, Mass.)
I'll say the Panthers, unless some other team is willing to put four guys on Steve Smith.
SportsNation's Show: Expert Opinions
Steelerfan (Ft. Polk, La.): It is looking like Jerome Bettis will retire, and it seems as if the Steelers will part ways with Duce Staley. Do you think the Dteelers would try and get LenDale White or DeAngelo Williams?
Len Pasquarelli: From what I've seen of White, he looks like a great fit for the Steelers offense. But there is probably no way he or Williams will be available when they pick. It looks like Duce will have to rework his contract to come back in '06.
Eliseo (Los Lunas, N.M.): Do you feel that Duce can flourish in a role like Bettis next year?
Len Pasquarelli: Sure, if he could stay healthy. I think I've mentioned this in past chats, but there are a lot of Steelers players who feel Staley is the team's most talented runner, but he's too often nicked.
Josh (North Carolina): What are the chances Super Bowl XL becomes the wild-card Super Bowl with the Steelers and Panthers playing each other?
Chris Neubauer (Pro Football Weekly): Chances are good for a Pittsburgh-Carolina Super Bowl. I picked Carolina to make the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season, so I will stick with them again this weekend. They are white-hot right now. The Steelers are also a hot team at the moment, and I pick them to beat the Broncos. Momentum is so underrated when teams get to the playoffs. Pittsburgh and Carolina have the most right now.
More SportsNation: Manning and Marino
We just saw that SportsNation voters are big fans of Roethlisberger, but before Sunday's win in Indianapolis, would 61 percent of voters have said he'd win more career titles than Peyton Manning?
Days after yet another postseason collapse from the Colts, SportsNation is seeing a lot more Dan Marino than John Elway for Manning. In fact, less than 40 percent of voters think Manning will ever win a Super Bowl with the Colts.
So what kind of chance will Manning and the Colts have next season? It may depend on how they handle some key free agents and a coach coming off a year filled with disappointment on the field and tragedy off the field. For now, only 35 percent of voters expect Dungy, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne to all return next season.
Who will win more Super Bowl titles in his career? (16,787 votes)
61.2% Ben Roethlisberger
38.7% Peyton Manning
Will Peyton Manning win a Super Bowl with the Colts? (11,498 votes)
Who is least likely to return for the Colts next season? (20,122 votes)
35.2% All three will return
33.1% Edgerrin James
22.2% Reggie Wayne
9.3% Tony Dungy
Voice of the Fan
Unlike Manning, neither Marino nor Elway had that great of a running back at this point in their careers. When Elway got a great back, he won two titles.
At least the Patriots have three Super Bowl rings to help take the sting off Saturday's ugly loss in Denver. But 54% of SportsNation voters say the game is the end of the line for Brady and Belichick's dynasty.Vote!
Someone was saying yesterday that Marino didn't have the weapons that Manning had, and I agree. Look, "Longneck" is a choker. He never won the big game in college (0-4 against the Gators) and he hasn't won anything in the pros.
This year was really his best shot. If he couldn't do it with this team, and not having to go through the Patriots, boy, I guess those comparisons to Marino are pretty accurate.
At this point, the heat was a little worse for Elway (who lost a few Super Bowls) and a little less for Marino (who hadn't had a dominant team like this year's Colts).
Tom (Parkville, Md.)
Elway and Marino played well in their losses, I think. Manning has been pitiful in some of his playoff losses. He looked terrible in the first half Sunday, and the Colts couldn't move the ball until the started using Edgerrin James.
SportsNation's Show: Expert Opinions
Sean (Richmond, Va.): Will the Colts be able to bring back Freeney, James, and Wayne this offseason since they are all big-time FA's and will command big money and could wind up with virtually any team?
Len Pasquarelli: I don't know why everyone keeps referring to Freeney as a free agent, because he's not. His contract runs through '06. I keep hearing Wayne would like to come back. As for "Edge," who knows? If the Colts use the "franchise" tag on him again, it would cost about $11M. But they're not the same team without him, and the people who feel they can just plug in a guy like Dominic Rhodes are mistaken.