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From the Catbird Seat... Until someone gets hurt...

For those of us scratching our heads at the thought of the phrase "NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals," rest easy. You're in good company. Just a few weeks ago, when the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl was being dismantled - not just beaten, m...

For those of us scratching our heads at the thought of the phrase "NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals," rest easy. You're in good company.

Just a few weeks ago, when the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl was being dismantled - not just beaten, mind you, but dismantled by the Minnesota Vikings, what was going through your mind?

Be honest. What I was thinking was simple: Let's get these guys in the playoffs.

Yet, after those playoffs were concluded, after the Vikings had their predictable one-and-done, and after the real teams moved on, who were the last men standing? Yes, the Arizona Cardinals. Mind-boggling, yes, but there you have it. Proof positive that football can be a mind-boggling game.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Baltimore were playing for the right to become Super Bowl favorites over at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won, as expected, and as a result most books have them the early six-and-a-half-point picks to win for former Viking assistant Mike Tomlin.

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At the moment, I see that happening, and I also see Pittsburgh covering that spread. However, the Cardinals' success - and the success of teams like the Atlanta Falcons this season - shows one of the truths of the modern NFL: dramatic, transforming success can in fact happen on an expedited basis. That is to say, immediate turnarounds are possible.

So, how about one from the Vikings? Fans have waited an awful long time.

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However, it was the Steelers game had the play that everyone's talking about - where Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark sent Baltimore's Willis McGahee to the hospital. Frankly, McGahee was lucky he didn't wind up in a wheelchair.

If you haven't seen the hit, head on over to nfl.com and check it out - but be warned, it's not for the squeamish. Despite CBS commentator Phil Simms' claims to the contrary, Clark's hit on McGahee was helmet-to-helmet. And that's the kind of hit, if it's made on a quarterback, that gets defensive players thrown into NFL suspension purgatory.

The rule book says helmet-to-helmet contact is legal as long as it's against a ball carrier. Frankly, that's a rule that needs to be changed. With the size, speed and strength of today's players, helmet-to-helmet contact - at all levels - should be severely penalized.

McGahee was released from the hospital after the game, but anyone who saw that hit - which appears to have been everyone except McGahee judging by the replay - knows that both players are lucky that no life-changing injuries were incurred.

Commentators have talked all season about how the hits in the NFL seem to be getting more and more violent. Well, there's an element of truth to that. The NFL is a violent league playing a violent game.

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Yet hits like Clark's on McGahee should send a warning. From the looks of it, the hit didn't appear to be deliberate, which is a good thing, but it was helmet-to-helmet nonetheless. And at that speed, it made the play extremely dangerous.

The powers that be need to take a look at plays such as Sunday's and make a decision that benefits the players. The players' union ought to do the same thing, in the interest of protecting the health and welfare of its members.

Football fans like hitting, but deep down, we don't like to see people leaving the field on carts with their heads taped to backboards. That shouldn't be part of the game.

Yet, without a rules change, that's what we're likely to see more of as time passes. The NFL shouldn't encourage that kind of play. Stop it now, before it's too late.

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