Of the eight teams that won division titles….only five remain. And four of those haven’t played a game yet.
For the first time in NFL history…an 8-8 team won a playoff game. UH…make that TWO 8-8 teams that won playoff games.
And of all the nice things we seen this weekend....four teams....the Eagles, Falcons, Steelers and Patriots....all sat at home, watched the games while resting up. And that is big. Of the last 28 teams that had a first round bye....22 of them went on to win and advance to the conference finals. Mind you, though...of the 6 teams that pulled upsets in this round....two happened last year. The Carolina Panthers [in St. Louis] and Indianapolis Colts [in KC]. And FOUR of those 6 teams went on to the Super Bowl ['97 Broncos, '99 Titans, '00 Ravens, '03 Panthers] with the Ravens and Broncos winning the thing.
So let’s see what the 2004 DIVISION ROUND has in store, eh?
JETS AT STEELERS
The Jets went into San Diego and stunned the Chargers on Saturday. So why not go into Pittsburgh and do the same?? Well, the Steelers are a tad different team. They are balanced as a team. They play well on run and pass defense. On offense, they have a very solid ground game and passing attack. So how do you beat them?? Put pressure on Big Ben, who is making his first ever playoff start. Force him to make mistakes…something he has done well this season limiting. Also, the Jets must be able to move the ball themselves and not get far behind. If Pennington has to win the game with his arm….the Steelers have them right where they want him. That is a lot the Jets must do to stay alive in the playoffs. All Pittsburgh must do is just be themselves. Steelers 20-13.
RAMS AT FALCONS
Interesting game. The Rams are as dangerous as any team left…since they have no conscience offensively. They are much more advanced offensively than Atlanta….and should be able to do some things against that defense. BUT, Jim Mora saw a lot of this Rams offense when he was a coordinator in San Francisco. So if there is anyone qualified to deal with this….it is him. There is no way to plan for Michael Vick…and the Rams defense will have a problem dealing with him. So…the key to this game is who can put pressure on the QB. Can the Rams force Mike Vick to hurry his passes, yet limit his rushing yards? Can the Falcons disrupt Marc Bulger and the Rams timing? The Falcons Rod Coleman, to me, will have a big game and you’ll hear his name a lot on Saturday. And Bulger will be seeing him in his sleep. Falcons 23-14
VIKINGS AT EAGLES
These two teams met early in the season on a Monday night game. In a star studded affair…the Eagles escaped with the win. This game has a lot of interesting questions around it. Can the Vikings repeat their performance from Green Bay?? Or will they revert back to the team that lost to Washington? How will the Eagles respond in the first game that has meant something to them in over a month? I mean, they haven’t played a tough game that they needed to win since Week 9...and they were blown out in Pittsburgh. So…my prediction. Picking the Vikings to win intrigues me…who but Westbrook can score for Philly….but I just think that Eagles defense is too strong for them. They have the best secondary in the NFL…and can hold their own against Moss, Robinson, Burleson and company. They can put pressure on Culpepper and force him to make hurried throws. Eagles get to their fourth straight NFC title game…17-10
COLTS AT PATRIOTS
The game of the week has to be in Foxboro. The defending champions hosting the hottest offense and the hottest player in the league. It is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game…and arematch of the season’s kickoff game in Week 1. In that game…the Colts played much better, but turned the ball over often, in the red zone, and late in the game. And Mike Vanderjagt missed a FG for the first time in over a year in that game. The biggest keys to this game will be (A) the Patriots patchwork secondary against a Colts receiving corps that has 5-6 guys that can light them up. The Pats won’t have Ty Law…who picked off Manning three times in last years title game. The Pats have been plugging the hole with Troy Brown…but he’s no match for Brendan Stokley, Reggie Wayne…or even the TE Pollard and Clark. The second key (B) will be if the Colts, whose defense has played better of late, can control Corey Dillon and Tom Brady. True, the Pats offense isn’t designed to blow people out of the water….they can put up some points. To me….the (A) factor is too much for the Pats. As much as I respect what New England has done this year…that secondary is too banged up. And what clinches it for me was watching AJ Feely and the horrible Dolphins ability to pass on them a few weeks back. If they can do that…then what can Manning do against them?? Colts 31-21