Mittwoch, Januar 07, 2009

Divisional Playoffs Preview

Nineteen points
Add up the point differential in the 2008 regular-season meetings of the teams playing in this weekend's four NFL Divisional Playoffs, and you get the grand total of -- 19 points. And that's not in four games, but five, because one of this week's matchups is a division rematch.

Think the games in 'Rematch Weekend” this Saturday and Sunday could be close? Could be!

'We're familiar with them,” says San Diego Chargers head coach NORV TURNER, 'and they're familiar with us.” Norv is speaking about the Chargers' foe this Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he could be describing the opponents in all four games this weekend.

'We know them well, which is a good thing," says New York Giants defensive end JUSTIN TUCK of the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles, who he will be facing for a third time this season. 'But they know us well, too."

Tuck summarizes the whole 'you-look-familiar” weekend, which has some great storylines:

* When Baltimore plays Tennessee, a rookie QB – the Ravens' JOE FLACCO – will go against the longest-tenured QB in the playoffs, the Titans' KERRY COLLINS (14 seasons).

* Arizona at Carolina features two former Amsterdam Admirals teammates (NFL Europe, 1998) -- the Cardinals' KURT WARNER (the Admirals' starter) and Panthers' JAKE DELHOMME (the backup).

* When the Eagles motor up the Jersey Turnpike to visit the Giants, they won't feel daunted. Philly has won five of its last eight games at Giants Stadium, including one this season.

* The last time San Diego and Pittsburgh met (this past November 16), the Associated Press' 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Steelers LB JAMES HARRISON, had four tackles, a sack, a safety and an interception for a 33-yard return.
The Divisional Playoffs Weekend:

(Saturday, CBS, 4:30 PM ET)

Turnover battle!
The takeaways could be flying in this one! Both teams excel in the category, finishing second (Tennessee, plus-14) and third (Baltimore, plus-13) this season in NFL turnover differential.

They are also quite similar on defense. Linemen who call for double-teams…quick linebackers who can rush or drop back into coverage…and ball-hawking secondaries.

The Titans' KERRY COLLINS -- who can become the first QB in history to win at least one playoff game with three different clubs (Carolina and the New York Giants) -- was intercepted only seven times this season. Problem is, he goes against a defense led by S ED REED that topped the league in pickoffs with 26. The Ravens added four more in the Wild Card, with Reed snatching two (one for a TD) to give him two apiece in five of his last seven games.


SIXTH SEEDS ADVANCE: The triumphs last Sunday by sixth-seeded Baltimore and Philadelphia in the Wild Card round mark the second time in four years that both sixth seeds won in the first round. In 2005, sixth seeds Pittsburgh and Washington won, with the Steelers going on to win Super Bowl XL.

But it certainly won't be all defense. Each team packs a wallop of a running game. Rookie CHRIS JOHNSON teams up with LEN DALE WHITE (15 rushing TDs) for Tennessee and Baltimore brings it with the FB who could be a RB, 260-pound All-Star LE' RON MC CLAIN (75 yards in the Wild Card), rookie RAY RICE and veteran WILLIS MC GAHEE.

(Saturday, FOX, 8:15 PM ET)

A clash of philosophies.
And the more conservative one won last time – barely.
Give the Cardinals a choice and they'd rather throw the ball. 'We've been successful throwing the football all over the field this year," says Arizona QB KURT WARNER, who led the league's No. 2 passing game.

The 8-0-at-home Panthers? They like running the ball. And they've been successful doing that, ranking No. 3 in the league. 'I love that we're able to run the football," says Carolina QB JAKE DELHOMME, who is 5-2 in the playoffs.

How will it all play out? Well, the last time the teams met (October 26), Carolina RB DE ANGELO WILLIAMS indeed ran for 108 yards, but Delhomme rallied the Panthers from a 17-3 deficit while throwing for 248 yards and two TDs with the winner coming on a 65-yarder to WR STEVE SMITH. The Panthers did it through the air.

On Saturday, who knows? One thing to look for, though. The 'pass-first” Cards also have been utilizing their ground game to good effect recently in the person of veteran EDGERRIN JAMES (173 yards in the last two games).
(Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)

Where else -- the NFC East!
It seems fitting that the Giants would have to begin their '08 playoff journey against one of the toughest divisions in the league – their own.

The champs lost only two division games this year – one to the Eagles (20-14 on December 7 at Giants Stadium). And it was a game that somewhat matched Philadelphia's Wild Card win last Sunday with an approach the Giants will key for.

On Sunday, Eagles RB BRIAN WESTBROOK tied for the second-longest scoring play of the weekend when he caught an outlet pass and took it 71 yards for the icing touchdown against Minnesota. In the December 7 game, Westbrook had a 30-yard TD run and a 40-yard score off a swing pass similar to Sunday's. 'He's an elite player," says Giants LB ANTONIO PIERCE. 'You have to know where he is."

Of course, the Giants are far from lacking in the run game that may be needed on a cold January Sunday. They led the league in rushing with BRANDON JACOBS and DERRICK WARD each reaching 1,000 yards – only the fourth RB duo in history to do so. If Jacobs (knee) is limited, Ward can more than take up the slack (356 yards in his last three games).

(Sunday, CBS, 4:45 PM ET)
Out of the ice, into the cold.
And the Chargers hope he stays hot. 'He” is RB DARREN SPROLES, who last week for an injured LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON produced the third-most combined yards ever in a playoff game -- 328 -- including the winning 22-yard TD romp in overtime. 'We'll pack him in ice in the training room," kidded Chargers coach NORV TURNER of the exhausted Sproles, who had 34 touches in the Wild Card on rushes, receptions, and punt/kickoff returns. 'We'll let him out Friday."

Just in time for more cold! And just in time for the defense that allowed the fewest points in the league (223) and ranked No. 1 in overall and pass defense. Pittsburgh did not allow a 100-yard rusher or 300-yard passer this season, let only one team (Tennessee) gain 300 yards and limited eight of its opponents to 10 or fewer points.

'I think definitely through 17 games that's the toughest defense we faced," says San Diego's PHILIP RIVERS, the lone QB to post a 100.0 passer rating this season (105.5), but who had his lowest of the year (44.4) against Pittsburgh when the Chargers lost to them 11-10 on November 16.

Rivers (No. 4 overall) will join the Steelers' BEN ROETHLISBERGER (No. 11) and Giants' ELI MANNING (No. 1) as the top three quarterback picks in the 2004 NFL Draft who will be active Sunday. Between them, they have two Super Bowl titles, four Championship Game appearances, and a 12-6 (.667) playoff record.


Saturday, January 3
Arizona 30, Atlanta 24 San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17 (OT)

Sunday, January 4
Baltimore 27, Miami 9 Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 14
Saturday, January 10
Baltimore at Tennessee
4:30 PM (CBS)
Arizona at Carolina
8:15 PM (FOX)
Sunday, January 11
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
1:00 PM (FOX)
San Diego at Pittsburgh
4:45 PM (CBS

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