The NFL playoffs, the best postseason in sports, get under way this weekend. Here's a quick look at the four games.
Here are two teams few expected to be playing at this stage of the season. The Cardinals won the weak NFC West to earn the fourth seed, while the Falcons are the No. 5 seed.
This appears to be a study of contrasts. It's the power-running, throw-over-the-top Falcons against the wide-open throwing attack of the Cardinals.
The Eagles' playoff hopes were long, but they found a way. They head to Minnesota looking like a team getting on a bit of a roll.
The Vikings have a mediocre passing game and seeing Tarvaris Jackson matched against that Jim Johnson defense doesn't appear to be a good one for the Vikings.
I'll take Donovan McNabb over Jackson in this game. The Eagles, with all their playoff experience, might be dangerous the next few weeks. They've already defeated the Giants in New York, so there is no fear there if they beat the Vikings and move on to play the Giants.
What about the Dolphins? From 1-15 to a division title is simply amazing.
They play hard and they play tough. But are they good enough to beat a Baltimore team that plays defense as good as anybody?
Baltimore beat the Dolphins 27-10 in Week 7 and that was before Joe Flacco really got it going.
The Ravens were coming off a blowout loss to the Colts that day and re-grouped to beat the Dolphins. The Ravens were the first team to choke off the "Wildcat" formation, limiting Miami's running game.
If they do that again, they can go into Miami and win.
Just remember, though, they'll have a rookie quarterback starting a playoff game on the road.
Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers
This is a rematch of a game won by 23-20 by the Colts in Week 12. The Colts won it on a 51-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri on the game's final play.
That win snapped a three-game winning streak by San Diego over the Colts. That victory was one in the Colts' nine-game streak to close out the season.
San Diego won their last four to get into the playoffs, including the impressive victory over the Broncos.
With Philip Rivers matching up against Peyton Manning, this could be a high-scoring fun one to watch. The Chargers really struggle against the pass, so look for plenty of points in this prime time Saturday affair.
- All four of the road playoff teams are favored this week. Three of the four have records as good or better than the teams they will face.
- So why not have those teams playing at home? That's a pet peeve of mine. If a team has a better record in the playoffs, it should be at home for the playoffs. Take the Atlanta Falcons-Arizona Cardinals game this week. The Falcons went 11-5 in arguably the toughest division in the league. The Cardinals went 9-7 in the worst. So what does Atlanta get, a cross-country trip to play in the Cardinals' home stadium?That makes no sense. The 12-4 Colts not only have a better record, but they beat the 8-8 Chargers -- on their field.Baltimore has the same record as the Dolphins, but beat them on their field. I understand putting the division winner in the playoffs, but then re-seed the teams once the playoff field is decided.
- Should we be surprised that Eric Mangini was fired on Black Monday? Not really. His last two seasons have been major disappointments and he just doesn't seem to have that presence you want from a coach. He just seems too soft. Plus, the Jets have to win. They need to sell PSLs in the new stadium for 2010. In a tough economy, especially with the Wall Street crunch, the Jets need to give buyer's reasons to buy. Mangini wasn't the answer.
- I like the decision of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make secondary coach Raheem Morris the new defensive coordinator, taking over for Monte Kiffin, who is going to Tennessee. I hear really good things about Morris in the coaching community and the players seem to respond to him. He's done a heck of a job with the secondary in Tampa. The one concern is that he is very close to the players he coaches. That will have to change now that he's a coordinator. Morris has to realize this is gig could be a one-year deal if the Bucs don't win next season. Jon Gruden would likely be out in that scenario.
- If Deuce McAllister played his last game for the Saints Sunday, the franchise will be saying goodbye to one of the classiest players in the league. McAllister is one of my favorites. He's a pro's pro. But it's clear that he doesn't have the same burst he once had. Here's hoping he lands on a Super Bowl contender next season if he is on his way out.
- I know there are those out there who think teams will be lining up to give Matt Cassel a mega-contract. But I offer two names for those inclined to do so: David Garrard and Tony Romo. Their teams raced to give them contract extensions after impressive first seasons as starters. Now they're both being questioned. In the NFL, you usually are what you are as a quarterback. Pedigree matters. It doesn't always --- see Tom Brady -- but it does more than it doesn't. Cassel and Romo weren't drafted and Garrard was a fourth-round pick who didn't become a full-time starter until his sixth season.
- I saw some good things from Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell the past two weeks. He made some bad plays, but he made more good ones. He spun his head around more the past two weeks than he did in other games I watched. He seems to be growing.
- The end came swiftly for Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, who was fired Sunday. Savage did a nice job building a roster in Cleveland, but the expectations, however false, hurt him this season. The Browns should be a contender next season if Brady Quinn is the real thing. I still think Savage is a good football man. He just might be better off as a director of college scouting. Sometimes running the whole show isn't for everybody. Coach Romeo Crennel followed him out the door Monday. It looks like Scott Pioli, the VP of player personnel, will take over in Cleveland. Word is Pioli is ready to leave the Belichick nest.
- The Jaguars promoted Gene Smith to take over as the vice president of football operations last week when James "Shack" Harris resigned. That's a good move. But the team still hasn't said if Smith will have final personnel say. He should. This notion that decisions will be made by a committee is really stupid. Put it on Smith's shoulders. By the way, he has a lot of work to do to re-tool that roster.