Divisional Playoff Weekend

Well, the ole Crystal Pigskin warned me last week that the picks it produced might be subject to poor officiating. And, though it seemed to me that the officiating was solid throughout, I can only assume that there is something I missed. Or was it something San Diego Chargers Heimlich-needing rookie kicker missed, like a gimme field goal to win their matchup against the Jets and save their beautiful season? Grrrr…

Quick, Doctor, to the West Coast, immediately, severe esophageal blockage in Seattle and San Diego! What happened out here last Sunday? My idea is that all those chemical-ridden East Coasters and Midwesterners came out here, ate a bunch of good, organic West Coast fare and blew up like Popeye. Or something like that. Oh well, there’s always next year. Too bad the images that will haunt my mind all summer will be a badly-shanked field goal attempt and Matt Hasselbeck’s palpable fury and frustration as his game-tying pass fell to the ground in the end-zone.

But, the beat goes on, and here we come to one of the most exciting weekends in American professional sports – Divisional Playoff Weekend! We’ve got four rock-solid games to look forward to, so let’s get to it!

Saturday, Jan. 15

This game looks like a lock for the Steelers, but then, so did last week for the Chargers. The Jets are coming on strong behind the gutsy play of Chad Pennington, whose shoulder looked just fine last week. Chad has the NFL’s best passer rating on the deep ball, and he showed his uncanny accuracy against a shocked Charger squad.

The Steelers, on the other hand, are the most dominating, consistent team in the game right now, with Jerome Bettis the cart pulling the offensive horse, and a vicious defensive front. Big Ben, an amazing 13-0 as a rookie starting QB, will likely be unflappable and solid.

If the Jets can put up an early lead, though, and force to Steelers to play from behind (which they’ve barely done all year), Roethlisberger will have to beat New York with his arm, and that could make it a close ballgame.


The two Wild Card winners in the NFC look a little scary right now. Both St. Louis and Minnesota had mediocre seasons before pulling it together and accepting a gift from God, respectively, to enter the playoffs. And both emerged with convincing victories over bitter divisional rivals. Of the two, the Rams are sharper right now. QB Mark Bulger is playing the best ball he’s played since returning from his injury, and they are built for the inside game. The turf in ATL isn’t as fast as in St. Louis, but the Rams should still feel right at home.

The Falcons have been the anchor at number two in the NFC all season, chasing their avian cousins up in Phillie. They inexplicably bottomed out against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, though, and couldn’t grab the first seed.

This game comes down to one man: Michael Vick. He needs to rise up and play to the potential we’ve seen flashed of. Atop his game, he’s a slighter Donovan McNabb with a jetpack on and a rocket arm. But he’s been inconsistent. If the Rams can pen him in, they’ll hamper the passing game, and could stop up RB Warrick Dunn. If… Here goes nothing:

Sunday, Jan. 16

In a terrific rematch from Week Two’s dazzling Monday Night game, the Vikings travel back out to Lincoln Financial Field without a scrap of fear. They remember how close the first game was, and they’re coming back to get theirs.

Unfortunately, they have to come to Philadelphia. Even without TO the Birds will be razor-sharp. Think of how precise USC was against Oklahoma – after a month off. These are professional athletes. Any rust will have been knocked off by the end of the first quarter.

This will be a nailbiter, I think. Daunte Culpeper and Donovan McNabb, both representing the NFC in Hawaii, have had breakout seasons. The Vikings’ D came to play on the Frozen Tundra at Lambeau – I didn’t think they would – and they’ll roll out to Phillie with a big chip on their shoulders. Minnesota’s wideouts are better than an Owens-less eagles, but the Birds’ secondary is absolutely brilliant, the class of the NFC. This will be a great game, friends.

(There’s no way I’d jinx the Eagles with a pick here, sorry!)

Here we go, y’all. This is the game of the weekend, no question about it. Can the league’s best quarterback finally go into The Razor and figure out Belichick’s blindingly complex defensive schemes? Or will the Patriots make Peyton their boy-toy for the seventh straight time?

Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Too bad this couldn’t be the Super Bowl, right? It might just be a better game, featuring a nearly seamless New England team, one of the most consistent in NFL history, against an offense that drops more points than a Portland winter does rain.

I’m leaning towards Indy here. I think that Peyton Manning is playing not only above himself, but above human capacity. He’s too good a player to let the debacle happen again – how can you not root for him (unless you’re from Boston, of course)?