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2004 NFL Playoffs Scores Schedules Injuries Statistics Teams Players

Posted: Thursday January 6, 2005 8:00PM; Updated: Friday January 7, 2005 4:41PM
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Buffalo Bills rookie head coach Mike Mularkey led his team to a 9-7 record this season, the franchise's first winning mark since 1999. Mularkey, a former NFL tight end, shares his analysis throughout the playoffs with SI.com's Don Banks.

 Rams vs. Seahawks
Torry Holt
AP

St. Louis beats Seattle if ... the Rams can get their passing game rolling and avoid turning the ball over. When St. Louis has gotten into trouble this year, it's usually been because of turnovers. I think they're minus-24 in that department. I'm guessing that turnovers will be the biggest factor in the outcome of this game.

When the Rams don't turn the ball over, they're tough to stop. They can still be scary with all those weapons. With that turnover ratio, and to still be in the playoffs, that shows their big-play capability. They take a lot of chances, and those chances go the other way a lot of times, but they've also made enough things happen to get them to this point. And that's kind of amazing in and of itself.

We played these two teams in back-to-back weeks and we won both of them. Against the Rams, turnovers were the story. They had three interceptions and lost a fumble, and we took advantage and won (37-17). But when they can hold onto the ball, they can score as quickly as anyone. They're just dangerous that way.

The tough part for St. Louis may be having to beat a division rival a third time in the same season. When I was in Pittsburgh on Bill Cowher's staff, we went through that with Cleveland in 2001. We had to beat them a third time in the playoffs, and that can be difficult. But when you line up at 1 o'clock on game day, nothing that happened in the past really matters. At least I don't think so. You see it happen both ways. Teams get beat twice during the season and then go into the playoffs and turn around and beat that same team. The past really doesn't determine what's going to happen.

Seattle beats St. Louis if ... the Seahawks come out and relax and play their game. I think you'll see that Seattle could play a lot looser in the playoffs than they did for most of the season. They might feel as if they've got nothing to lose now, and have had more pressure on them all year than most teams because of their Super Bowl expectations. In some ways, this game shouldn't feel any different to them than most of the past six weeks or so, when they fighting for a playoff berth every week. Their season has been on the line for a long time now.

I'd be surprised if this isn't a fairly high scoring game. Maybe a last-team-that-has-the-ball-wins type of game. Because both teams are led by the offenses, and can score plenty when they get things going. If I had to say one area where Seattle can attack the Rams, it's in the secondary. I would expect Matt Hasselbeck to go at the Rams' corners and take his shots down the field. St. Louis can be vulnerable there.

Again, turnovers are going to be huge. We had some takeaways against the Seahawks, too. We hit a gadget on them that they weren't prepared for. We hit some big plays on them and they didn't respond. With Seattle's offense, if it's not in rhythm early, it usually doesn't get into one. That's very key for them. If Hasselbeck starts well, they can roll up some yards and points on you. But if they struggle early, some times they struggle the whole game.

Against us, they went away from Shaun Alexander pretty early because they were in catch-up mode. We felt like if we could shut down their run game early and get a lead, we could really limit his role. Some runners get stronger as the game goes on, but that really hasn't been his M.O. He's a great runner, but he's not always the guy who wears a defense down.

 Vikings vs. Packers
Daunte Culpepper
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Minnesota beats Green Bay if ... Vikings head coach Mike Tice can convince his team that it belongs in the playoffs. I just experienced seven games where we needed to win every one of them, or we were done. And sometimes in that situation you can over-press and guys get too tight to play. Maybe that's been happening some in Minnesota, with them losing late in the year. What Tice has to do is tell his guys there's a reason they're where they're at. Don't give them the reason you've lost seven out of 10. Give them the reason they won eight games this year. What was the difference in those games? Use that as a motivating factor and try to find a positive way to reinforce that they're there and a lot of teams aren't.

The Vikings offense is dangerous at all times. And I know that both of their previous games against Green Bay were 34-31 games, but I really think it's going to be a different type of game this time. I may be dead wrong, but my feeling is it's not going to be a high-scoring game. I think it's going to be more smash-mouth type game, in that kind of weather. It may be just a close as the other two games, but I think it's not going to be as high scoring. Which means that Minnesota has to take advantage of its opportunities on offense and get points whenever it can.

Randy Moss is a huge factor for the Vikings this week. I think the whole team and the entire offense feeds off his energy. If they feel like he's there, and he's into the game, that's just a confidence factor that they have, knowing that he's out there. Whether he's catching the ball or not, I think with him out there, they think they're better.

I'm looking forward to watching the game if only to see Antoine Winfield matched up against Javon Walker. That'd be fun just to watch those two. Winfield battles you, and it should be worth all the hype just to watch those two. You're talking about two good players, and two very competitive guys.

Green Bay beats Minnesota if ... the Packers don't let it come down to the very end of the game for the third straight time. It's not likely you're going to be able to beat the Vikings with a last-second Ryan Longwell field goal again, so to me, a fast start is the key for Green Bay. Playing at home, I think they want to get a decent lead and let the Lambeau crowd get into it and make it difficult for Minnesota to come back. They need to re-establish that homefield advantage that Green Bay has been famous for.

I know Ahman Green hasn't had quite as big a year as in the past, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't get the ball a number of times early. Just to make a statement up front with the offense. That said, Brett Favre will wind up being front and center. They may try to limit what they ask of him, but he's had the success he has because he's got almost that gunslinger mentality. In these kind of games you hope he makes the right decisions, but he's done that more than not through the years.

The trouble spot against the Vikings will obviously be the Packers' secondary. That's where Daunte Culpepper is going to attack. You want the Vikings' big receivers matched up against those smaller Packers corners, and you want to keep testing them throughout the game. The other guy Green Bay needs to watch out for in Minnesota's offense has been its tight end, Jermaine Wiggins. Once they lost Jimmy Kleinsasser, he really has stepped up and shown the ability to some how be in the right place to make plays. And I think his quarterback really trusts him at this point.

This is a game that really appeals to me, of the four this weekend. In that environment, with that rivalry, and all those great players, it'll be intriguing to watch. I think Minnesota has a real shot, even in Lambeau. The mystique is still there somewhat, but even Packers fans, they even boo at Lambeau now. I never thought I'd see that, but they do.

Mike Mularkey's NFL Breakdowns: AFC

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