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2004 NFL Playoffs Scores Schedules Injuries Statistics Teams Players

Posted: Thursday January 13, 2005 4:48PM; Updated: Friday January 14, 2005 1:34PM
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In his rookie season as Buffalo's head coach, Mike Mularkey finished 9-7 and had his Bills in playoff contention until Week 17. Mularkey has agreed to break down the 12-team playoff field and share his pregame analysis with Don Banks of SI.com:

 Jets vs. Steelers
Chad Pennington
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

New York beats Pittsburgh if ... the Jets show the same kind of resiliency and toughness that won the game for them last week in San Diego. No matter what happened to them, they never swayed. You didn't see any panic on the sideline in the players' faces. It was do-or-die a number of times for that team, and the Jets never lost sight that they had a chance to win. Winning on the road in the playoffs is a big confidence boost to a team. For them to do that, they have to be feeling confident going into Pittsburgh. And the Jets know they played a tight game with the Steelers in December (losing 17-6), so they know they can compete in that stadium.

I think it will be another low-scoring game, because both offenses have the same philosophy. They both love the running game and chewing up the clock with that ball-control, quick-passing game, so you don't have time to get to the quarterbacks. This game features two good runners in Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis, and with that playing surface at Heinz Field not being the greatest -- trust me -- it's more conducive to running the football at this time of year. I think you'll see a fast game, but not necessarily a high-scoring game.

Chad Pennington had a strong game at San Diego and picked the Chargers' defense apart. (Offensive coordinator) Paul Hackett knows what his team's capabilities are, and the Jets don't ask Pennington to be a Peyton Manning-type passer. They just want him to manage the offense and get the ball out without the rush getting to him. It's the ball-control, West Coast-style passing game: Get the ball to your playmakers and let them make the yards, and then take your shots vertically when you can. And Pennington does that well.

Pittsburgh beats New York if ... the Steelers make Heinz Field their biggest advantage. That's a tough place to go into and play well. The Steelers didn't lose there this year, and they've been very successful there over the years, at least before they get to the AFC Championship Game. I don't think the time off the Steelers' starters have had is going to affect them. It never has in the past. They were pretty banged up late in the year, and I think the time off has been nothing but a positive for them. They're going to be rested and primed for this game.

On offense, you can look for Bill Cowher to do what got him there. That was always the philosophy when I was there. He's not going to get conservative just because it's the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh still will have that attack mentality. With his experience, and as many playoff games as he's coached, he's learned that you can't change what you do at this time of year. There's no reason to.

I don't think the pressure of the playoffs is going to get to Ben Roethlisberger. Not from what I've seen. The Pittsburgh coaching staff has groomed him all season to take a little bit more in every week and see how much he can handle. And he's done it. I don't think the Steelers are going to ask him now to beat the Jets with his arm alone. He hasn't had to do that all year. Early in the game, they'll be looking to establish the run with Bettis and Duce Staley, and I know their offensive line is probably calling for that kind of approach.

The Pittsburgh defense has been relentless this season. The Steelers all have high motors and they all swarm to the football. But they're disciplined within the scheme and they're not trying to do more than what (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau is asking them to do. They're always in the right place at the right time. And they will be physical more than anything. They will challenge the Jets and Pennington all day long. They'll just keep bringing it.

 Colts vs. Patriots
Peyton Manning
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Indianapolis beats New England if ... the Colts can go into Foxboro and play mistake-free football. That's one thing New England seems to do. The Patriots never beat themselves. There's no room for error on Indy's part. I don't know what it will be, but the Colts can expect Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel to cook up something to try and disrupt their passing game. Just like the Patriots did last year, I think you'll still see some physical play at the point of attack with the Colts' receivers, trying to disrupt them. If the Patriots can throw the Colts' timing off at all, and maybe get some of the pass rush to Peyton Manning, they have a shot to slow that offense down. But it's going to take a combination of both the pass rush and jamming the receivers. They obviously need both things working.

If you haven't had much success against one particular team or coach, like Manning against New England, anybody's vulnerable to feeling that pressure when you play them. Especially in the playoffs. The mindset the Colts and Manning have to have is to get off to a fast start. Don't get in the same rhythm that they've experienced in the past in Foxboro, or they will start thinking the same things are going to happen again. How Indy starts will be critical. I expect Manning already knows how he wants to attack the Patriots' secondary, and he'll have his options lined up when the game starts.

I was impressed with how the Colts' defense played last week against Denver. I think it has gotten stronger, and it's getting more confident in what it's doing. In the past, the Colts have gotten a lead on teams and made the opponent play catch-up, and that's when their front four can pin their ears back and rush the passer. You don't want that scenario.

New England beats Indianapolis if ... it can shorten the game and keep the ball out of Manning's hands as much as possible. The Patriots are going to want to use Corey Dillon and the running game to milk the clock and limit the number of possessions Indianapolis has. The Colts are going to score, so you have to just give them as few opportunities as you can. Like I said last week with Denver, New England's best defense against the Colts could be its offense. If the Patriots have a good day on third down, they could really hold the ball and keep it away from the Colts to a significant degree. You can't stop Manning, but you just have to limit the damage.

The thing about New England is it can go with a methodical, ball-control offense. (Offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis does a nice job of coming up with something that you're not prepared for every week. I would expect the same thing against Indy. But a lot of it's going to be based on how well Tom Brady plays. He's a cool, calm and collected player, especially in pressure situations like these. He knows where those receivers are going to be at all times, and he can find them when he feels the pressure.

You look at New England's defense and you ask yourself how are the Patriots getting it done? How do they keep winning despite all the injuries in the secondary? I know it doesn't look good for the Patriots on paper, but those guys just find a way. They've been doing it for a couple years now, whether due to injury or otherwise. Somebody always steps in for them, and they find a way to keep winning. It just doesn't seem to faze them. That's what Belichick is really good at -- finding a way to use the players he has to deal with almost any situation. With New England, it's not only that it has players who know how to win, but the Pats have a coaching staff that has done an unbelievable job of putting them into position to win. I think it's going to be the game of the weekend.

Mike Mularkey's NFL Breakdowns: NFC

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