Posted: Tuesday January 4, 2005 11:51AM; Updated: Wednesday January 5, 2005 5:50PM
Green Bay QB Brett Favre hopes to erase the memory of the Packers' loss to the Eagles in last year's playoffs.
There really isn't much to say about this postseason. If Philadelphia can't survive without T.O. we know the NFC will give us a mediocre Super Bowl representative. We also know Pittsburgh and New England may have homefield advantage over the Colts, but Indy has an even more important edge -- the benefit of an illegal-contact rule that will keep defensive backs from mugging its receivers. But before we start wondering who will win, let's focus on some people who will have to perform impressively. I call this list "Ten Guys Who Need To Come Up Big In the Postseason."
Mike Holmgren, head coach, Seahawks
His team stumbled into the postseason. He's reportedly involved in a feud with Seahawks president Bob Whitsitt. His Pro Bowl running back Shaun Alexander claimed he was "stabbed in the back" because he didn't win the rushing crown on the same day Seattle won the NFC West title. But for all the problems Holmgren has dealt with this year, his team still has a chance to make a run in a wide-open NFC playoff race. I don't think they'll do anything with that opportunity, but it is there.
Ty Law, CB, Patriots
He's been sidelined with a broken foot since Oct. 31, an injury the Patriots hoped would heal before the end of the regular season. Since it hasn't, New England has a major problem on its hands. The Pats' other starting cornerback, Tyrone Poole, is out for the season and I can't imagine Troy Brown playing well against Brandon Stokley, Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison in a likely divisional playoff game with the Colts. If Law can't go - or isn't close to 100 percent -- Peyton Manning will torch that secondary.
Randy Moss, WR, Vikings
Moss has done a lot of dumb things but strolling toward the locker room before the end of last Sunday's loss to Washington tops the list. The only way he can atone for that embarrassing display is by dominating Green Bay's lousy defense and acting like an adult. On second thought, that might not even be enough.
Chad Pennington, QB, Jets
His problems started when he revealed a thin skin to the New York media. Now he's guiding a sputtering offense on a team that backed into the postseason. If Pennington didn't like his treatment by the local media a few weeks ago, he better get ready for a long offseason if he stumbles now. He's a lock to take the hit for any Jets playoff loss, even if it's not his fault.
Jeremiah Trotter, MLB, Eagles
There are so many concerns about how the Eagles offense will adjust without Terrell Owens that people are forgetting that Philadelphia can still reach the Super Bowl with its defense. The key is Trotter, who made his third Pro Bowl despite starting only nine games. His rugged presence stabilized an Eagles run defense that will be tested in the playoffs. The top three seeds in the NFC after Philadelphia - Atlanta, Green Bay and Seattle -- all rank among the top 10 in the NFL in rushing.
Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts
Dwight Freeney led the NFL with 16 sacks.
The NFL's regular-season sack leader is one of the few difference-makers on the league's 29th-ranked defense. Yes, Indianapolis has enough firepower to reach the Super Bowl. But somewhere along the line, they will need a defender to make some big plays. Freeney is that guy. He's a terror when Indianapolis gets a double-digit lead and puts an opposing team into predictable passing situations.
Brett Favre, QB, Packers
For all his accomplishments and accolades, he has had some terrible moments in each of Green Bay's last three postseason defeats. He tied a league-record with six interceptions in a loss to St. Louis in 2001. He completed 47.6 percent of his passes and tossed two interceptions in a home loss to Atlanta in 2002. Last season he played well in a loss to Philadelphia, until he lofted an inexplicable duck into the arms of Eagles safety Brian Dawkins in overtime, an interception that set up Philadelphia's game-winning field goal. In fairness to Favre, his supporting cast is much better these days. That's all the more reason why his numbers should improve.
Mike Martz, coach, Rams
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Martz makes the list solely because his job is made harder by his lack of focus on special teams. The Rams might have a better record than 8-8 if they weren't so wretched in that department. They can't cover kicks (ranking 32nd in average kick return yards allowed and 30th in average punt return yards allowed). They can't return them (they're 31st in punt returns and 32nd in kick returns). And they can't hold on to good special teams coaches. Bobby April, the man Martz fired after last season, fielded the league's best special teams in Buffalo. The Bills scored on a league-high five returns this year.
Jake Plummer, QB, Broncos
He's been bashed by fans, the media and former Broncos tight end ShannonSharpe, all for good reason. Plummer threw three touchdown passes and nine interceptions in December. He still has the confidence of coach Mike Shanahan -- who says Plummer will be his quarterback next season -- but Plummer needs to do something on the field to justify that faith. A strong performance against a weak Colts defense would be a good start.
Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator, Steelers
If it wasn't for Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, LeBeau would've been the league's most valuable assistant coach this season. He's guided a unit that ranked first in the NFL in total defense (258.4 yards per game) and scoring defense (15.2) and he's done it despite injuries to key starters such as nose tackle Casey Hampton, inside linebacker Kendrell Bell and cornerback ChadScott. No team can handle the Steelers if LeBeau's defense keeps playing like it has all season.