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One of the problems with a league that waits a week between playoff games is that the extra time allows for a lot of nonsense to break out. While we should be worrying about which one of Jeff Garcia's ex-girlfriends karate-kicked the other -- er, I mean the matchups in the Colts-Patriots game -- we instead must endure endless speculation about Randy Moss' bony backside and Mike Vanderjagt's trash talking.
With Sunday still as far away as a good decision by Niners owner John York, the mind boggles at what other "storylines" might emerge. Perhaps we'll find out Subway has signed Eagles coach Andy Reid to be its next spokesman. Or that the NFL has secretly hired Armstrong Williams to talk up its bland Super Bowl halftime show. As a service to those who actually enjoy football, here are some fearless (a much different adjective than "accurate") forecasts for this weekend's divisional playoff games.
ST. LOUIS AT ATLANTA: It's great that the battle for second place in the NFC is being played in Biosphere, rather than outdoors. That way, the Rams can dash around without worrying about things like the wind or cold, and Falcons QB Michael Vick might complete more than 50 percent of his passes. Might. We know the NFL loves to create heroes, but can't we wait until Vick has a higher passer rating than Billy Volek before preparing his bust for Canton?
Coach Mike Martz's team is dangerous, particularly when he doesn't try to do much on game days besides calling plays. But will the Rams stand up to the Atlanta pass rush and the Falcons' triple-option (Warrick Dunn run, T.J. Duckett run, Vick run)? It says here St. Louis can't. Falcons 23, Rams 17.
NEW YORK AT PITTSBURGH: After the Jets lost to Pittsburgh last month, DE Shaun Ellis said, "If we come back here again, we'll beat them." It's not quite Joe Willie, but it will have to do. Ellis' forecast isn't so ridiculous, particularly if Ben Roethlisberger continues to struggle, as he did down the stretch, and ailing Steelers running backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis aren't 100 percent.
Not that the Jets don't have their problems, although it was great to see offensive coordinator Paul Hackett scrap the Woody Hayes playbook last week against the Chargers. Defensive end John Abraham has decided that getting a big new contract is more important than trying to honor his current deal. Nice. Why can't Herman Edwards yell at him, instead of at his running backs coach? New York should put up a good fight, but Bill Cowher has these Steelers playing great defense. And we all know that defense wins championships, don't we? Steelers 20, Jets 16.
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MINNESOTA AT PHILADELPHIA: The Eagles stink. Their offense hasn't performed well since back when CBS News had credibility. Terrell Owens is gone. Hide the belts and sharp objects.
And load up on the Eagles. Vegas is begging you -- BEGGING YOU! -- to bet Minnesota, and the smart guys are staying away. This is going to be a beat-down, plain and simple. Randy Moss may be able to chuck a moon, but his cranky ankle won't let him run a fly pattern. And without Moe Williams, the Vikings' run game is strictly Shemp material. Expect 150 total yards from Brian Westbrook and a big performance from Donovan McNabb. Eagles 31, Vikings 9.
INDIANAPOLIS AT NEW ENGLAND: Welcome to Texas-Oklahoma, NFL style. The Colts have everything it takes to beat the Patriots -- at least on offense. Who wouldn't pick Peyton and The Mannings and against a New England secondary that includes Earthwind Moreland, Emersonlake Johnson and Averagewhite Jones? El Hombre, that's who. The Pats have won five straight against Indy, and that triggers the "Show Me" theory that applies to Mack Brown's Longhorns whenever they see OU crimson. Sure, the Colts are strong, but until they beat the Pats, they're the eternal underdog in Foxboro.
The Pats are injured. The Colts are hot. Charlie Weis is working 20-hour days and can't remember whether he's coaching or recruiting Tom Brady. Still, take New England. It's like that old Saturday Night Live skit: Do the Pats have Belichick? Yes. Patriots 23, Colts 21.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Bethlehem Bill Doherty stops by with an interesting take on the Randy Johnson/Innocent Photographer beat-down. "Doesn't Randy know that he's in the American League now and doesn't have to hit anymore?" ... Speaking of baseball, how about that new steroid agreement between Major League Baseball and the players union? No more pumped-up juicemongers in that sport, at least until the next undetectable designer supplement is concocted -- next week.
AND ANOTHER THING: It doesn't seem possible, but NC2A moneygrubbers -- er, presidents -- have actually become bigger hypocrites since we last checked in on them. The same week they were trumpeting the new academic requirements for student-athletes and continuing to Red Baron a I-A grid tournament because it would too much academic stress on players, they also got closer to approving a full-time 12th regular-season game, the better to raise more millions for the big boys. When Michigan coach Lloyd Carr polled his team before the season about the issue, only six Wolverines were in favor of the extra tilt. Sorry, fellas, but you don't get a vote. Only Dr. Bottomline and his cronies are invited to that election. And guess which way they're going?