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Posted: Wednesday January 13, 2010 1:57PM; Updated: Wednesday January 13, 2010 1:57PM
Ross Tucker
Ross Tucker>INSIDE THE NFL

Forget the talk: NFL's all about play

Story Highlights

Trends, momentum never seem to matter once game begins

Cowboys had stats stacked against 'em, but still dominated

Fans of Colts, Saints should breathe easy; Chargers backers should worry

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Tony Romo earned his first playoff victory last weekend against the Eagles.
Bob Rosato/SI

I'm officially tired of the over-analysis of trends and momentum as it relates to NFL games, even though as a member of the media I am now part of the problem.The more I think about my mentality when I was a player and how I examine games now, the less I really believe that all of the hype leading up to the game really amounts to anything.

That's because football comes down to 11 men taking care of their individual responsibility on a given play. Whether or not the team they are playing for has won a playoff game in 13 years or a team has "momentum" going into a particular contest doesn't really matter. Remember last week's BCS title game? One play changed everything. The mountains of pregame analysis went right out the window as soon as Colt McCoy took that hit on his right shoulder.

Back in the NFL, last weekend's Eagles-Cowboys game was filled with so many supposed whammies for Dallas that if we believed all of them it would have been nearly impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Cowboys could get it done:

• The Cowboys hadn't won a playoff game since 1996.
• Eagles coach Andy Reid had never lost his first playoff game in any season.
Tony Romo had always played poorly when the pressure was on.
Wade Phillips had never won a playoff game.
• It is extremely difficult to beat a divisional opponent three times in one season, even harder to defeat a good team like the Eagles in back to back games.

So much for all that. It turns out the hype was a waste of time, breath and bandwidth. What really mattered was that the Eagles couldn't find a way to block DeMarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer. Or stop Felix Jones and the Cowboys ground game. Again. What happened was a virtual repeat of the Sunday before in which the better team won the game by a wide margin because it played better. Now that's a novel concept.

Not to be left out, virtually all of the other contests had similar discussion heading into their games. The Cardinals had taken their foot off the gas and lost their edge in the regular season finale while the Packers were in a groove and playing lights out. The Patriots had never lost a home playoff game during the Belichick/Brady era.

Evidently somebody forgot to tell Kurt Warner or Ray Rice about all of that. Warner and the Cardinals carved up the Packers defense, while Rice and the Ravens silenced the Pats faithful in a matter of seconds. It's funny how none of the pregame fluff matters when teams like the Patriots and Packers start turning the ball over.

All of this disregard for trends and commonly held wisdom should only serve to strengthen the resolve of Colts and Saints fans while making those who follow the Chargers a bit uneasy. True, the Colts and Saints come into this game absent a great deal of positive inertia. The Colts upset most of the football establishment when they rested their stars for most of the final two games. Combine that with their history of resting their starters down the stretch then losing in the playoffs, and Indy appears doomed. But my contention is the Colts' recent playoff losses had a heck of a lot more to do with their inability to effectively block the Chargers' and Steelers' 3-4 defenses than it did a lack of continuity.

The same can be said for the Saints. They have basically limped into the postseason, but they are still the same team that looked unbeatable earlier in the season. They also happen to be playing against a Cardinals team that will take the field following both a tough, emotional contest and a short week of rest and preparation.

But at this point, San Diego is the presumptive Super Bowl favorite as a result of its current 11-game win streak. Philip Rivers and company come into this game sky-high and appear to be primed for a trek to Miami. But to get there, they will have to stop the run a heck of a lot better than the current 4.5 yards per carry they have allowed coming into this one, especially against a Jets run game that is the best in football.

All I'm saying is take all of these trends with a grain of salt because it really won't amount to very much if the Jets offensive line starts to blow the Chargers off the ball and Shonn Greene tramples Chargers defensive backs all the way into the fourth quarter. Ultimately it will come down to what 44 individuals do within the white lines for 60 minutes and all of this talk is just that.

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