Posted: Friday January 18, 2002 8:46 PM|
Philadelphia beats Chicago if ... The Eagles can use their playoff experience and the fact that they won a big game last week to their benefit. I think the Bears have a problem in that they've been off a week and most of their players haven't been here before. That could be a huge factor for the Eagles.
To me the key to what the Eagles are doing so well on offense is their offensive line, which is getting better and better. It's a good time of the year to be getting better in that department. That's gradually becoming their game, running the ball right at people and keeping the rush off Donovan McNabb long enough for him to make a play throwing the ball or getting out of the pocket.
Chicago beats Philadelphia if ... The Bears continue to play the superb defense that they have all season. Their young linebackers are outstanding. Brian Urlacher gets a lot of publicity, but the other two, Warrick Holdman and Roosevelt Colvin, are up-and-coming stars, too. Chicago is solid right down the middle on defense, and that's a good place to be solid. It's a baseball cliché, but it fits this situation, too. You have those two huge defensive tackles -- Keith Traylor and Ted Washington -- then you have Urlacher and that safety, Mike Brown.
On offense, Chicago's offensive line doesn't get enough credit either. They can move some people. Anthony Thomas, their rookie running back, has stepped it up and given them a real threat, and Jim Miller is an intriguing quarterback. It'll be interesting to see if playing a game this big affects him, but I don't think it will. It just depends on how they handle the playoff pressure and having a week off.
Oakland beats New England if ... The Raiders can get another game out of their skill position guys like they got against the Jets last week. Jerry Rice is a marvel. I have the utmost respect for him, and it's still growing. I have to admit I had wondered why they signed him. Now I know why. That was an outstanding performance when they really needed it. Rich Gannon and Charlie Garner came up big at the right time as well.
They're going to need that kind of showing again to beat the Patriots. Bill Belichick is a great coach, and he'll have something cooked up on defense for the Raiders, something they're not expecting.
New England beats Oakland if ... The Patriots play like they played against the Rams earlier this season. I haven't seen New England very much, but I know this, that game they played against St. Louis, they should have beaten the Rams. That tells you something about them right there, and that was the last game they've lost. But they're amazing because they're a waiver wire team. They have a lot of guys from other places.
Belichick and Charlie Weis have done a remarkable job of piecing things together in New England. It was ridiculous that Troy Brown didn't make the Pro Bowl. With him, Antowain Smith, Marc Edwards and David Patten, they've gotten some big years from people you didn't expect them from. And that team really believes in quarterback Tom Brady. They're going to be a tough team for the Raiders to beat.
Baltimore beats Pittsburgh if ... The Ravens keep playing like a playoff experienced team. They have key players at key positions who have been through these type of games many times, and that's very valuable. The offensive line will have to withstand all those Pittsburgh blitzes, but Baltimore has at least seen the Steelers twice, so there's no surprise factor to be gained. They should be ready for them.
There's a psychological aspect to the Ravens on offense right now. I said last week if they give Elvis Grbac some time he can make some things happen, and he did at Miami. No one has much respect for Grbac, but he made the plays he had to make against the Dolphins. He's probably more confident this week than he has been in quite a while.
Pittsburgh beats Baltimore if ... The Steelers defense dictates the tempo, like it has done for most of the season. They have an exciting defense. Their linebackers are excellent and make plays all over. But I wonder about two things on offense: Kordell Stewart has never really taken a team through the playoffs as a quarterback. Can he do it? And how well will Jerome Bettis be after missing six weeks? That's a long time to be out, a lot of rust. This isn't baseball, where you can step right back in there and have your timing down.
It might come down to the kicking game, and that can't make the Steelers very comfortable, given kicker Kris Brown's year. Whatever happens, it won't be a runaway. It'll be a tough, hard-nosed, low-scoring battle. Whichever offense has the better day against an excellent opposing defense is going to win.
Green Bay beats St. Louis if ... The Packers play up to their capability. I don't agree with everyone else who says Green Bay has to hold the Rams under 30 points to win. The Packers can score, too. Everybody always talks about the Rams' speed, and they have tons, but the Packers have some speed, too. They have some play-makers, too.
The Packers offense has to step and have its best day. The offensive line has to make the running game work and give Brett Favre time to execute. If it does that, Green Bay can score enough to beat St. Louis. Everybody thinks this is going to be like the Christians and the lions, but I think that the Packers match up really well.
St. Louis beats Green Bay if ... The Rams defense can disrupt the Packers offense. We know the Rams offense is going to score a bunch of points. But if St. Louis's defense can make Favre hurry his throws, or if it shuts down Ahman Green for any length of time, then the Packers won't be able to keep up. Green Bay probably can't win the game with defense, but St. Louis can.
The Rams have struggled when they turn the ball over, so the Packers defense has to make something happen. Kurt Warner will make his share of plays. The dome is also another big advantage for St. Louis. When I was in Green Bay, we lost about 12 or 13 times at Minnesota or at Detroit in nine years. Green Bay did win a playoff game at Detroit, and we won a Super Bowl in a dome, but our record was pretty poor indoors. That's something the Packers are always aware of.