NFL Playoffs 2001 NFL Playoffs 2001

  Posted: Friday January 25, 2002 4:02 PM
Updated: Friday January 25, 2002 6:30 PM

Ron Wolf's NFL tenure began in 1963 as a talent scout with the Oakland Raiders. It was a position that would serve him well in his professional career. In 1975, Wolf joined the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to oversee the franchise's formation. He returned to the Raiders in 1978 to head player personnel operations before joining the New York Jets in 1990. Wolf became general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 1991, and promptly returned the luster to Titletown, U.S.A., winning Super Bowl XXXI. He retired in 2001 and now lives in Annapolis, Md.

New England @ Pittsburgh -- 12:30 p.m. EST Sunday

New England beats Pittsburgh if ... The Patriots get another game out of Tom Brady like the one they got last week against Oakland. The kid has done it. He's erased all the doubts that are involved in this process here. He's won a lot of big games for that team. I wouldn't think Brady is the type of guy to get awed by the moment. He played in college at Michigan, before the largest house in any form of football. So I don't think the size of this game will affect him.

Although I will admit that Pittsburgh is a little different. I don't know about their new stadium, but Pittsburgh is a tough place to go to. I would think the key to beating the Steelers will be if New England can be balanced on offense. You've got to give the Patriots credit. They have a good scheme, and they have a lot of confidence in their ability to run or throw. Even though they're basically a no-name team. But they execute very well and play as a unit very well.

Usually in a game like this, a defense will decide it's going to try and take something away. I'm not sure what Pittsburgh will try to take away, maybe New England's run. But that could be a mistake. Maybe that's what Oakland did, and New England opened it up and found out they can win with Brady throwing 52 times.

Pittsburgh beats New England if ... The Steelers avoid a drop-off from last week's execution and intensity. I think they have a great deal of confidence in themselves. Especially on defense. I think defensive coordinator Tim Lewis has done a heck of a job solidifying that unit. The key is going to be what happens with that offense.

Can they maintain the level they've been playing at in recent weeks? Plaxico Burress has really stepped it up and so has Kordell Stewart. Can they keep that going? The problem for Pittsburgh is that New England has the capability of playing the Steelers receivers very tough. To me that could be the difference. They have Ty Law and Otis Smith at cornerback and Lawyer Milloy and Tebucky Jones at safety. They can match up well with those Steelers receivers.

Some people have said the Steelers ought to start Amos Zereoue at running back and then use Jerome Bettis late in the game to pound away at New England once the Patriots are tired. Zereoue is a richochet runner and he's had some success. But I never believe you take away from what got you there. If you're playing Pittsburgh, I'm sure you'd rather play Zereoue than Bettis. But I will say this about the Steelers -- they run the ball well no matter who's back there.

Philadelphia @ St. Louis -- 4 p.m. EST Sunday

Philadelphia beats St. Louis if ... The Eagles play them exactly like they did in Philly in the season-opener. They had a lot of success that day keeping the Rams offense in check for the most part. I'm sure defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will have a few new things cooked up for St. Louis, but I wouldn't change too much. They can cover them. They can run with them. And they can pressure them. That's a heck of a combination.

The Troy Vincent injury could really affect the Eagles' chances. If they have Vincent and Bobby Taylor at cornerback, then they can play Al Harris as a third corner, and that's three pretty good guys to match up with the Rams receivers. What that does is it enables them to play their blitzing defense and do all the things they like to do, which is what got them here to begin with.

The key for the Eagles is not get in awe of the Rams. I don't think they will. What has to happen that didn't happen last week is Philadelphia's offense has got to beat St. Louis' defense. If they do that, then they'll win. But you can't turn the ball over eight times like the Packers did. Green Bay's offense self-destructed and never gave itself a chance to beat the Rams' defense.

St. Louis beats Philadelphia if ... The Rams' defense clearly handles the Eagles' offense. St. Louis has eight new starters this year on defense, but that's the way football is nowadays. It's all about what the coaches do. The key to winning today is you've got to have good players, but you also better have people who can come in and cut and paste and create a formidable unit real quick. Because that unit is going to fall apart next year and then you've got to do it again.

The Eagles' defense is good, but the Rams' offense is capable of blowing it out of the building. The Rams are capable of blowing anybody's defense out of the building. Because when that offense gets cracking, it can do most anything. This isn't an exceptional Eagles defense. But the strength of their defense matches up well with the strength of the Rams' offense. I think Orlando Pace versus Hugh Douglas will be the most interesting confrontation in the game.

The Rams should win it, but I give the Eagles a good shot because of who they are and how they've gotten where they've gotten to. They've developed an inner toughness and they play like a tough team. For that reason, they've got a chance to pull the upset. And it's not one of these things where the Eagles have to play perfect football either. But if the Rams play their best game, it probably won't be close.

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