CNNSI.com 2003 Football Playoffs 2003 Football Playoffs


 

The race is on

Wild-card weekend kicks off loser-go-home tournament

Posted: Wednesday January 01, 2003 1:47 PM

 
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By B. Duane Cross, CNNSI.com

Now that the postseason field has been set and the horses are making their way to the starting gate, four teams have dreams of adding "one for the thumb." Four wild-card teams have won the Super Bowl, and the Falcons, Browns, Colts and Giants look to become the fifth.

The playoff teams are an impressive collection:

  • Combined, the 12 compiled a 125-64-2 season record.
  • Since Thanksgiving weekend, the unofficial kickoff to the playoff race, the 12 clubs are a combined 42-17.
  • For the sixth consecutive year, at least five new clubs have made the playoffs. This year, it's the Falcons, Browns, Colts, Giants and Titans.
  • Almost every one of the 12 is on some sort of hot streak, led by the Titans at 10-1. The Raiders are 7-1, the Eagles 6-1 and three teams -- the Giants, Jets and Buccaneers -- are on 7-2 streaks. The Colts lead the others at 6-2.

    And if that's not enough: For the fourth consecutive year, a different team will win the Super Bowl.

    Wild On
    Wild-card teams in the Super Bowl
    Season  Team  Result 
    1969  K.C.  Won Super Bowl IV 
    1975  Dal.  Lost Super Bowl X 
    1980  Oak.  Won Super Bowl XV 
    1985  N.E.  Lost Super Bowl XX 
    1992  Buf.  Lost Super Bowl XXVII 
    1997  Den.  Won Super Bowl XXXII 
    1999  Ten.  Lost Super Bowl XXXIV 
    2000  Bal.  Won Super Bowl XXXV 
     
     

    The first playoff rematch of Super Bowl III begins the 11-game postseason when the Colts (10-6) visit the AFC East champion Jets (9-7) on Saturday. It will also be a coaching reunion of two former NFL DBs who are old friends, and a renewal of a familiar division rivalry. Jets head coach Herman Edwards was assistant head coach of the Bucs from 1996-2000 under Colts first-year head coach Tony Dungy.

    Two of the NFL's most exciting QBs meet in Saturday's nightcap when Michael Vick and the Falcons (9-6-1) travel to face Brett Favre and the NFC North champ Packers (12-4). The teams opened the season against each other with Green Bay pulling out a 37-34 overtime victory, and the Packers have never lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field (11-0).

    Sunday's early wild-card game is a trip back in time. It's a division matchup of the Browns (9-7) at the AFC North champion Steelers (10-5-1). It's the "Rust Belt Rivalry" -- towns separated by 132 miles that are the definition of the blue-collar ethic that built the NFL -- featuring the jut-jawed snarl of Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher, a special teams' demon in his playing days with Cleveland.

    Both starting QBs -- Kelly Holcomb of the Browns and the Steelers' Tommy Maddox -- were not starters when the season began. (And remember: The past three Super Bowl champions were quarterbacked by players who began training camp as backups.)

    A rematch of the season's first game wraps up the weekend as the Giants (10-6) -- making it the first time that both New York teams have been in the playoffs since 1986, the season the Giants won Super Bowl XXI -- at the NFC West champ 49ers (10-6).

    "[September 5] gives us a starting point," says Giants head coach Jim Fassel. "We've played them one time, we know a little bit about their scheme, although it was a long time ago, so we've got to go back over everything because they, like everybody else, have changed." The Niners won the Thursday nighter 16-13 on a 36-yard field goal with 6 seconds left.

      Indianapolis  @     N.Y. Jets  -- 4:30 p.m. EST Saturday
    The Colts' 38 victories vs. the Jets are their most against any team. ... The Jets won their second AFC East title, and became the first team since the 1970 merger to win a division after 2-5 start. ... Colts DE Dwight Freeney led NFL rookies with 13.0 sacks in eight starts. ... The Jets have won seven of ther past nine, outscoring opponents 77-16 in the fourth quarter.
      Atlanta  @     Green Bay  -- 8 p.m. EST Saturday
    Falcons head coach Dan Reeves -- who threw a 50-yard TD pass off a halfback option as a member of Dallas Cowboys in the famed "Ice Bowl" at Lambeau on Dec. 31, 1967 -- has more playoff wins (10) than any active coach. ... Packers QB Brett Favre has at least one TD pass in 12 consecutive playoff games, and needs one vs. Falcons to tie Dan Marino's NFL record.
      Cleveland  @     Pittsburgh  -- 1 p.m. EST Sunday
    The only AFC teams with 400 victories: Steelers 485; Browns 406. ... The AFC’s oldest rivals will meet for the 102nd time, and only the second time in the playoffs (Jan. 7, 1995: Steelers 29, Browns 9, at Pittsburgh). ... From 1970-2002, these teams have combined to win 24 of 33 division titles (Steelers 17, Browns 7). ... Series has produced 31 Pro Football Hall of Famers.
      N.Y. Giants  @     San Francisco  -- 4:30 p.m. EST Sunday
    Giants QB Kerry Collins set team single-season records with 335 completions and 4,073 yards passing. ... 49ers' Jeff Garcia joined Joe Montana and Steve Young as only QBs in franchise history to pass for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. ... Teams have split six all-time postseason games, with a point differential of 4 (49ers 122, Giants 118).

      3   QBs with at least 25 TD passes in five consecutive seasons: Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
      26   Playoff appearances by the Giants, tying Dallas for the most all-time, followed by St. Louis (25) and Cleveland (24).
      104.2   NFL-leading and club record passer rating for Jets’ Chad Pennington. He had 18 TDs and 0 INTs in the red zone.
    More in By the Numbers

    Catch me if you can
    The Colts and Jets played twice a year every year through last year as AFC East rivals, with Indianapolis holding a 38-25 advantage. The Colts will see a lot of familiar faces, but a key unfamiliar one: QB Chad Pennington, who had an 8-4 record as a starter. The Jets will face one of the duo of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, who this year set the NFL record for catches in a season (143).
    Lambeau learning curve
    In the Packers' season-opening victory against the Falcons, QB Michael Vick completed 15 of 23 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 72 yards. "He was a better thrower than we probably gave him credit for at that time," says Packers head coach Mike Sherman. "We have a little more awareness of him, what he’s capable of doing and what we have to do to defend against him."
    Ground game personified
    As you might expect with these kinds of teams at this time of year, the running game could be pivotal Sunday. The Browns’ No. 1 draft choice this year, RB William Green, has rushed for 726 of his 887 yards since mid-November. He’ll face the NFL’s top-ranked rushing defense. Steelers RB Amos Zereoue, subbing for Jermone Bettis rushed for his third 100-yard game of the year in Week 17.
    Two-on-two
    In encapsulated form, the game could come down to two No. 5s throwing to two No. 81s. That’s QBs Kerry Collins of the Giants and Jeff Garcia of the 49ers connecting, respectively, with the second- and fifth-ranked NFC receiving yards leaders Amani Toomer (1,343, a Giants team record) and Terrell Owens (1,300). Also watch 49ers Pro Bowl LB Julian Peterson shadowing Giants RB Tiki Barber.

    Three of the five finalists for the 2002 Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year award will be playing during Wild-Card Weekend. Marques Anderson, William Green and Jeremy Shockey each won the weekly award twice, and are in the running for the yearly accolade with David Carr and Clinton Portis.
    Marques Anderson, S, Green Bay
    Anderson started 11 games, recording 41 tackles, ranking second on the team with four interceptions, returning two for touchdowns and had seven passed defensed. He was the Packers' sixth-leading (non-kicker) scorer and had an 11-tackle effort against New England in Week 6. Anderson won the Rookie of the Week award in Weeks 6, 7 and 10 and was nominated four times.
    William Green, RB, Cleveland
    Green rushed for a team-high 887 yards and six TDs on 243 carries, second-best among rookies. He rushed for 726 yards during the final seven games, capped by a career-high 178 yards and two TDs in Cleveland's playoff-clinching win against Atlanta in Week 17. The Browns were 4-0 when Green rushed for more than 95 yards and 5-0 when he scored. He was nominated for the Rookie of the Week (including Week 17) three times, winning the award in Weeks 12 and 14.
    Jeremy Shockey, TE, N.Y. Giants
    Shockey led all tight ends with 74 catches and 894 yards, while breaking Giants records in both receptions and yards by TE. He also finished second all-time among rookie TEs in both receptions (Keith Jackson, 81 in 1988) and yards (Mike Ditka, 1,076 in 1961). Shockey was nominated five times for Rookie of the Week (including Week 17), winning the award in Weeks 11 and 16.

    B. Duane Cross is a senior producer for CNNSI.com.

    Got a comment or question for Duane? Click here.

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