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1/11/2007 12:17:00 PM

A Case For The Underdogs

Urlacher
Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the Colts' win over the Chiefs last week.
Bob Rosato/SI

With the exception of New England, most experts don't give the road teams much of a shot this weekend. While I'm not foolish enough to pick all four underdogs, I think they all have a chance and here are my reasons.

Colts-Ravens

  • The Colts stopped LJ last week: Considering run defense was supposed to be Indy's Achilles' heel, that's a very good sign.
  • The Colts have Adam Vinatieri: The ultimate playoff weapon in a close game.
  • Peyton Manning: I think he got some of his jitters out last week and will be a little more settled against Baltimore.

    Eagles-Saints

  • The Saints and Eagles have the same record: The media fawns over the Saints like they reinvented football in 2006, but they were just 10-6 in the lightweight NFC.
  • Jeff Garcia doesn't turn the ball over: The Philadelphia quarterback had just two interceptions during the regular season and none last week. In the age of caretaker QBs winning big games -- see Ben Roethlisberger -- Garcia might be able to get the job done.
  • Lito Sheppard's injury won't kill Philly: Sheppard is a Pro Bowler, but he couldn't cover the Saints' WRs one-on-one anyway. The key for the Eagles is pressuring Drew Brees. If they don't get to the QB, it wouldn't matter if they had Deion Sanders and Mel Blount on the corners.

    Seahawks-Bears

  • Rex Grossman is erratic: Erratic is a nice word for the Bears quarterback.
  • Mike Holmgren's playoff experience: Chicago's Lovie Smith is a great coach, but Holmgren has won a lot of games in January.
  • The Bears have ugly postseason history: The recent trend for Chicago is a great regular season followed by a home playoff loss.

    Patriots-Chargers

  • Tom Brady: If any quarterback can handle the Chargers' pressure, it's Brady, who is 11-1 in the postseason. He's going to screen-pass San Diego to death.
  • Bill Belichick: A third-year QB against the Pats coach? Doesn't seem fair.
  • LT can be slowed: See above reason. Belichick neutralizes stars.

    Let the argument begin. Am I the only one who thinks the underdogs can win?

    posted by sidotcom | View comments | Add a comment  
  • 1/07/2007 11:11:00 PM

    Unlikely Hero

    Garcia
    Philadelphia has a new, and unlikely, hero.
    Doug Benc/SI

    PHILADELPHIA - When Jeff Garcia won his first game for the Eagles, the talk-show debate began: if Garcia leads the Eagles deep into the playoffs, who is the starting quarterback next season? For a city that has never completely embraced Donovan McNabb, Garcia's workmanlike style has been a big hit.

    Now that the Eagles have advanced to the NFC divisional round by beating the Giants 23-20 on Sunday, the pro-Garcia faction should become even louder in Philly.

    Eight weeks ago, that debate would have been ludicrous on multiple levels. Philly wasn't going anywhere and Garcia was fresh off the garbage heap of NFL QBs. Now, it's still far-fetched, but with Garcia under center, the Eagles are playing a style of football better suited to playoff success than they were with McNabb.

    The last few Super Bowl champs have relied on strong defenses, strong running games and quarterbacks who rarely turned the ball over. Since McNabb injured his knee in Week 11, the Eagles have shifted their offensive balance more to the run and asked Garcia to avoid mistakes and keep the defenses honest.

    It's almost a cliché with Andy Reid's Eagles, but they have never been able to help themselves from relying too heavily on the passing game. You know Reid and his coaching staff was salivating when they watched the Giants' porous pass defense on film. But they still gave the ball to Brian Westbrook 20 times on Sunday and let their star running back carry them on a final drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal.

    The last few weeks should get the coaching staff thinking. The Eagles have a big, physical line and they were able to wear down the Giants with the run and short-passing game. If Philly hopes to beat New Orleans next week, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have to once again keep their game plan conservative and Garcia has to keep Drew Brees and the Saints' offense off the field.

    As Reid put it, Garcia was a "hair off" on Sunday. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 153 yards. But even in a mediocre game, he never really came close to throwing a pick. And there's a reason Eagles fans like him. He gets right up every time he's hit.

    "He battles," Reid said. "He doesn't really care what happens on a play, he's just on to the next one."

    Garcia's attitude has been infectious in Philadelphia. They won't be intimidated by a Saints team that also finished 10-6 and no one else in the NFC is that scary. Who knows, maybe the QB controversy has legs?
    posted by sidotcom | View comments | Add a comment  
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