Here's how the divisional playoffs shape up.
49ers at Falcons: How times change. When the Falcons beat the Niners in Atlanta on Nov. 15, Steve Young aimed 19 of his 40 passes at Jerry Puce, who caught 10 of them. Some of them were against left corner Ray Buchanan, some were into a double zone, but after Rice was such a nonfactor against the Packers, I think Atlanta will reconsider its strategy. Green Bay, rushing three linemen in the second half and occasionally coming with middle linebacker Bernardo Harris off the corner, showed the Falcons how to defense Young. Garrison Hearst's hamstring finally seized up on him after a terrific day, and if he's less than 100%, Young will be in for a long afternoon. Atlanta, with the league's best coordinated line, will stick with its four-man rush. I think San Francisco will still be feeling the effects of that Green Bay slugfest Fresh legs will prevail, so the Falcons are the pick.
Dolphins at Broncos: John Elway had his worst game of the season when these teams met in Miami three weeks ago. So did Terrell Davis. Was it a case of "who cares?" because the Broncos had clinched everything, or was Miami's tight man-to-man coverage and it's flow-to-the-ball style of run defense that good? I don't think Denver will come out smoking against the Dolphins' young defense. But the Broncos will play well enough to win.
Jaguars at Jets: Let's assume that Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell's sore ankle is O.K., and that he's gotten rid of the rust he showed against the Patriots after missing four games. The Jaguars will still have to get something going on the ground. In long-yardage situations against the Jets, they will face one of the league's best nickel packages. One thing is certain: Jacksonville will see something New York hasn't shown. Innovation is defensive mastermind Bill Belichick's trademark. Ditto for offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, although I expect a heavy dose of Curtis Martin against a defense that's had problems stopping the run. The Jaguars filled the lanes nicely against the Pats, but they weren't worried about Scott Zolak's arm. Vinny Testaverde is another matter. Jets to win it.
Cardinals at Vikings: I'd like to see Arizona corner Aeneas Williams play tight bump-and-run against Randy Moss and make it tough for the rookie to get a clean release. Then let's see if Moss does his number downfield. That problem addressed, the Cardinals will only have to worry about wideouts Cris Carter and Jake Reed, running back Robert Smith and a defense that will outquick their sluggish line. Too many worries. Vikings all the way.