They come stumbling into the playoffs like beggars seeking a handout. Why aren't they home with their families? Has there ever been a more wretched set of first-round entries?
Miami at Seattle matches a pair of teams that have each lost five of their last six. The Lions, losers of their last four, visit Washington. Dallas, which has lost two of its last three, including a humiliation in New Orleans that prompted Jerry Jones to call about 20 veterans into his office for a talk, travels to Minnesota. Only Buffalo-Tennessee deserves to be called a game of postseason caliber, so let's talk about that one first.
Defending against the Titans is a name-your-poison type of thing. Do you load up to stop Eddie George, who runs with a tireless energy that can juice up an offense, and take your chances with Steve McNair, or do you drop people back in coverage? For a while, as McNair struggled, the choice was the former. But that was before Yancey Thigpen, the only Tennessee wideout who commands respect, returned from an ankle injury. That was also before McNair lit it up against Jacksonville.
The Bills, with the NFL's top-ranked defense, are sturdy against the run. They've gone eight of their last nine games without giving up 100 yards on the ground. My guess is mat they'll play it straight against George and try to come up with a few interceptions downfield.
When Buffalo sat Doug Flutie for a rest on Sunday, Rob Johnson had a career game, prompting Wade Phillips to shock the world by naming him the starter. Johnson will be faced with two problems, crowd noise and lightning-fast defensive end Jevon Kearse, who was all set to spy Flutie and will no doubt keep an eye on Johnson as well. The pick: Tennessee on run-pass balance.
The Cowboys ran the Vikings groggy in the Metrodome on Nov. 8, but then bad things started happening to Dallas. Emmitt Smith left with a broken hand in the second quarter, Troy Aikman went out with a mild concussion early in the third, and the wheels fell off. The Cowboys will run, while Minnesota will test the corners, Charlie Williams and, yes, Deion Sanders. If Dallas has success on the ground early, the Vikings' defense will tire and we could see a major upset. If the Cowboys have to play catch-up, I don't like their chances. I see them blitzing Jeff George like crazy. I see George making a lot of errant throws, but just enough big ones to put out the fire. Minnesota wins.
Detroit has already beaten Washington, but that was at the Silverdome. The Lions can rush the passer. They roughed up Brad Johnson in the first meeting, sacking him five times, and if they can get to him again and force a few interceptions, they'll be in it. I see a shootout, with 600-plus passing yards combined. I also see a narrow Redskins victory.
Finally, here's my one upset. Miami will hang one on Seattle. Defense wins it. After the Jets did 'em in on Sunday, the Sea-hawks were despondent, only to learn a short time later that they were AFC West champs. Huh? Who, us? I think they wonder why they're even in the playoffs. I do too.