Carolina and St. Louis kick off the divisional playoffs on Saturday, and this one won't be as easy as it looks. The Rams have won 14 straight at home, but they lead the league in turnovers. What has bailed them out is an underrated defense that's tops in takeaways. Marc Bulger has thrown at least one interception in each of his last nine games, and if the Panthers' rush gets to him he might throw a couple more.
Carolina running back Stephen Davis will get his yards, but quarterback Jake Delhomme won't beat St. Louis in the Eddie Dome. Running back Marshall Faulk became more of a factor for the Rams late in the year, and I think they will get him the ball as a receiver lining up in the slot, as they used to do. I also see Torry Holt having a big day against the Panthers' corners.
Rams 20, Panthers 17
Tennessee at New England
This is a matchup between two fighters who have taken a lot of punishment. The Patriots were rocked in the early rounds; they were without eight starters when they beat the Titans in Foxborough on Oct. 5. Cornerback Ty Law was limping, but he still returned an interception 65 yards for the clinching touchdown. However, New England has gotten stronger in the late rounds, while the Titans are barely hanging on.
Tennessee outlasted Baltimore last Saturday on sheer courage, but I think this is where the string runs out. The Titans could really have used a bye week, but it was the Patriots who got it. Too many lingering injuries for Tennessee, too many fresh legs for New England, too much Foxborough weather.
Patriots 13, Titans 10
Indianapolis at Kansas City
On Sunday we saw how well the Colts can play when they're mad. The Broncos had humiliated them two weeks earlier, so they returned the favor. I have two questions: Does that kind of revenge work only at home? And is there anything about the Chiefs that angers Indy? The surface will be grass, and the weather could be a factor. Being a road underdog might get the Colts mad enough, but the crowd will make it hard for them to run their no-huddle.
I like Indianapolis anyway, because I think K.C.'s defense has softened. It looks like a tired unit, but maybe the Chiefs will get their zip back after a week off. The Colts could score early and put K.C. into a catch-up mode, but the Chiefs' offense could do the same. If Indy can get the emotion up for a second straight week, then the Colts are a good pick. I like their chances.