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 Rice, 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. --Paul Zimmerman
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Denver's Ed McCaffrey will try to shake Miami's tight coverage.