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 that they'll play
it straight against George and try to come up with a few
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
Seahawks 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.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER George will be tested by Buffalo's stingy run defense.