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.
Colts 38, Chiefs 31
GREEN BAY AT PHILADELPHIA In their Nov. 10 meeting the Packers
ran on the Eagles like crazy, but Brett Favre was having trouble
with the tape on his broken thumb and kept dropping the ball.
Philly put together a touchdown drive in the dying moments and
won at Lambeau Field. The Packers have the best running game left
in the playoffs, and if they stay with it they could get a lot of
yards again. But I think they'll have their share of lost-yardage
plays too, as Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson comes up
with a new package of fancy run blitzes. That will turn this into
a duel between Favre and a top-notch secondary that has had the
bye week to get healthy.
Even if Favre does well, I think Donovan McNabb will do even
better against a Green Bay defense that the Seahawks' Matt
Hasselbeck had his way with last week, until he threw the fateful
Eagles 24, Packers 20
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER MARSHALLING FORCES The Rams will use Faulk to run the ball and catch it against Carolina.
Dr. Z's Inside Football, every week at si.com/football.