The college football season ended with a fizzle, as all four BCS bowls were disappointing and non-competitive. Again, the system left us with questions instead of answers.
Could Oregon have given Miami a better game than Nebraska? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer. While the Hurricanes left little doubt they were the top team in the nation, the system is supposed to allow the top two teams in the nation to play for the title.
The Cornhuskers weren’t even the best team in their conference, as Colorado proved in the final game of the regular season. A national championship should be decided on the field, not on a computer.
With the amateurs out of the way, the NFL playoffs finally take center stage, where the champion is chosen on the field. As usual, a number of teams that can consider themselves legitimate contenders for the Lombardi Trophy, but it looks like the league’s strength again resides in the NFC.
The six playoff teams in the NFC were already decided going into the final week of the season, with just seeding at the top left to be decided. With a win against the Falcons, the Rams will have clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
St. Louis may have the top offense in the history of the game, and the defense is certainly improved from last season. The Rams are the favorite to win the whole thing, and for good reason. Running back Marshall Faulk is the best player in the league and the Rams can score from anywhere on the field with Kurt Warner passing to receivers like Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
The Rams are virtually unstoppable, unless they stop themselves. St. Louis has a propensity for turning the ball over, and will allow opponents to get back in the game from time to time, due to its style of offense. Of course these are minor faults, and it will take a tremendous effort to beat the Rams in St. Louis, or anywhere, for that matter.
The biggest challenge to the Rams figures to come from the NFC Central. Both the Bears and the Packers have had outstanding seasons, fighting for the division title right down to the end.
Chicago has enjoyed success primarily due to defense. Few, if any, teams defend the run better. Second-year linebacker Brian Urlacher gets the headlines, especially after his touchdown catch against the Redskins a couple of weeks ago, but he isn’t the only important piece to the puzzle.
Up front, the Bears have been incredibly strong, led by man/mountain, Ted Washington. The secondary has been rejuvenated with the emergence of cornerback R.W. McQuarters and rookie safety Mike Brown. There are plenty of questions on the other side of the ball, but one thing Chicago can do is run the ball competently.
Green Bay always has a chance, so long as Brett Favre is in the lineup. Favre is still the most dangerous quarterback around, despite the fact that the strength of his receiving corps, Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder, have been suspect this season.
Running back Ahman Green is an outstanding compliment to Favre in many different facets of the game. Green is the team’s most consistent receiver. Tight end Bubba Franks is also becoming a key to the Green Bay offense, especially around the goal line.
The Packers are a solid defensive unit, but they are going to need to score points if they are to advance deep into the playoffs.
Philadelphia finally took care of business against the Giants in the NFC East. Next, the Eagles are hoping to win more than just one game in the playoffs.
It all starts with Donovan McNabb for Philadelphia. McNabb can do it all, but with just about 40 NFL starts under his belt, he is still learning the pro game. The Eagles QB can be confused and forced to throw the ball underneath coverages. McNabb has some terrific receivers such as tight end Chad Lewis and capable backfield featuring Duce Staley and emerging rookie Correll Buckhalter.
Defensively, the Eagles are very aggressive but have had trouble against the run. They have difference makers at every level of the defense, including end Hugh Douglas and cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.
There is plenty of talent on the roster, but if the Eagles are to go far in the playoffs, they’ll have to stop the run better.
San Francisco improved significantly on defense. The Niners were nearly impossible to score upon during stretches in December and possess a strong offense.
Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens are a potent combination, and the return of Garrison Hearst from injury has made a great difference for Steve Mariucci’s team.
Tampa Bay might have to win a game or two on the road in order to save head coach Tony Dungy’s job. The Bucs have a number of high-profile players such as Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp, but, overall, have a number of confounding problems.
Despite the catching more than 100 passes, Johnson’s impact as a touchdown producer is a concern. Despite Sapp’s presence, the Bucs haven’t stopped the run consistently.
Tampa Bay is currently playing its best football and could jump up and bite somebody. However, anything less than a birth in the divisional round will be considered a poor result.
All in all, each team in the NFC has the talent to win a game or two, and all of the playoff games could be barnburners. That’s a far cry from the college football fiasco that we all just witnessed and a big reason as to why the NFL is king in the world of sports.