Don’t back Pack

Dec 31, 2002 5:47 AM

Let the money games begin!

   The wild 17-week scramble for playoff spots is over. And no matter how you got here, welcome to wild-card weekend. It follows the craziest weekend of NFL action ever, bar none. The wacky weekend started Saturday with the Giants shocking Philly, winning their fourth straight to finish 10-6. The craziness didn't stop there. Sunday, the Falcons were out of playoff action when Browns stuffed 'em at the goal line.

   Then Atlanta was back in the money when Panthers upset New Orleans. The Browns thought they were in for sure when they beat Atlanta and Miami had a huge lead over Pats. Then the Fish were caught in Pats' line and they were hooked, fileted and fried with an OT field goal.

   Cleveland then waited for the Jets to destroy Green Bay before celebrating its first playoff appearance in eight years. No more playoff scenarios to worry about. The what-ifs and guessing are over. Hang on to your playoff hats, the Super Bowl derby is about to begin. Every game is sudden-death!

   JETS (-5½) over Colts: The only matchup on wild-card weekend where the two teams have not met earlier in the season. Herman Edwards bunch have become the most feared seed in this Super Bowl tournament. And, with good reason. Chad Pennington looks like a seasoned veteran, picking apart some very good defenses down the stretch.

   Opposing defenses have to worry about plenty of offensive weapons including Coles, Moss, Chrebet, not to mention Curtis Martin. In the trenches, the offensive line is opening up gaping holes and the defense has kept opposing offenses under 20 points in 9 of the last 11 games. The Colts don't play consistent enough defense. Peyton Manning is dangerous and Edgerrin James is finally showing signs of life. But I believe the Colts spotty D will be the main reason for an early-out.

   Falcons (+6½) over PACKERS: You've probably heard it 999,999 times before. Let me just mention it in Austin Powers' fashion, for the one-millionth time! The Packers have never lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field. You can only pray not to hear it anymore.  You might never have to hear it again after Saturday. I'm not saying the Packers will lose. Just say I wouldn't be shocked if they did. We're a long way from Week 1. But the Packers were lucky to beat the Falcons that day. They needed a field goal in OT to get the job done. The final was 37-34.

   A crack exposed in the Packers armor in N.Y. Green Bay was playing for a first-round bye and home field advantage and proceeded to get crushed. The Pack D looked confused. Have to give credit to Chad Pennington and the Jets' offense. Looking for Atlanta to turn Michael Vick loose. Everyone has been asking him to throw, throw and throw before he takes off running. I would change that to throw, run and run. Vick gave up a few opportunities to run for first downs against Cleveland but threw instead and came up short.

   Browns (+7½) over STEELERS: To say both teams know each other well would be the ultimate understatement. Long time rivals met in Weeks 4 and 9. Both games were decided by a field goal. Have to believe this number would be about 4 if Tim Couch hadn't broke his fibula. But don't forget, Kelly Holcomb was the highest rated QB in the league at one time this season. The Browns went 3-1 under Holcomb's guidance when Couch was injured earlier this season. There are many people in Cleveland who feel as if Holcomb should be the No. 1 QB in town, even with a healthy Couch. One full week of work, knowing he's going to start, will not hurt Holcomb's chances of surprising Steelers.

   Giants (+4) over 49ERS: Like the other NFC game, you have to go back to Week 1 to catch a glimpse of these two involved in a tango. At the time, Niners were supposed to be a vastly improved team. The G-men would be lucky to finish 8-8 according to most preseason experts. Those doomsayers were right on a month ago when Fassel's men were 6-6. But the Giants had other plans, rising from the ashes to win their last four games and finish 10-6. The Giants hung tough on that first Monday night affair, losing only by 3, and they are better right now. Niners were an improved team as predicted, but struggled more than expected, especially in big games with Philly and Green Bay. Expect another tight game.

Last week: 8-5-2

Season: 127-117-11