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Thursday, January 12, 2006 

Quick Slants - Divisional Weekend

In an interesting twist, every game this weekend is a rematch from the regular season, even though none of them feature divisional rivals. With the exception of the Washington-Seattle game, all of the others will even be played at the same stadium. Normally, there is at most 1 upset in this round, given how powerful the bye week is for the home teams. We'll see if the second time is the charm for those who lost earlier this year.

Saturday
Washington at Seattle 4:30pm ET FOX

The Redskins survived last week despite just 25 yards passing by winning the turnover battle 3-1. In their earlier meeting with the Seahawks back in Week 4, Washington won 20-17 in overtime in a very evenly played game (354 yards for Seattle, 352 yards for Washington). Seattle was held to 119 yards rushing, far below their season average of 153.6. Washington is going to need to do better than even that to win this game, as the Redskins lack the firepower to win a shootout.

New England at Denver 8pm ET CBS

Denver must be wondering why everyone else is complaining about disrespect. The Broncos had a great season, finished 2nd in the league in rushing offense and defense, yet the Colts, and even the Patriots, get better press. Jake Plummer kept his mistakes to a minimum to compliment a powerful runing game, where Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell nearly became a 1,000 yard tandem. The Patriots overwhelmed the Jaguars in the second half last Saturday, but Denver is a far superior team. As a Patriots fan, my fear is that the Broncos smother the Patriots running game while controlling the ball on the ground. That, and some good pressure up front defensively could force the normally unflappable Tom Brady into some mistakes. The Patriots won't give up 21 unanswered points like back in Week 6, but I'm not sold on their defense yet.

Sunday
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis 1pm ET CBS

Four weeks and a family tragedy have passed since the Colts last played a meaningful game. In contrast, the Steelers have been in playoff mode that entire period, setting up an interesting matchup. Indy blew out Pittsburgh 26-7 back in Week 12, setting the tone early with an 80 yard TD pass from Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison just 1:44 into the game. The Colts outgained the Steelers 366-197, and Edgerrin James ran for 124 yards against a defense that surrendered an average of just 86 yards on the ground per game. Of course, you can make the point that the Colts peaked in that game, while the Steelers started playing their best football after leaving Indianapolis. But the Steelers schedule was weak, and the Colts had nothing to play for. The Colts will be ready to play Sunday, so the Steelers shouldn't be making any plans for the AFC title game.

Carolina at Chicago 4:30pm ET FOX

The defensive battle of the weekend will take place in Chicago, where the Bears hope to shut down the Panthers again. Chicago has been terrible offensively, second-worst in the NFL in passing yardage and 3rd down percentage (just ahead of San Francisco), but their defense has kept them in every game. That was especially true back in Week 11, when the Bears defeated the Panthers 13-3 despite allowing Carolina WR Steve Smith to catch 14 passes for 169 yards. The Panthers looked great last Sunday, but have been so inconsistent all year it is hard to figure them out. However, I'd look for a road team upset here; not only did Carolina have a fairly easy game last week, I do not trust Chicago's offense to rally from a deficit of more than 7 points. In the playoffs, wierd things happen, and I could easily see Carolina scoring a fluke TD early and holding off Chicago the rest of the way for a hard-fought win.

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