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Friday, January 06, 2006 

Quick Slants - Wild Card Weekend

The first week of the playoffs is always exciting, but keep this in mind - in most years, 7 of the 8 teams playing this weekend will be playing golf by January 16. History tells us that the majority of the teams who reach the conference championship games are the teams who have earned byes. So don't get too excited if any of these teams scores a big victory this weekend.

Saturday
Washington (10-6) at Tampa Bay (11-5), 4:30pm ABC

I'm stunned that the Redskins are here after a 5-6 start, but they have a good shot in this game. Tampa has a lot of trouble scoring against good defenses, and Washington qualifies. It's also hard to root against Joe Gibbs, though I would like to see Tampa move on to play Chicago since that would be a great defensive matchup. But the Redskins should win this game.

Jacksonvile (12-4) at New England (10-6), 8pm ABC

They should call this one the "disrespect" bowl. Jacksonville is angry that both New England and Cincinnati essentially benched their starters last week to try to fall into the fourth seed. New England has a chip on their shoulder because of their slow start. The Patriots played an easy second half schedule, but they took care of business, winning 6 out of 7 before the finale against the Dolphins. New England has been compared to Cincinnati since those two teams are the only playoff teams to have given up over 20 points per game this season. But there is one big difference. The Patriots gave up 220 points in their first 8 games, and just 118 since. The Bengals gave up 125 points in the first half of the season - and 225 in their last 8 games. So it looks like the Patriots are getting stronger on defense while the Bengals have been exposed.

That said, while I think the Patriots can win this game, that's where the story will end. I can't see them winning in Denver or Indianapolis next weekend.

Sunday
Carolina (11-5) at NY Giants (11-5), 1pm FOX

Both of these teams have been wildly inconsistent. I like the experience of the Panthers over the Giants, partially because Jake Delhomme has won big games in the playoffs while Eli Manning is making his first playoff appearance.

Pittsburgh (11-5) at Cincinnati (11-5), 4:30pm CBS

Pittsburgh is another tough team to figure. Sure, they've been impressive, but blowout wins over Cleveland and Detroit need to be taken with a grain of salt. Even though Cincinnati won their last meeting, I have a tough time thinking they can win this game. The Bengals look to me like a team that is running out of gas. Maybe the virtual "bye week" they took last week will help, but I think Indy should start preparing for Pittsburgh.

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