Wild-card round's tame, even with champ's loss

Saints earn respect

Eagles, Dolphins, Ravens ride defense


January 01, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

This weekend's wild-card round proved to be not so wild.

That is, of course, if you go by seedings. The four top seeds, all of which were home, all won. Two won easily.

Yet there are a few shockwaves throughout the NFL. For starters, the defending champion St. Louis Rams are out, thanks to a scrappy New Orleans Saints (11-6) team that will play at Minnesota (11-5) in the opening game of the playoffs' second round Saturday.

The high-scoring Indianapolis Colts, who had won three in a row, are out after blowing a 14-0 halftime lead and losing, 23-17, to the Miami Dolphins (12-5) in overtime. The Dolphins will play the Oakland Raiders (12-4) in the late game Saturday.

Tampa Bay won't be the first team to be host to the Super Bowl after a 21-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles (12-5) yesterday, and the Denver Broncos had a seven-game playoff winning streak ended by that same score to the Ravens.

Consequently, next Sunday's games will showcase division rivals, with the Ravens (13-4) and Tennessee Titans (13-3) in the early game, followed by the Eagles against the New York Giants (12-4).

The top three offensive teams - St. Louis, Indianapolis and Denver - all lost. Defense and power running were the stories this weekend, with the Ravens and Eagles not allowing a touchdown. Miami allowed one, and the Saints held the Rams to seven points through three quarters.

New Orleans accomplished this after entering the game as a six-point underdog.

"No matter what anybody else says, no matter what any analysts, journalists, anybody says, we got the respect now because we beat the defending world champions," Saints receiver Joe Horn said.

The win was the Saints' first in their playoff history. As daunting a task as it is to contain the Rams' receivers and Marshall Faulk, the Saints will have things equally tough facing the Vikings' Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Robert Smith. Minnesota has won its last three games with the Saints.

Moss and Carter have combined for more than 2,700 receiving yards, while Smith led the NFC this year with 1,521 rushing yards. Defense is the problem for Minnesota, which is ranked 28th in the league. The Vikings have given up 104 points over their past three games, all losses.

The Dolphins' defense and the running of Lamar Smith are the primary reasons they are in the next round. Smith rushed for 209 yards against Indianapolis, and the defense held the Colts to three second-half points.

The Raiders will be well-rested after having the week off. They might need that advantage, considering their recent struggles with the Dolphins. The teams did not meet this season, but in the four previous years Miami won three of four times, including the last three, all of which were played in Oakland.

The Giants, meanwhile, own an eight-game winning streak over the Eagles. New York won the two meetings this year by an average of 16 points.

Despite their storied rivalry, the two teams have not met in a playoff game since 1981, a 24-10 Giants win. To duplicate the result, the Giants' defense will have to contain quarterback Donovan McNabb, as they did in the first two games.

McNabb's numbers against the Bucs - 24 of 33 for 161 yards - were not overwhelming. He did, however, make plays at crucial times, including a 5-yard touchdown scramble that put the Eagles up 7-3 in the second quarter. Both games against the Giants this year were in the first half of the season, and McNabb is playing at a higher level now.

So are the Giants, who have won five in a row overall and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Tennessee has that same home-field advantage. The Titans are facing the only team that beat them in Adelphia Coliseum in its two-year history. Tennessee lost, 24-23, to the Ravens on Nov. 12.

Super Bowl odds

Team Now...Opening




N.Y. Giants...6-1...50-1




New Orleans...30-1...150-1

Source: Glantz-Culver

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