Today's games

January 04, 2003

Today's games

AFC wild card

Indianapolis (10-6) at New York Jets (9-7)

Time: 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Jets by 6

Colts offense vs. Jets defense: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is 0-2 in the playoffs but 5-3 against the Jets. In eight games against the New York defense, Manning has averaged 235.6 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Historically, the Jets have done a terrific job on wide receiver Marvin Harrison, limiting him to two 100-yard receiving days in 12 games. With the Jets certain to focus on Harrison and with No. 2 receiver Qadry Ismail on injured reserve, Reggie Wayne must step up for Indianapolis. If the weather is sloppy at Giants Stadium, there will be increased emphasis on Colts running backs Edgerrin James and James Mungro. James, who hasn't looked the same since reconstructive knee surgery, is coming off one of his better games of the season. He averaged 5.7 yards on 15 carries against Jacksonville. The Jets have tightened their run defense, allowing an average of 90.1 rushing yards during the past 11 games.

Jets offense vs. Colts defense: Jets running back Curtis Martin is getting stronger later in the season, which is a bad sign for the Colts. In his past nine games against them, he has rushed for at least 100 yards. Indianapolis finished eighth in defense, a ranking that is somewhat misleading. The Colts are undersized on the defensive line and can be pounded on the ground, where they surrendered 124.5 yards a game. Injuries will play a factor for Indianapolis, with left end Chad Bratzke nursing a strained left calf muscle and weakside linebacker Mike Peterson wearing a cast for a broken bone in his left hand. New York quarterback Chad Pennington, who took over for Vinny Testaverde in Week 5, has never played in an NFL playoff game, but the way he performed down the stretch leaves the Jets unconcerned about his poise. But the Colts secondary doesn't surrender as many big plays as last year, causing the team's points allowed per game to drop nearly 12 points to 19.6 this season. The key matchup is Jets left tackle Jason Fabini against rookie defensive end Dwight Freeney, who leads all rookies with 13 sacks.

Special teams: The Colts have an edge at kicker, with Mike Vanderjagt over John Hall, but the deciding factor will be how Indianapolis' stellar coverage teams handle the Jets' strong returns. The Jets are No. 1 in kickoff returns (23.8 yards per return) behind Chad Morton and fifth in punt returns (16.0) behind Santana Moss. But Indianapolis is ranked fifth in punt coverage and fourth in kickoffs.

Coaching: There's an interesting - and history-making - subplot between the Jets' Herman Edwards and the Colts' Tony Dungy. Edwards served as Dungy's defensive backs coach for five years (1996-2000) before taking control of the Jets in 2001. It also marks the first time that two African-American coaches will face each other in the playoffs. Still, Dungy doesn't have the right personnel yet to fit his defensive scheme.

Pick: Pennington is too hot right now while Manning is too cold in the playoffs. The postseason has been awfully kind to former backup quarterbacks. Jets, 34-17.

- Jamison Hensley

NFC wild card

Atlanta (9-6-1) at Green Bay (12-4)

Time: 8 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Packers by 7

Falcons offense vs. Packers defense: The Falcons have been hindered of late by turnovers and misfires in the red zone. The Packers thrive on takeaways and lead all playoff teams with 45. So Falcons quarterback Michael Vick will have to protect the ball better than he did down the stretch, when he threw six interceptions in five games. The Falcons have shown the ability to run the ball with Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, but Duckett has been gimpy and Dunn has trouble in the red zone. Atlanta needs a big game from Vick to stay with the Packers. He threw for 209 yards and rushed for 72 in a season-opening loss in Green Bay. Vick is throwing the ball more now, but not particularly well. He completed only 47.4 percent of his passes in the last two games. If the Packers force the Falcons into third-and-long, Vick might have to make big plays with his legs. Quentin McCord has come on to give Vick a big-play threat at wide receiver.

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