Today's games

January 12, 2003|By Brent Jones

NFC divisional round

San Francisco (11-6) at Tampa Bay (12-4)

Time: 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5.

Line: Bucs by 6.

49ers offense vs. Bucs defense: San Francisco found success in a hurry-up, pass-oriented offense in the second half against the Giants last week. Quarterback Jeff Garcia rallied his team from 24 points down by throwing two touchdowns and running for another. Garcia prefers such an attack and the 49ers likely will switch to it if the running game is ineffective. A hurry-up offense also might tire Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp (7 1/2 sacks) and end Simeon Rice (15 1/2 sacks), both of whom rush the passer well. Terrell Owens, the 49ers' standout receiver, faces a stern challenge from cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly. Running backs Kevin Barlow and Garrison Hearst combined for just seven attempts against the Giants but both helped produce an effective rushing attack for much of the season (140.3 yards a game, sixth in the NFL). Derrick Brooks, who won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award last week, is the leader of the No. 1 defense in points allowed (12.3) and yardage (252.8).

Bucs offense vs. 49ers defense: Quarterback Brad Johnson will start after missing the final two games with a back injury and that is season-saving news for Tampa Bay. The Bucs' offense struggled with just one touchdown in the two games without Johnson. Johnson threw for 3,049 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions this season while setting a franchise record with a 92.9 quarterback rating. The 49ers' secondary struggled for most of the game against the Giants last week. Running back Michael Pittman was largely a bust this season as the Bucs averaged just 97.3 rushing yards, 27th in the NFL. Pittman, who signed as a free agent to replace Warrick Dunn, ran for 718 yards behind a suspect line that has taken its share of criticism. The 49ers are giving up just 103.3 yards on the ground, seventh best in the league.

Special teams: Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica has hit his past 11 field-goal attempts, including five in the regular-season finale against Chicago. San Francisco kicker Jeff Chandler made eight of 12 field-goal tries after replacing Jose Cortez and nailed a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter of last week's game. Tampa Bay punter Tom Tupa was seventh in the NFL with a 42.8 average and longtime Bucs punt returner Karl Williams averaged 9.5 yards and ran one back 56 yards for a touchdown this year. San Francisco has one of the league's best punt returners in Jimmy Williams, who led the NFL with a 16.8 average.

Coaching: This may be a wash. San Francisco's Steve Mariucci and Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden are respected coaches who have won and lost in the playoffs. More pressure is on Gruden, however, since he took Oakland, his former team, to the playoffs twice but not to the Super Bowl.

Pick: Despite the ragged way Tampa Bay finished the season, its defense should be good enough to contain San Francisco. Johnson might be rusty, but he will make enough plays to Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell to advance the Bucs to the next round. Tampa Bay, 20-10.

AFC divisional round

New York Jets (10-7) at Oakland (11-5)

Time: 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9.

Line: Raiders by 5 1/2 .

Jets offense vs. Raiders defense: There is not a hotter offensive team than the Jets. Quarterback Chad Pennington is leading the attack with much the same poise New England quarterback Tom Brady displayed a year ago. Over the past three games, all dominant Jets wins, Pennington has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions, while New York has scored at least 30 points in each game for the first time since 1988. Oakland's biggest question mark comes in the secondary, where cornerback Charles Woodson is expected to play despite having surgery Dec. 24 for a cracked fibula. Fellow cornerback Tory James, who suffered the same injury earlier this season, will start for the first time in three games and should help the NFL's 23rd-ranked pass defense (220.4 yards). Jets running back Curtis Martin -- who suffered through much of the season with an ankle injury -- is healthy. He and former Maryland star LaMont Jordan combined for 169 yards on 35 carries against the Colts in the 41-0 wild-card rout, but the Jets are likely to depend more on Martin this game.

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