Opposite images in divisional matchups

Defenses might dominate Saturday

offenses may shine through on Sunday

Analysis

January 05, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - When the NFL playoffs resume next weekend, they will offer a quick study and sharp contrast in winning formulas.

Saturday's divisional games in St. Louis and New England could well be decided by dominating defense. Sunday's doubleheader in Kansas City and Philadelphia, meanwhile, promises offensive fireworks.

After the Indianapolis Colts demolished a pretty good Denver Broncos defense yesterday with 479 total yards and 41 points, their matchup with the big-play Kansas City Chiefs looks like a potential AFC track meet.

That will be followed by a track meet of another kind when the Green Bay Packers, 33-27 winners over Seattle yesterday, visit the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC semifinal. The Packers have a splendid running back in Ahman Green and the ageless Brett Favre at quarterback.

It's a combination that could scare the top-seeded Eagles, who have lost their best run defenders to injury and have given up six 100-yard rushing games in the second half of the season.

The second round of the playoffs opens on Saturday when the Carolina Panthers, who mauled the Dallas Cowboys in a 29-10 rout, will attempt to tame the second-seeded St. Louis Rams' so-called "Greatest Show on Turf" in the Edward Jones Dome in an NFC affair.

The nightcap, with wintry implications, will unfold in Foxboro, Mass., where the AFC's top seed, the New England Patriots, take on the Tennessee Titans, who scored the only road wild-card win this weekend in Baltimore.

Here's a brief glimpse of what's coming:

AFC

Tennessee (13-4) at New England (14-2), 8:15 p.m. Saturday: The Titans have their work cut out. Not only is quarterback Steve McNair barely ambulatory and Eddie George nursing a dislocated shoulder, but the Patriots are rested and virtually unbeatable at home.

New England allowed just 68 points in eight home games this year, but only one touchdown in the past six, stretching over 75 opponent possessions. But there is a tantalizing catch to the Patriots' superiority.

In Week 5, they surrendered 442 yards to the Titans and barely pulled out a 38-30 victory. That started the Patriots on their current 12-game winning streak, third-longest in NFL history. McNair threw for 391 yards in that game.

Indianapolis (13-4) at Kansas City (13-3), 1 p.m. Sunday: The Colts' Peyton Manning threw for five touchdowns in a 41-10 win over Denver, scoring almost at will. "This is an exceptional defense," Colts coach Tony Dungy said of the Broncos. "They're very quick. Playing against a defense of this caliber, that was a great performance."

The Chiefs looked invincible the first half of the season, and vulnerable the second, when their defense was worn down. The bye week may help reinvigorate Kansas City. Certainly the sight of Manning throwing laser beams through Denver's secondary should trigger a survival mode.

NFC

Carolina (12-5) at St. Louis (12-4), 4:30 p.m. Saturday: The Panthers gave evidence they have their "A" game back in beating Dallas. Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 273 yards and Stephen Davis rushed for 104 against the NFL's No. 1 defense to make it a no-contest.

Carolina blitzed quarterback Quincy Carter into a bad game. Getting pressure on the Rams' Marc Bulger will be even more important.

Green Bay (11-6) at Philadelphia (12-4), 4:45 p.m. Sunday: This is the rematch the Eagles didn't want to see because the first meeting was almost a nightmare. In a rainy Monday night game in Week 10, they pulled out a 17-14 win in Green Bay, but not before Green rushed for 192 yards.

The Packers finished with 241 rushing yards, including a 45-yard touchdown by Green. It doesn't help that the Eagles won't have linebacker Carlos Emmons (broken leg), their most consistent player this season.

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