The weekend gets started with Washington traveling to Seattle. Unfortunately, Seattle plays in the NFC Worst, a division that would lose to most BCS schools. Still, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has shown brilliance at times and coach Mike Holmgren is no slouch when it comes to taking teams deep into the postseason.The Redskins, on the other hand, are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won four straight, including a rout over archrival Dallas last Sunday. They also boast Chris Cooley, an ex-Utah State Aggie, who's good for several catches per game as well as a TD once in a while. They'll also be reminded each time they tackle an opponent because the 21 sticker honors murdered teammate Sean Taylor. As much as I want to pick the 'Skins, I'll have to give Seattle a slight edge with home field and the better QB. Seattle moves on next week against the Packers by edging Washington 24-23.
The Jacksonville-Pittsburgh matchup is easily the best of the wild-card contests. The Jags handed the Steelers their only home loss this season on an ugly night on an uglyturf. Pittsburgh also boasts Ben Roethlisberger, who before his motorcycle accident and appendectomy in 2006, was easily one of the top three QBs in the league. Since then, he's tapered off some and is only a mere mortal now. Jacksonville's David Garrard, on the other hand, has had a sterling year and directs a balanced offense that has the rest of the AFC wary of facing these guys. Despite Pittsburgh's local connection with a couple of former BYU players on its roster, I'm picking the Jaguars to sneak by and throw a bit of fear into the Patriots' perfect season plans. Jaguars 24, Steelers 17
Giants-BucsEli Manning plays in spurts. Sometimes he's good and sometimes he's downright awful. But lately his Giants have had it together and the G-men look decent, if not threatening. The Bucs, meanwhile, have been mostly sleepwalking into the playoffs. QB Jeff Garcia has done a decent job taking care of the ball, but Jon Gruden's offense is less than inspiring and his defense is, well, suspect. The Giants survived a tough slog through the NFC East to get where they are, and with a single ex-Utah State player on Tampa's roster, the Giants should roll on to play division rival Dallas next week. Giants 31, Buccaneers 19.
Jeff Fisher's Titans edged out everyone's favorite underdog, the Cleveland Browns, to earn the trip to San Diego and a first-round matchup against the still surprising Chargers. This matchup features two high-powered running backs, Tennessee's LenDale White and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson. If both are utilized to their max, this game could end in just over two hours. But QBs aren't paid just to just hand off and watch. Look for both sides to make big offense pushes, so it will be up to the better defense to win the game and that, with its Utah connection means San Diego will get to face the Colts next week. Chargers 34, Titans 24.
And the champ is ...As for the rest of the playoffs: Packers rout Seahawks at Lambeau; Cowboys roll over the Giants in Dallas; Patriots rally to defeat Jaguars at Foxboro; Colts crush the Chargers in Indy.
NFC/AFC Championships: Romo, T.O. and the Cowboys (with Jessica Simpson in attendance) edge Favre and the Packers; Patriots outshoot the Colts.
Super Bowl: Patriots defeat the Cowboys in a matchup of each conference's best team, and the '72 Dolphins can finally quit toasting themselves as New England completes a perfect 19-0 season.
Local ties to playoffs
Local players to keep an eye on during the NFL playoffs:
Green Bay Packers
DB Jarrett Bush (Utah State)
NT Chris Hoke (BYU)
San Diego Chargers
DL Ryon Bingham (Nebraska/Alta HS)
LB Marques Harris (Southern Utah)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers