Slow start to pick season


WALLA WALLA - Don't say I didn't tell you so.

I cautioned you all last week - before making my playoff predictions - that my NFL expertise was a tad bit inadequate this season due to an acute case of disinterest. And to that extent, I was right on.

So far I'm four-for-four. Missed them all.

Anyone interested in joining me in Las Vegas? If I bet black, you can take red. If I say hold, ask for a hit. And please don't let me roll the dice.

Actually, I suspect I'm not the only one who took a bath during the wild-card round of the playoffs. As much as I hate to admit that I went with the favorites, I think it's fair to say that all four winners went into the weekend as underdogs.

That was certainly the case for the Seahawks, who stunned all of professional football by defeating the defending Super Bowl champion Saints 41-36 last Saturday in Seattle. The odds were stacked heavily against the 7-9 Hawks, even though they were the NFC West champions and held the home-field advantage.

Now they're the only team in NFL history to win a postseason game with a losing record.

And the other three games were all won by the road team.

The Jets ambushed the Colts 17-16 in Indianapolis on a last-second field goal. The Ravens sent Kansas City fans home early by routing the Chiefs 30-7. And the Packers advanced to the divisional round with a 21-16 victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Three wild-card teams - Jets, Ravens and Packers - are still alive. And three divisional champions - Colts, Chiefs and Eagles - are now on the sidelines.

But as they say, that's why you play the games. It's precisely what makes athletic competition so compelling in the first place. It's why we watch.

You can't help but be happy for coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. Roundly ridiculed for qualifying for the playoffs with a losing record, Seattle's victory over New Orleans is proof positive that in the NFL there is very little that separates the haves from the have nots.

And now, for the first time in years, Seattle football fans have a bounce in their step. Thanks to the Seahawks - and the Huskies, who beat Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl - the city feels like a winner again.

And there's reason to believe the Hawks can keep that feeling going for at least another week. Their next test comes Sunday when they tackle the NFC North champion Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears won their division with an 11-5 record, but one of their five losses was a 23-20 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks Oct. 17 in Chicago.

The Seahawks couldn't have hoped for more, considering their other option would have been a trip to Atlanta to play the top-seeded Falcons, whose 13-3 record is the best in the NFC. The Falcons will entertain the Packers Saturday evening.

And as incredible as it may sound, victories by the Seahawks and the Packers would send the playoffs back to Qwest Field in Seattle for the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 23.

Those are not my predictions, mind you. Why would I want to jinx the Seahawks?

As for the AFC side of the bracket, there are a couple of intriguing showdowns between divisional rivals on the agenda. The Ravens renew their AFC North rivalry with the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Saturday and the Jets take on AFC East rival New England on the Patriots' home field in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday.

The teams split during the regular season.

The Ravens and Steelers each won by a field on the other's home field, offering the promise of another close, physical battle this weekend. The Jets and the Patriots each won on their home field, with New England's 45-3 victory on Dec. 6 suggesting the Jets might be up against it in Sunday's rubber match.

I've never been much of a Steelers fan, going all the way back to their 16-6 Super Bowl victory over the Vikings in 1975. And I've held a grudge against the Patriots ever since their less-than-classy treatment of Drew Bledsoe leading up to his trade to Buffalo after the 2001 season.

So I'll go with the Steelers and Patriots this weekend, confident that it will set up a Ravens-Jets battle for the AFC title.


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