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The playoffs are here!  What started with the Colts blowing out the Saints ends with the Colts bench losing to the Titans.  And now, the real season starts.  We get the march to Arizona.  Can anyone beat the Pats?  Well, before we get to that, let’s start with the Wild Card weekend… 

What did we learn this season?  Besides the obvious things we learn every year…that some teams will surprise, others will disappoint…some players will over-achieve and others will fall on their face…injuries are the great field-leveler…besides those things…what did we learn?

We learned that… 
…calling a timeout just before the snap of a kick is both evil and annoying.
…the Lions again drafted a WR with their first pick…and again missed the playoffs.
…Tom Brady, given a real receiving core, can set his own passing records.
…A team can quit on their coach (Ravens) and a coach can quit on his team (Falcons).
…Joey Harrington…well…he’s just not good.
…throwboack jerseys can look downright ugly.
…taking just this season, Trent Edwards is the best QB to come out of the 2007 draft.
…Derek Anderson isn’t just a washed up NBA player…he’s also QB for the Browns.
…under no circumstances should you kick to Devin Hester.
…that winning teams have good Defensive and Offensive lines, without the big boys, your up a creek. 

Before we get to the first round of the playoffs, let me cover a few topics from week 17…

Wow…16-0…never thought I’d see the day.  Plus, what a great game to finish it off.  Not some 49-10 pasting…a real dropdown fight to the finish.  Congrats to the Pats and their fans for a great season…and congrats to the Giants and their fans for putting up a real fight. 

Thanks to the NFL’s great decision to allow all of us to see the game Saturday…I got my first taste of Bryant Gumbel.  Wow…he’s horrible.  He doesn’t seem to understand football, sports or how to have a conversation about either.  But what sent me over the edge was this line…

“Are you really telling me that if the Patriots do not win the Super Bowl, that this season will be a failure?  This team is about to finish 16-0, isn’t that worth something.” 

My ears almost fell off my head.  Thank you Chris Collinsworth for responding with a simple “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”  The goal of any and all teams in the NFL is to win the Super Bowl.  From day one that is the goal.  For the few that are true contenders at the start of the year, if a Super Bowl win is not attained, it is a failure.  So for a team to go undefeated in the regular season and NOT win the Super Bowl?  Can there be a bigger failure?  The Colts won the Super Bowl last year with a 12-4 regular season record…which means 4 teams beat them during the regular season…so if they had lost a game it wouldn’t be terribly shocking.  But the Pats have beaten every team they have played.  Including almost every playoff team…if they were to suddenly lose….

Okay, I’ll stop now…Gumbel, you’re an idiot.  You’ve moved ahead of Tony K as my least favorite broadcaster. 

Well the last 2 weeks, the Bears looked good.  Not great, but good.  It was encouraging to see. And Kyle Orton moves to 12-6 as a starter….hmmmmm….something to be said for just winning games.  Good to see the Defense step it up the last few weeks as everyone started to get healthy.  With a few tweaks here and there, maybe we’re right back in this thing next year.

You have to win to have a shot at the playoffs…did the Vikings and Saints miss that memo?  Or did they already know the result of the Redskins game?  Were there two teams with more at stake that played with less heart than the Vikes and Saints?  Well guys, there’s always next year.

Let's get to the picks, shall we?

Washington at Seattle

Saturday on NBC at 4:30pm

Everyone has a theory on starting a fire.  Every single step in the process leaves room for people to add their own ideas, superstitions, strategies, plans, and philosophies.

Some people wad newspaper.
Some people twist the newspaper.
Some people crumple or ball the newspaper.
Some people pile the kindling on.
Some people make a teepee with the kindling.
Some people make a small house like structure with kindling.
Some people don’t stop at kindling, they go ahead and add a log or five in there.
Some people light one spot in the fire.
Some people light several spots.
Some people dump gasoline all over the pile, and then light.

In the end, just about any combination of the above steps will get you a fire.  How you start a fire doesn’t really matter.  What matters is getting the fire hot.  To do that, you need to build up a nice bed of red hot embers.  For those that don’t understand fire basics, after wood burns for awhile, it breaks into smaller chunks that glow red hot…they won’t have the cool flames everyone likes, but if you were to pick one of these things up…well…who needs a hand anyway? 

Once you have your fire hot enough…you could put anything in there to burn.  Wet logs?  Yep.  Wet Blanket? Sure.  Complete Michael Bolton CD collection? Why not.  Sister’s Barbie Doll?  Without blinking an eye.  Not that I’ve tried most of these things…but the fact of the matter is, once the core of the fire is red hot, you just gotta keep feeding it, and it will reduce anything you want to ashes.  But the thing you don’t want to do?  Let those coals die.  Once the core of the fire dies off, you have to basically rebuild the whole thing to get it hopping again.

The same is true with a football team.  Well, except for the fact that you can wad all the newspaper you want, and you still won’t have a football team.  But the basic premise is the same, get the core red hot, and you can burn through anything. 

But if you let that core die…

The Redskins are on a roll, they have won 4 straight, and played their way into the playoffs.  The Defense is playing tough, flying to the ball and coming up with the big plays.  The offense has found a rhythm under Todd Collins.  This team is just burning through things… 

A few weeks ago, the Hawks were that team as well.  The passing game was clicking, and their D was just mauling people…but then the last 3 weeks…well…this team isn’t looking so hot right now.  They lose to the headless Panthers…running for a whopping 44 yards!  Then they “beat up” on the Ravens…but a closer look at things, shows Hasselbeck got picked off twice, and other than a 14 point outburst in the 2nd quarter, the offense didn’t really play a complete game.  And then they let up 44 points to the Falcons.  Yes, I know it’s the last week of the season, they were resting people…but this is the Falcons…their coach just quit…and they had Chris Redman playing QB…they should not score 44 points on ANYONE, let alone a playoff bound team.  So the question is…did the core of the fire burn out?

Washington has the Defense to bring it to the Hawks.  The Skins get the win, and the 12th man goes silent.  This will be a tough offseason for the Hawks…with some tough decisions to make…with the core of this team getting up there in age, there might be some big names headed out of Seattle. 

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh

Saturday on NBC at 8pm

The in laws got my daughter a webcam.  Strange gift for a toddler you say?  Does she have her own website, you ask?  No and no.

This is one of those gifts that is on the selfish side, it’s really a gift for the giver.  You see, both my wife’s parents and my parents live in other states…if you’ve read any of my blog, you can guess where my Parents live, and the in-laws line if Colorado.  Which means, they don’t get to see much of my daughter.  Well, the webcam is the technological answer to that problem.  Perfect solution?  No, cause a webcam can’t run up to you, hug your leg and say “Grammy, you’re my favorite in the whole world.”  But it’s a lot better than a phone call that lasts 3 seconds. 

So this Christmas my daughter had both sets of grandparents there.  My folks were there in the flesh…while my wife’s were virtually there.  Once we got it all setup…which took all of 2 minutes contrary to what those Mac ads will tell you about the PC…it was a really cool thing.  It made me think of every “futuristic” movie I had ever seen, where people would talk on Video phones, and you’d think…”Man, that’s so cool…that will never happen”…

But my daughter didn’t totally get it.  She loves the laptop, she knows that on it she can see pictures and videos of herself, or her cousin.  Plus, thanks to the brilliance of YouTube, she gets to watch plenty of Classic Sesame Street clips.  So she’s used to the laptop as a source of entertainment.  And she sat there, excitedly watching her Grammy and Pappy on the screen…confused when they would ask her questions…excited when Pappy played his guitar for her…and finally, turned to my wife and said… 

“Let’s watch a different video.”

Just a few weeks ago, these same 2 teams met, at the same location…and the outcome was a 29-22 Jaguars win.  The question is, will we be watching a different video this Saturday?  Or just a repeat of Week 15? 

This Steelers team is reeling right now.  Ever since the Pats game, this team hasn’t been the same.  The team just isn’t clicking like it was in the early season…even losing to the Ravens to end the season…yuck. 

The outcome of this game will rest on the coaches…both these teams have vets that will come to play…it will be up to the coaches to figure this one out.  Can Tomlin and his staff figure out what they did wrong in the first game, and come back with a better scheme in this game?  And can Del Rio and his staff make enough minor tweaks to keep the Steelers guessing, while sticking with what worked so well in the last game? 

Both coaching staffs are good, so this should be a great game…2 tough, hard-working teams…just the ideal playoff game.

In the end, the Jags have the Steelers number.  It’s a tough call, but the Steelers just aren’t clicking, and I don’t think they’ll have the time to right the ship before the Jags roll into town.  Jags win, and the Steelers head off to vacation spots as yet undetermined. 

NY Giants at Tampa Bay

Sunday on FOX at 1pm

A few years ago, I was working at a little startup in the Seattle area.  At the time, I was employee number 20, so that gives you an idea of size.  Our office was in this ugly little strip mall style office building…not a real chic spot…but it gave us a place to work.  The place had 2 bathrooms…a ladies room, for the whooping 2 female employees, and a men’s room for the other 18 of us.  It had 1 stall and 2 urinals…so you can guess that after a company sponsored Indian lunch, the bathroom was quite busy.

If you’ve ever worked at a company this small, especially one that you stay with for awhile and watch grow up, one of the cool things about those early days is the fact that you know everyone.  From the CEO and President of the company to the guy that waters the plants.  You’re all in it together, and so there is a bond that forms that is quite exciting. 

One afternoon, after staring at my PC for way too long, I got up to stretch my legs and drain the lizard.  I pushed open the door, and noted that the stall and one of the urinals was taken.  Now, I’m a firm believer of the “no talking at the urinal unless drunk”…and the “allow as much space as possible between urinals” rules of men’s room etiquette.  But I had no choice in this matter, and bellied up to the only urinal.

Just then, from inside the stall came one of those exploding sounds, that only a wet, nasty, coffee and fiber induced crap can make.  Both myself, and Carl, the other Urinal user, gave each other discussed looks.  And then the smell hit.  We both scrunched our faces, and zipped up and shot out the door. 

After we were clear of the stench, we started laughing, and saying things like “What in the hell died in there?”

We both loitered around the kitchen area, which was right next to the bathrooms, and the only way for a person using the bathroom to return to the work area.  There was a conference hall down the other way from the bathroom, but you had to go through the kitchen for everything else. 

And so we waited…

The door swung open, and out walked the Vice President of the company.  He turned down the hall to the conference room, waited a beat and walked back into the kitchen…greeting us with an innocent “What’s up guys?” 

We both played it cool, and didn’t bust him out.  He walked off, and the 2 of us just shared a smile and a knowing glance.

The Giants are a good football team…not a great one, but a good one.  Eli Manning is a good QB, not a great one, but a good one.  But due to the fact that they call New York home….everyone of their struggles gets amplified like someone having the runs in a small bathroom.  Their Defense is the real deal; they get after the QB and make him pay for holding the ball even a split second too long.  But their offense is really depleted. 

Tampa also has a swarming defense.  And while they have some injury issues on the offensive side of the ball as well, they have a veteran QB that has led his team to victory in the playoffs, and knows how to deal with a pass rush.

As strange as it might sound, Jeff Garcia is the difference in this game.  Eli still makes too many mistakes.  Garcia understands that to win in the playoffs you can’t make any mistakes, and he’s good at that.  His gusty play will be the difference in this one. 

Bucs win.  G-men have half a team that is ready for more…now they just need to get healthy, and get Eli to play more consistent.  One of those things should be easy.

Tennessee at San Diego

Sunday on CBS at 4:30pm

At the tender age of 2, I was introduced to 2 things…baseball and the Chicago White Sox.  From that point on, I knew the only career I ever wanted was to play Shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.  Luke Appling, Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Guillen…and Me. 

My summers were spent playing baseball every waking hour of the day.  Whether it was playing organized ball, pickup games, finding someone to hit balls to be or pitch to me, or simply throwing a ball against the garage for hours on end.  My glove got to the point that if it was hit near me, it was mine.  And as long as a ball was near the plate, I hit it and hit it hard.

This continued for most of my young life…I was always one of the first selected when teams were being picked, and baseball was the center of my world.  And then the competition started to heat up…as I rose through the ranks of the leagues…I found that I was struggling.  I was no longer one of the best on my team.  When sophomore year of high school came around, and I made the sophomore team…but was one of the last guys off the bench…it started to dawn on me that maybe my future wasn’t in baseball. 

And by the time I was cut from Varsity ball the following year, I was okay with things.  The dream was over, but I had known it was a dream for awhile.  When you struggle against 16 year olds throwing curveballs, the chances you’ll have issues against Major League pitching…seems high.

The memory of my baseball career came back to me while I was watching the Titans struggle against the Colts B Squad…they’re having this much trouble beating Jim Sorgi and the funky bunch?  How are they going to fare come playoff time? 

Not to mention that the Chargers beat the Titans a few weeks ago…and the Titans had the luxury of being at home for that one.

Both of these things add up to a very disappointed Jeff Fisher. 

Chargers aren’t 16 year-olds throwing curveballs…maybe they aren’t Cy Young caliber, but they are a solid #2 started in the bigs, this Titans team is going to have their hands full against them.  Chargers get the win.  The Titans need to take time this off-season to get some real play makers around Vince Young, and continue to grow and mature that guy.

Here’s a little piece of advice that can carry you through most of life…when the temperature is less than your age…it is too cold.  And if it’s half your age?  Man, there isn’t enough fleece in the world for that occasion.  We’re looking at highs in the teens tomorrow here…I know, not that cold…but after living in Seattle for 5 years, I’ve gotten soft.  Ah well, that’s what they invented booze for.  Well isn’t it? 

Hope everyone had a great New Years…when the clock struck midnight, the wife and I were asleep on the couch in front of the fire…ah the rip roaring life of parents!  Hopefully, some of you out there threw back a few for me, and lived it up.  Here’s to all of you in the new year, may it be filled with laughter, love, and fun.

Let me leave you with a few questions… 

What did you learn from the NFL regular season?

For those of us fans of the 20 teams that aren’t in the playoffs…what are you looking forward to? 

Finally, what’s your best bathroom story?

And please, as always, feel free to leave the answers to any of these questions below…or just tell me I’m full of it…

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