JACKSONVILLE (11-5) at PITTSBURGH (10-6)
WHEN: Saturday, 6 p.m. MST
WHERE: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
GHOSTS OF PLAYOFFS PAST:
JACKSONVILLE: Natrone Means. His 175 yards in the Jaguars’ wild-card win over the Bills in 1996 gave the team its first playoff win and perpetuated the momentum they’d built in a five-game, five-win mad dash from 4-7 despair to a playoff-worthy 9-7 finish. What he and his Jacksonville comrades did next week is something that I’m sure most in Broncos Country wish to forget, even though that 30-27 loss at Mile High Stadium is pointed to by many players as the fuel that powered a world-championship engine a year later.
PITTSBURGH: Franco Harris. Heading into a 1972 divisional-round duel with the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers hadn’t played a postseason game with any championship relevance in 25 years, since a 1947 Eastern Division postseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — the same team with which the Steelers had temporarily merged in 1943 because of a player shortage during the Second World War. The Steelers’ other postseason foray was a 1962 loss to Detroit in the inconsequential Playoff Bowl, which was something of a third-place game contested throughout the 1960s. Harris’ “immaculate reception” — whether it should have counted or not — merely gave the Steelers their first postseason win in their 40-season history.
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES: How quickly one forgets that these two clubs were staunch rivals for seven seasons from 1996-2001 before the league’s realignment into eight four-team divisions. The Jaguars won eight of the 14 games in that span and have now won three in succession in the series, including a 29-22 win in Week 15 … After winning no playoff games in their first 39 seasons of existence, Pittsburgh has won 28 in the 36 seasons that have followed … Pittsburgh won four straight at home over the Jaguars from 1995-98 but is just 1-4 against them at home since.
IN THE NOW: As Fox Sports Net photojournalist Charlie Felix — who also covers every Broncos game — and I watched all the early Week 15 games at local hangout Grand Slam Sports Cafe, one thing became clear to both of us — the Jaguars had turned the tables on the Steelers. It was the Jaguars who were landing the haymakers, who controlled the interior, whose tactics and style seemed far more suited to the boggy moor that the overextended Heinz Field playing surface had become. Indeed, while the Steelers have the league’s No. 3 rushing attack in the NFL, Jacksonville’s is No. 2, 13.9 yards per game clear of their former AFC Central rivals. Over the course of the season, however, the Steelers have the better rush defense; the figure of 89.9 is third-best in the league … In their seven seasons at Heinz Field, the Steelers are 3-2 in postseason games; however, they have won all three postseason openers at the stadium, in the 2001, 2002 and 2004 playoffs … There’s been some debate over how to pronounce “Jaguars.” What is commonly considered correct in American Standard English is “jag-wars.” What is incorrect, is far too often used and personally drives me up all four walls in my home office is when someone calls them the “jag-wires,” since I don’t see an “i” anywhere in their nickname. But what would seem to be the truly correct pronunciation comes from a late-night viewing of Britain’s Sky Sports News, which airs on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean for at least a couple of hours per day on Fox Soccer Channel. There, the anchors said, “jag-yoo-ars” during the NFL segment of their broadcast. Of the three pronunciations, the English one is the only one that is phonetically correct.
MASON’S PICK: Jacksonville, 28-17. As I turn over the particulars of this clash in my head, I can’t get past the fact that the Jaguars physically dominated the Steelers when Willie Parker was healthy — he had 100 yards on 14 carries, and the Steelers still fell behind by 15 … so how much better might they do with the pride of Clinton, N.C. rendered unavailable? By any way you say their name, the Jaguars will try and do what they did in Week 15 — come out and punch the Steelers in the mouth.
OTHER PICKS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE:
MIKE RICE, NEWSRADIO 850 KOA: Jacksonville, 16-13.
KYLE MONTGOMERY, BRONCOTALK: Jacksonville is the most consistent team in the NFL. They’ll win easily.
JOHN BENA, MILE HIGH REPORT:: Jaguars, 17-13. There is just something special about Jacksonville, and a meeting with New England next week seems to be their destiny.
JONATHAN DOUGLAS, BRONCOTALK: Parker is out … I think the Jaguars will continue their recent streak of Steelers beatings.
TENNESSEE (10-6) AT SAN DIEGO (11-5)
WHEN: Sunday, 2:30 p.m. MST
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
TENNESSEE: Dan Pastorini. Of course, we’re diving back into the franchise’s Houston days for this choice, the team’s quarterback through much of the 1970s who in spite of nagging injuries, persisted on the field and sometimes seemed as indestructible as styrofoam at a landfill. His 20-of-29, 306-yard performance in a wild-card game at Miami on Christmas Eve 1978 gave the Oilers their first playoff win in 17 years.
SAN DIEGO: Kellen Winslow. History remembers an image that is perhaps gridion’s most exquisite encapsulation of having all energy drained after a long day’s work, the picture of him being helped from the Orange Bowl after the Jan. 2, 1982 divisional-playoff win over Miami. But his efforts proved equally valuable just over a year later when San Diego charged into Three Rivers Stadium — where the Steelers had won seven consecutive playoff games, and were 8-1 in all postseason games to that point, with the only blemish being a loss to the unbeaten 1972 Dolphins — and dealt them a 31-28 first-round loss in that year’s “Super Bowl Tournament,” so named because the 57-day players strike had truncated the schedule to nine games and necessitated bulking the postseason field to 16. Winslow’s two fourth-quarter touchdown catches — including a 2-yarder with 60 seconds left in regulation time — brought the Chargers back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit.
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES: There’s actually a pretty fair history between the two franchises, dating back to the earliest years of the American Football League, when they dueled in the fledgling outfit’s first two championship games. The Houston Oilers won both, 24-16 on New Year’s Day 1961 over the then-Los Angeles Chargers and 10-3 on Christmas Eve 1961 in San Diego, where the Chargers relocated in the offseason. In 1979, they dueled again and the weakened Oilers, reeling from injuries to Pastorini and Earl Campbell, stunned the homestanding Chargers 17-14, thanks primarily to Vernon Perry’s playoff-record four interceptions … San Diego leads the all-time series 22-16-1, including a 14-5-1 edge at home … San Diego is actually better in road playoff games than home ones; the team is 3-5 on the road all-time in the postseason and 4-7 at home, with a 1-2 ledger at Balboa Stadium and a 3-5 mark at San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium.
IN THE NOW: Titans quarterback Vince Young is a game-time decision, which could have the effect of making their offense difficult to prepare for. His backup, Kerry Collins, is 3-3 as a playoff starter, but all of those wins came at home, with an 0-2 mark in road games and an 0-1 ledger on neutral turf (Super Bowl XXXV) … San Diego’s Norv Turner won the only wild-card game of his career as a head coach, on Jan. 8, 2000 for the Washington Redskins against the Detroit Lions … The Titans franchise has dropped five straight against the Chargers dating back to Sept. 19, 1993, and haven’t scored more than 17 points against them in that span … Tennessee is 3-2 in playoff road games since January 2000 … San Diego has won 10 of its last 12 games since the 1-3 start … The Chargers are looking for their first playoff win since the 1994 AFC Championship.
MASON’S PICK: San Diego, 30-16. Chargers have too much firepower for the Titans.
OTHER PICKS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE:
MIKE RICE, NEWSRADIO 850 KOA: San Diego, 26-14.
KYLE MONTGOMERY, BRONCOTALK: I like the Titans. They were poised to beat San Diego a few weeks ago, and something tells me they’ve learned from their mistakes and are ready to put the Chargers away. Plus, I really, really hate the Chargers.
JOHN BENA, MILE HIGH REPORT:: Chargers, 20-17. The Titans had the Chargers beat a few weeks ago and gave it away. As much as I can’t stand the Chargers, and respect Fisher and the Titans, I have to take San Diego to finally win a home playoff game.
JONATHAN DOUGLAS, BRONCOTALK: At this point I think I’d cheer for the Raiders if they were playing Rivers and the Chargers … I’ll take anyone but San Diego, so the Titans are the pick.