WASHINGTON (9-7) AT SEATTLE (10-6)
WHEN: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. MST
WHERE: Qwest Field, Seattle
GHOSTS OF PLAYOFFS PAST:
WASHINGTON: John Riggins. This is the 25th anniversary of the Redskins’ run to Super Bowl XVII — and I use the word “run” because it was Riggins who carried the team to the promised land of Pasadena. One-hundred and nineteen yards against Detroit in the opening-round win over Detroit … another 185 yards a week later against Minnesota … a 140-yard stampede over Dallas in the NFC Championship … and a then-Super Bowl record 166 yards against Miami to give the Redskins their first world title in 40 years. He would eventually stretch his run of consecutive 100-yard playoff games to six before having it snapped in Super Bowl XVIII a year later. The only man with more consecutive 100-yard rushing games in the playoffs? Denver’s Terrell Davis.
SEATTLE: Dan Doornink. During his seven years as a Seahawk, he spent his offseasons in medical school, and on Dec. 22, 1984, he was the cure for a Seahawks running game that had been a bit sickly after Curt Warner tore an anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns. After averaging 3.8 carries per game in the previous four seasons, Doornink crashed through the Los Angeles Raiders 29 times for 126 yards to lead the Seahawks to a 13-7 wild-card win. The ‘Hawks wouldn’t win another playoff game for over 21 years. Their opponents in the next playoff win? The Redskins.
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES: The teams’ lone playoff duel was that breakthrough win two years ago, a 20-10 Seattle triumph that helped propel the Seahawks to their first — and still lone — NFC championship … Washington has won nine of the 14 all-time games between the clubs … Washington has a pair of four-game winning streaks over the Seahawks — one from 1983-92, the other from 2001-05 … Steve Largent’s last game was against the Redskins on Dec. 23, 1989; the Seahawks lost that desultory season-ender at the Kingdome, 29-0 … After averaging just 9.2 points a game and never scoring more than 17 in their first six games against the Redskins, the Seahawks have averaged 19.1 in their last eight games against Washington, which the teams have split … The Redskins are 4-2 in Seattle and 1-1 at Qwest Field.
IN THE NOW: Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs publicly fretted about the difficulty of playing in Seattle. But few coaches are better in situations like these. Gibbs is 5-4 in road playoff games, 4-0 in wild-card games and 8-1 in playoff openers, including 4-0 on the road. He’s also 5-1 against Seattle, but his lone loss was in the ’05 postseason … Shaun Alexander has shown a little more zip in the last couple of weeks, but the Redskins rank fourth against the run. Seattle’s hopes will ride upon Matt Hasselbeck’s arm … If Todd Collins can direct the Redskins to a victory, he will be the sixth different quarterback to win a playoff game under Gibbs. Joe Theismann went 6-1 as a playoff starter for the Redskins; Mark Rypien was 5-2; Doug Williams was 3-0; Jay Schroeder 2-1 and Mark Brunell 1-1.
MASON’S PICK: Washington, 27-23. This is a typical Gibbs team — slow at the start, strong at the finish. Like many of his other teams, it learned how to mask its shortcomings and force games into what it can do best. And it’s doubtful anyone can match the emotional crescendo at which the team is playing.
OTHER PICKS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE:
MIKE RICE, NEWSRADIO 850 KOA: Washington, 20-17.
KYLE MONTGOMERY, BRONCOTALK: Toughest game to pick in my mind. Washington may be on fire, but I think Seattle will defend its home field in January and come away with a win.
JOHN BENA, MILE HIGH REPORT:: Seattle, 24-16. I do think it is going to be a hard-fought football game, but the Redskins have expended alot of energy the past month or so, while the Seahwaks rolled to a division title. I’ll take the Seahawks, pulling away in the seocnd half.
JONATHAN DOUGLAS, BRONCOTALK: I think the Redskins have been playing inspired recently and I see them taking the ‘Hawks.
N.Y. GIANTS (10-6) at TAMPA BAY (9-7)
WHEN: Sunday, 11 a.m. MST
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
GHOSTS OF PLAYOFFS PAST:
NEW YORK: Scott Brunner. In the early 1980s, a quarterback controversy threatened to engulf the Giants’ rebuilding efforts, as fans, media and front-office types debated the merits of Brunner and a fair-haired Kentuckian who was the team’s first-round pick in 1979. Of course, that Bluegrass State product was Phil Simms, who would become one of the Big Blue’s finest players, but in December 1981, Brunner held the starter’s job, piloting the Giants into the postseason for the first time in 18 years for a wild-card game against the defending NFC champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. By halftime, Brunner had three touchdown passes, which along with a Mark Haynes end-zone fumble recovery proved to be enough to give the Giants their first playoff win in 23 years, as they held off a late Eagles rally for a 27-21 win.
TAMPA BAY: Doug Williams. Before he achieved his greatest fame as a Washington Redskin, he led the Bucs to their first playoff appearance and win — a 24-17 divisional-round triumph over Philadelphia on Dec. 29, 1979. Williams’ numbers weren’t too splendid; he was 7-of-15 for 132 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But it was that score that halted an Eagles rally from a 17-0 deficit; Philadelphia had whittled the edge to 17-10 by early in the fourth quarter. But Ricky Bell popped outside for a 26-yard run, setting Williams up for a 3-yard pass to tight end Jimmie Giles that continued the Bucs’ improbable ride for another week. Eight days later, the Bucs’ bandwagon busted a piston and lost 9-0 to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship. After scoring 24 points against the Eagles, the Bucs would amass just 17 in their next three playoff games, then wouldn’t return to the postseason for nearly 15 years.
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES: Why do I see this matchup and think of a late-’70s/early-’80s game during which John McKay would be stalking one of the sidelines, wearing his Gorton’s fisherman cap? Probably because the teams met nine times between 1977 and 1985 (by which time McKay had retired) and on just seven occasions in the 22 seasons that followed … New York leads the all-time series 10-6, but the Bucs have won five of their last seven at home against Big Blue dating back to a 31-3 win in 1979 … A 20-8 Bucs win at Giants Stadium on Nov. 30, 1997 clinched the Bucs’ first winning season in 15 years … Remember the name Eric Schubert? He was the substitute teacher whom the Giants called upon in 1985 to handle kicking duties after parting ways with Jess Atkinson, who had replaced the injured Ali Haji-Sheikh. (Does anyone else long for days when half the kickers’ surnames were almost unpronounceable to the English-speaking tongue?) Anyhow, the 5-foot-7, 195-pound kicker coolly drilled five field goals in his pro debut to give the New Yorkers a 22-20 win.
IN THE NOW: There’s reasons not to pick each team in this game — and they are polar opposites. The Bucs didn’t put enough stock in a Week 17 game that had no bearing on their playoff seeding and thus could be rusty; the Giants might have put too much into a similarly inconsequential final-week game and could be emotionally spent … The likely absence of linebacker Cato June — he is listed as doubtful — is not what you want to see when facing a power-running team like the Giants, whose ground attack is ranked fourth in the league. Look for Ryan Nece to take June’s place. The Bucs’ defense stands second in the NFL — but just 17th against the run … For Tampa Bay, everything is predicated on forcing the Giants to pass, because Tampa Bay’s productivity has revolved almost entirely around amassing a positive turnover margin. No one in the NFC has more takeaways than Tampa Bay, with 35 on 16 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries, and the Bucs’ turnover margin of plus-15 is the best in their conference. The Giants, meanwhile, have 34 giveaways — tied with the Titans for the most among postseason qualifiers. New York’s minus-9 turnover ratio is the worst among playoff teams, and Eli Manning’s 20 interceptions are the most in the league … And what’s up with the struggle for a sellout crowd? To parapharase Bluto in Animal House, “What the (expletive deleted) happened to the Tampa I used to know?” That wild-card game in ’97 had people encircling the stadium for tickets. Granted, it was the first home postseason game in nearly 18 years, but there have been only three home playoff games at Raymond James Stadium since … has everyone in my old town become as jaded as Braves fans who leave 10,000 vacant seats for a National League postseason clash? I know that Bay Area sports fans are better than that.
MASON’S PICK: Tampa Bay, 23-16. The Bucs get at least one touchdown either scored or set up by a takeaway, and that proves to be the difference.
OTHER PICKS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE:
MIKE RICE, NEWSRADIO 850 KOA: Giants, 24-13.
KYLE MONTGOMERY, BRONCOTALK: I like the Giants in that Jacobs has a huge size advantage over Tampa Bay’s smaller linebackers. Eli Manning won’t have to do a lot with that guy running the rock.
JOHN BENA, MILE HIGH REPORT:: Bucs, 20-17. This game won’t come down to the which QB makes plays, however, but to which defensive backfield baits the opposing QB into making a bad decision. That is where the Bucs have a huge advantage.
JONATHAN DOUGLAS, BRONCOTALK: I like what I’ve seen of Tampa Bay’s Earnest Graham this year. I think if the Bucs can establish the run and keep pressure on Eli Manning, they can beat the Giants.
Coming later … the AFC.