Monday, January 14, 2002

Visitors beware in NFL playoffs

Ravens lone road winner in first round

By Dave Goldberg
AP Football Writer

        One major difference between the playoffs and the regular season: home-field advantage holds. This weekend, home teams went 3-1. Now St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago and New England, who had first-round byes, have the same advantage against this weekend's four winners.

        The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens were the only visiting team to win. The Ravens had touchdown drives of 90 and 99 yards and allowed only 151 yards in beating Miami 20-3 Sunday.

        The Green Bay Packers, like Philadelphia and Oakland Saturday, won on their home turf Sunday. Quarterback Brett Favre completed 22-of-29 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-15 victory over San Francisco.

        Counting the four games this weekend, playoff home teams are 27-7 since 1999, a winning percentage of .794. During this regular season, home teams were 132-116, or .548.

        A look at the matchups:

        Philadelphia (12-5) at Chicago (13-3)

        The Eagles were 7-1 on the road during the regular season. They're a different team when Donovan McNabb either moves in the pocket or scrambles, as he's done to devastating effect in the last two games that counted — against the Giants two weeks ago and in the 31-9 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday.

        “The more comfortable he becomes, the more of that you will see,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said Sunday.

        The Eagles also have more playoff experience — this will be the fourth postseason game in two seasons and the first for most of the Bears.

        Chicago's advantage could be Anthony Thomas, the kind of back who does well against the one weakness of the Philadelphia defense — stopping the inside run.

        Oakland (11-6) at New England (11-5)

        The Raiders ended a three-game losing streak by beating the Jets on Saturday night, and Jerry Rice (nine catches for 183 yards) had the kind of game that was routine for him a decade ago.

        “He thrives in this kind of atmosphere,” coach Jon Gruden said.

        But this is a night game in Foxboro and the long-range forecast is for possible snow showers. Also, New England has won its last six games and is 11-3 since Tom Brady took over at quarterback.

        Does experience count? Brady has 14 NFL starts. Rich Gannon has 14 NFL seasons. Rice and Tim Brown also have been around forever.

        But beyond Brady, New England has a corps of veterans picked up by Bill Belichick from previous stops.

        Baltimore (11-6) at Pittsburgh (13-3)

        This is the third game this season between these two. Baltimore won 13-10 in Pittsburgh and the Steelers won 26-21 in Baltimore.

        But Pittsburgh dominated both games — Kris Brown missed four field-goal attempts in the loss, and the Steelers outgained the defending champions 348-183.

        The Ravens dominated Miami on Sunday, rushing for 226 yards, double their regular-season average of 113, And they played playing defense like last season — Miami had just nine first downs.

        Green Bay (13-4) at St. Louis (14-2)

        Track meet. Kurt Warner is the MVP. Marshall Faulk was runner-up.

        The only teams to hold the Rams under 20 points were the Giants (15) and Bucs (17) both in St. Louis. But the Packers don't have the physical defense those teams have (or had when the games were played.)

        On the other hand, Brett Favre can beat anyone, as he did in the second half Sunday, when he was 16 of 21 for 226 yards.

        “I don't think a quarterback could have a better game than that,” coach Mike Sherman said. “He took total control of that football game. He made something out of nothing on numerous occasions. He just played a Brett Favre-type game.”

        Can the Packers beat the Rams?


        Will they?

        Probably not — the Rams are 10-point favorites. It's the home field.


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N.Ky. High School Week Ahead
This week's boys basketball schedule
This week's girls basketball schedule