January 9, 2006
Ben and Bus:
Missing from the Steelers' Week 12 loss to Indy? A healthy QB R'berger and RB Bettis, who combined for 260 yards and 4 TDs in yesterday's win at Cincy.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

If next week's division round playoff games look familiar, maybe it's because we've seen all four games earlier this season. Will the results be the same -- or have things changed enough that they'll go another way?

New Result:
Pats at Broncos: The Pats lost 28-20 in Week 6, sending them to 3-3 and fueling critics who figured the defending champs were finished.

Of course, they didn't have Corey Dillon, and they had all those injuries on a defense that now seems as healthy (and effective) as it's been since last January.

And, despite playing horribly, they still only lost by 8 to a team that otherwise dominated opponents in Denver.

You can already tell that the fan and expert bandwagon is squarely behind the Pats. As a corollary, look for "Jake Plummer is SO going to choke" analysis.

Same Old, Same Old:
Steelers at Colts: In Week 12, Indy overwhelmed Pittsburgh in a Monday nighter, 26-7, holding the Steelers' offense to 219 yards.

The biggest differences? The Bus didn't play in that game and Big Ben was rusty coming off a three-week layoff from knee surgery. It'll be closer, but it's hard to imagine the Colts losing at home. This week at least.

(Despite the rep for its running game, the Steelers had the play of the weekend, a trick-play involving Antwaan Randle-El, taking a direct snap, then throwing it back to QB Roethlisberger, who connected with previously no-name WR Cedrick Wilson. Who else knew the Bengals were finished after that play?)

New Result:
Redskins at Seahawks: If the Skins match their 120 yards of offense from Saturday's W over the Bucs, they'll lose by 30. If they match their 352 yards of O from their Week 4 OT win over Seattle in D.C., they'll lose by less.

(Remember, hanging over the head of the Seahawks is that they still have yet to win a playoff game under Mike Holmgren. Combine that with the fact that it's their first playoff game as the NFC's No. 1 seed, and that's a lot of pressure.)

Same Old, Same Old:
Panthers at Bears: Chicago was 6-3 after Week 10, but they had feasted on dogs. No one really took them seriously until Week 11, when they limited the playoff-caliber Panthers to 55 yards rushing and 3 points.

Let's see: Chicago features the same dominating D in the rematch, but the weather is even more Bear-ish -- and, despite inexperience, Rex Grossman is no Kyle Orton. (Don't look to Steve Smith to save Carolina, either: He had 169 yards last time, and the Cats still only scored 3 points.)

But there's one rematch that every NFL fan outside of Denver is looking forward to more than any other: Pats at Colts for the AFC title. (But who's looking ahead?)

Young Going Pro
The right choice: He'll never be hotter than he is now, and another year of college still wouldn't fix the problems critics have with his game. So where will he go?

Tim Lewis: Giants D-coordinator interviews with Rams today
Willie McGinest: 4.5 sacks makes him career playoff leader
Brian Calhoun: Sizzling Wisco RB to declare for NFL today?
Eli Manning: Giants QB throws 3 INTs in first playoff game
Jim Haslett: Interviews w/ Jets today; fans already booing
T-McGrady: Removed from loss to Nugs with back spasms
A Quickie guide:
First overall to the Texans?
Yes: Hometown (and state) cachet
No: What about David Carr?

2nd to the Saints?
Yes: Could end up in L.A.?
No: "Rebuilding?" Slightly.

3rd to the Titans?
Yes: Heir McNair? Chow down!
No: Tenny must move Volek

4th to the Jets?
Yes: Come on, it's New York!
No: What about Pennington?

5th to the Packers?
Yes: Can learn under Favre
No: "Who is Aaron Rodgers?"

6th to the Raiders?
Yes: Top-selling jersey ever?
No: None. Won't slip past.

One thing is a lock: He's going to immediately cash in on endorsement deals for shoes, video games, sports drinks and more.

CBB Wrap
Here's why you can only put so much stock in a Top 25 team's dominant record in the nonconference schedule: Check the carnage across the power conferences this weekend, just within the Top 15 against unranked league opponents:

BEast: Nova, home loss to WVA
B10: Illinois, loss at Iowa
(and Mich. St., loss at Wisco)
P10: Wash, home loss at WA St
ACC: BC, loss at GA Tech)
(and Maryland, loss at Miami)
B12: Okla., loss at Nebraska

That's the teams ranked Nos. 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12 and 14. (No. 13 N.C. St. lost too, but at least reasonably -- on the road to a 25th-ranked UNC.) No. 2 UConn already dropped its Big East opener last week at unranked Marquette. That's more than half the Top 15, all losing after a mere whiff of conference play.

(The SEC doesn't even register right now, with only two ranked teams, and No. 19 Kentucky taking its worst loss of the Tubby Smith Era at Kansas on Saturday, a team that isn't even among "Others Receiving Votes.")

The obvious lesson? Going on the road in league play in January isn't like hosting the Little Sisters of the Poor in November. That, and the fact that those doing the ranking are taking guesses, at best.

When the new Top 25 comes out today, you might as well have thrown a dart at a list of names, for all the good it'll do you right now projecting success in March.

Vick Dismissed
VA Tech probably shouldn't expect an alumni donation from Michael Vick this year -- not after they dismissed his little brother from the team.

Even though a lot of fans would have booted him for his now-infamous Capitol One Bowl boot to Elvis Dumervil's knee, he was actually only going to get a two-game suspension for that. So much for "zero-tolerance."

No, the team exiled him permanently only after they found out about a December traffic stop. If he turns pro, we'll see whether NFL teams are as concerned with his off-field problems as VA Tech was. Doubt it.

Tejada Staying
Here's a novel way to make sure a team gives you a fat contract extension: Be the broker between a superstar and the team.

Much like the way Jack Haley glommed onto Dennis Rodman with the Bulls, Melvin Mora's job description with the Orioles now includes making peace between the team and disgruntled star Miguel Tejada.

Of course, unlike Haley, Mora can actually play. But it's not a bad way to get some job security. (Hmm: Should I cozy up more to the "PTI" guys?)

Duncan: No-lympics
Unlike A-Rod, Tim Duncan didn't waffle: He ISN'T playing for USA Hoops in the '08 Olympics. And you can't blame him.

USA Hoops is asking for a 3-year commitment to the team. That's a great move; however, they can't expect all of the top players to be willing to make it.

And then there's a factor unique to Duncan: Over the next three years, it's no stretch to imagine Big Fundamental playing deep into June in ALL of them; it's no wonder he doesn't want to commit to playing in July, August and September, too.

Carson Palmer:
As soon as he signs that huge contract extension and has a chance to lead the Bengals to a home playoff win, he's out for the game (and postseason). Ouch.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Clayton on NFL
Page 2 Index
Ranking Divvy Round Games
NE and DEN
Is it an upset if Pats win?
Don't expect much scoring
Steelers riding mo'
Will it even be close?
Sitting at home
Worse than losing...

NOW wants Joe Paterno to resign over his comments about an alleged rape involving an FSU player. It'd be nice if he at least recognized he was wrong.

Perhaps USA Skiing doesn't understand that Bode Miller is the biggest superstar of the Olympics. Why harass the kid? He's a PR gold mine.

Payday for Herm: Edwards signs deal with KC to get paid $3 million a year over 4 years. Beats the Jets' stinginess. Hello?! You pay to win the game!

MLB Hot Stove: Jeff Weaver, who had a career-high 14 wins in 2005, will be pitching for someone else in 2006. Couldn't agree to terms with L.A.

One more loss for that great Ohio State D: CB Ashton Youboty will turn pro early, leaving one more gap for the BCS contender to fill in '06.

Streaking: Vince Carter and the Nets continue a great run. NJ has won 10 straight and VC (42 pts) had a buzzer-beating 3 to beat the Raps.

One more angle to Vince Young : Very hard to pick Texas No. 1 next season. My Ohio State No. 1 pick from post-Fiesta isn't that crazy anymore. Forde had OSU No. 2 when UT had VY.

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