Jan. 16, 2004
title-game QBs:

Will Manning stay scorching? Will McNabb finally break through? Will Brady re-capture '02 form? Will Delhomme realize where he is?
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Losing is not an option for Philadelphia.

Pats? Have their rings.
Colts? Hurdled their hump.
Panthers? Bathe in gravy.

Will the Eagles feel Sunday's cold? Nope: They'll feel the heat, in part thanks to their thankless fans, but also attributable to their recent record in NFC title games -- two losses and counting.

That crackling sound in Philly isn't from the icy weather; it's the game's strain on the city's psyche. McNabb and Co. blow an entire season's work if they blow Sunday's game. Carolina's celebration would actually be dwarfed by the implosion from Eagles fans.

The Panthers can't beat the Eagles ... but the pressure can.

AFC Title Game
Colts at Patriots (3 p.m. ET)

Weather forecast: Mid-20s

Key subplots:
*Unstoppable Colts O
*Immovable Pats D
*Pats 13-game win streak
*Week 13: NE 38, at IND 34
*Road team has won 3 of last 4 AFC title games.

Monday's taboids today:
Nice Bowl! Pats D freezes out Peyton

NFC Title Game
Panthers at Eagles (6:45 ET)

Weather forecast: Mid-20s

Key subplots:
*Eagles have any mojo left?
*Carolina's D handling McNabb
*CAR RBs: Foster vs. Davis
*Week 13: PHI 25, at CAR 16
*Philly's two-year NFC title game losing streak.

Monday's tabloids today:
Eagles flying to Houston

Colts vs. Panthers?
The lack of marquee teams would even strain a TV event as

1 AFC: Colts' O vs. Pats' D. Weather will be huge factor
2 NFC: Hard to be anti-McNabb; easy to be anti-Philly
3 Knicks: How will Lenny Wilkens do in his debut?
1 Trading T-Mac: He nearly doubles LeBron's All-Star votes
2 Nets staying in Jersey: Move to Brooklyn a near-lock
3 Pudge winning back-to-back Series: Going to Detroit?
unmatched as the Super Bowl. Good thing the halftime show just added Nelly, P. Diddy and Kid Rock. Even then, we probably need a "Britney-Madonna" moment; any volunteers? (Kid? Diddy?)

Wie Watchin'
Lots of cannon drives, a few birdies and a bunch of near-misses later, 14-year-old Michelle Wie is actually better than people's expectations.

1st-round 2-over 72? Fearless. She may not make the cut after today's round (she needs 66-ish; her course-best is 65), but her poised performance makes more 2004 PGA-event sponsor-exemptions a lock.

2004: Year of 14-Year-Olds? With lack of drama topped only by last year's NBA draft, savior Freddy Adu will be the No. 1 pick (DC) in today's MLS draft.

Hank Hammers Rose
With a Home-Run King's power (but the rusty timing of one who's been out of the game for a while), Hank Aaron took a huge swing at Pete Rose and his reinstatement. "A rule is a rule," Aaron said of

baseball's lifetime ban for gamblers.

"Hogwash": In a bolder stance, Aaron said any fans' crusade to reinstate Rose shouldn't matter. No worries, Hank: Supporting Rose is so two weeks ago.

Top 25 Athletes
SportsNation wants you to rank the Top 25 athletes of the last 25 years. (See "Q It Up," above right.) Here's my Top 10, to get you started:

(10) Elway; (9) Sugar Ray; (8) Navratilova; (7) Magic; (6) Bird; (5) Tiger; (4) Lance; (3) Bonds; (2) Gretzky; (1) MJ

Philly fans:
Even if the Eagles get to Houston, will anything but a win there satisfy this fickle bunch? (Let's not look too far ahead.)
Today on ESPN.com
P2: Simmons on the NFL
SN: Rank the top 25 athletes
NBA: Rumor Central
Ranking ideal
Super Bowl matchups
That's right: East Coast Bias
Manning vs. McNabb: Huge!
Three words: Bet the under
Maybe as halftime show?
Would be lowest-rated ever

What will have more buzz around your office on Monday morning: The NFL conference title games or "The L Word"? ...

What will happen sooner: Nets moving to Brooklyn or MLB moving the Expos anywhere? Decisions? (Close.) Real relocation? (Years ...)

Weekend flicks: Somehow I think Stiller/Aniston's "Polly" will trump any chance of seeing Fast/Furious wannabe "Torque" ...

Thursday was the deadline for cities to submit bids for the 2012 Olympics; no word on the deadline to submit the bribes ...

Jets' Herm Edwards gets two-year ext.: Apparently, he was vaccinated for that nasty "unemployment" bug that's been going around NYC ...

There's an important sports angle in Jacko's arraignment today: Its all-out coverage will make Kobe's trial seem tame ...

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