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A further review is indicated

Four NFL wild-card game winners should analyze losses this season to teams they'll face in the next round.

January 05, 2009|SAM FARMER

With the next round of the NFL playoffs in place, the winners from wild-card weekend -- San Diego, Arizona, Baltimore and Philadelphia -- might want to pop in their game footage from earlier this season and, in essence, follow the instructions on a typical shampoo bottle.

Watch. Wince. Repeat.

Why wince? Because all four are headed for rematches with teams that narrowly beat them this season.

San Diego lost to Pittsburgh, 11-10.

Baltimore lost to Tennessee, 13-10.

Arizona lost to Carolina, 27-23.

Philadelphia lost to the New York Giants, 36-31, before beating them on their home turf a month later.

Now, with their postseason survival hanging in the balance, everybody gets another chance. And San Diego, for one, is ready to show Sunday it is not the same team as the 4-5 one that stumbled onto Heinz Field seven weeks ago.

"I believe we're a lot better team now than we were six weeks ago or eight weeks ago," Coach Norv Turner said. "That's going to be a part of it. You're in the playoffs and you're playing a team that's got home-field advantage and is an outstanding team. We're going to have to be at our best."

The Chargers, the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 4-8 start, have won five games in a row. They were still floating on a cloud Sunday, hours after beating Indianapolis in overtime to keep their reheated Super Bowl hopes alive.

"As a coach," Turner said, "you live to be involved in a game like that."

If that was San Diego's most beautiful game of the season, the loss to the Steelers was the ugliest. Even though it was only a one-point game, the Steelers dominated. They held the ball for 13 minutes longer; outgained San Diego, 410 yards to 218; and got big performances from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (308 yards passing), running back Willie Parker (115 yards rushing) and receiver Hines Ward (11 catches for 124 yards).

All those yards and yet, in a peculiar twist, the only touchdown Pittsburgh scored, a return by safety Troy Polamalu on the final play, was mistakenly waved off by officials. The Chargers certainly couldn't complain about the officiating, seeing as they were flagged only twice for a total of five yards, compared to Pittsburgh's 13 for 115.

There was no such penalty in the last Baltimore-Tennessee game. Both teams were whistled at every turn. The Titans were flagged 10 times, the Ravens 11.

"We are the bad boys of football," Baltimore's Terrell Suggs complained afterward, speaking only about his team. "[Officials] are always going to look at us like that. From the way the game was going, I think the referee just probably wanted to feel important."

Open mouth, insert wallet.

Arizona will get a chance Saturday to prove it can win a road game outside of its division. The Cardinals were 0-5 in those games during the regular season.

The Week 8 loss at Carolina was close, and hinged on the Panthers overcoming a two-touchdown deficit to surge ahead. The Cardinals made more than their share of mistakes, among them a botched fake field-goal try, a missed extra-point try, and three turnovers. That game, along with a three-point victory over Chicago, proved to be one of the closest calls at home for the Panthers, who won every game there.

In three of the divisional games, the opponents know each other pretty well.

Then, there are the Eagles and Giants. They're bitter NFC East rivals -- then again, isn't every rivalry in that division bitter? -- and each beat the other on the road this season. Philadelphia players certainly aren't standing there with knocking kneepads, wringing their hands over facing the Giants. Intimidation isn't a factor, and the element of surprise is probably nil.

The Eagles beat the Giants, 20-14, on a cold and windy day at the Meadowlands a month ago. The Giants were 11-1 at the time but reeling in the wake of all the drama of Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in a leg.

Philadelphia controlled the clock by running the ball, getting 131 yards rushing in a season-high 33 carries by Brian Westbrook. The Giants had their league-leading rushing game held to 88 yards.

No team, seeded No. 1 or not, wants to face a tough division rival in the playoffs. Still, the Giants essentially shrugged when asked recently which team they'd prefer to play in their divisional game.

"It's the playoffs, so there's no easy wins, there's no easy teams," center Shaun O'Hara said in Sunday's edition of the New York Daily News. "I don't think anybody's sitting here saying, 'Hey, we'd like to play this team and not that team.' Anything can happen in the playoffs. We proved that last year."

They did, going from also-rans to Super Bowl champions over the course of two months. They know teams can turn things around quickly.

And that, if anything, has to give them pause.



The playoffs


Jan. 3 Arizona 30, Atlanta 24

San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17 (OT)

Jan. 4

Baltimore 27, Miami 9

Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 14




Baltimore at Tennessee

1:30 p.m. PST, Channel 2

Arizona at Carolina

5:15 p.m. PST, Channel 11


Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants

10 a.m., PST, Channel 11

San Diego at Pittsburgh

1:45 p.m. PST, Channel 2



Jan. 18

NFC, noon PST, Channel 11

AFC, 3:30 p.m. PST, Channel 2


Feb. 1

Tampa, Fla., 3 p.m. PST, Ch. 4

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