January 9 , 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 55  

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Shuk's playoff picks: Patriots, Packers, Panthers

What the Shuk?
Mark Polishuk

Opinions Editor

Ah, the NFL. Unlike other major football titles (cough, cough, NCAA, cough, cough), there can be only one champion. Here's a look at this week's quarter-final playoff matchups.

The Titans are the only AFC team that has a chance to unseat the Patriots, as both clubs share the philosophy that you win with a tough defense, an efficient (if not spectacular) offense and most of all, no stupid mistakes. The difference, however, is that Tennessee is dealing with a lot of banged-up players, including stars like Steve McNair and Eddie George. The Patriots have had a week off to rest, are 8-0 at home and haven't lost since September; no team that isn't 100 per cent is leaving Gillette Stadium with a win. Tennessee's only chance is if the co-MVP, Steve McNair, can pull off one of his patented gutsy performances, and if Tara Reid gives Patriots quarterback Tom Brady some type of venereal disease.

So Peyton Manning co-wins the MVP award, throws for five touchdowns in a first round decimation of Denver, and I'm still picking him to lose. It all comes down to the field; the Chiefs are traditionally hard to beat at Arrowhead Stadium in front of their 80,000 red-clad fans, and the Colts have had little playoff success away from their beloved RCA Dome. This is another game between two similar teams, as KC and Indy both have high-powered offenses prone to big mistakes. This one could easily end up as a 38-37 shoot-out.

When you think of the playoffs, you think of great quarterbacks going head-to-head. And then there's this game, which pits Marc "battle of the" Bulger against Jake Delhomme. Otto Graham is probably spinning in his grave, but there still might be some worth to this contest. The Rams are extremely tough to beat in St. Louis, but Carolina is the kind of defense-first club that could give Bulger problems in his first playoff start. Also not helping the Rams' case is that they were soundly beaten in the last week of the season by the lowly Detroit Lions. I'm going to go ahead and call the upset win for the Panthers, who have been quietly solid all season long.

Cinderella has traded in her glass slippers for a Cheesehead, as the Packers have had an amazing run both to make the playoffs and then to beat Seattle in overtime last week. Now they're facing the rested No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Eagles, in front of Philly's notoriously hostile fans -yet the Packers are going to win again. Brett Favre has proved once again why he's a Hall of Famer by playing incredible and inspiring football since the death of his father three weeks ago, and Ahman Green should exploit Philly's one glaring weakness: their No. 22 ranked rush defense. This is the toughest game to call, since it's a case of the smart pick against the sentimental underdog (who are also my favourite team). I hate to make any pick that aligns myself with that loudmouth Rush Limbaugh, but I'm going to say that for this week only, Green Bay will make the great Donovan McNabb actually look overrated.




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