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News » Road Race Is On


Road Race Is On


Road Race Is On
Playoffs are wide open as teams begin the drive toward Tampa.


By MARTIN FENNELLY

The Tampa Tribune

We cross the Rubicon today.

Today, my fellow citizens, we start down the road to Roman numerals, to XLIII, yet another Tampa Bay Super Bowl.

At the end of the road lies the next Marcus Allen or Jack Squirek or Whitney Houston or Scott Norwood or the next Ray Lewis. Now there's a group photo for you. Jack, put your arm around Whitney.

This is our tournament. The preliminaries have been concluded. When the dust settled last weekend, we had some surprising playoff no-shows, including Jon Gruden's Incredible Collapsing Bucs.

There will be no Cowboys preening for cameras, no Patriots studying double-secret probation practice film.

Brett Favre and the Jets wrote a sorry storybook.

And some preseason hot picks are ice cold. Try the Packers.

You don't even need tundra. Try the Jaguars.

We'd call what we're left with a mess, but it's going to be so wide open that mess might give way to fun even before the weekend is out.

How crazy is it?

The playoffs begin today with the Falcons at the Cardinals and the Colts at the Chargers. They continue tomorrow with the Ravens at the Dolphins and the Eagles at the Vikings. Oddsmakers have installed all the road teams as the favorites. Think about that. Think wide open.

In the AFC, I give no fewer than four teams a real shot at coming to Raymond James Stadium - the Titans, Steelers, Chargers and Colts.

Tonight's Indy-San Diego game would be a passable conference championship game in some seasons. Here it's just an appetizer.

These playoffs have two of the best stories in sports - the 1-15 Dolphins turned all around into contenders, and the Falcons running with the big dogs without Michael Vick. Did we mention the Cardinals have their first home playoff game since Truman was president? And they still can't sell out. Maybe it's the economy, though someone should fax that to the NFL, home of the $1,000 Super Bowl ticket. Are there air-sickness bags in this column?

By the way, America, the Falcons are coached by a man named Mike Smith, and the Dolphins' coach is named Tony Soprano, or something like that. Everyone will know their names if their teams make a run.

The NFC isn't as heavyweight heavy as the AFC, or so it seems. It will be hard for anyone to beat the Giants at Giants Stadium, unless it's Carolina for the NFC title.

A lot of questions will be answered the next few weeks.

Is Tennessee really that good? Can league MVP Peyton Manning and the Colts stay hot? Do rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco get it done? What magic do Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner have left?

I like the Cardinals over the Falcons and the Dolphins over the Ravens. And the Vikings over the Eagles and the Colts over the Chargers. And the Titans over the Colts and the Steelers over the Dolphins. And the Giants over the Cardinals and the Panthers over the Vikings. And the Steelers over the Titans and the Panthers over the Giants. Or maybe the Colts over the Titans and Steelers, and the Giants over the Panthers.

Then Peyton and baby brother Eli, wearing Johnny Unitas high-top shoes in one last tribute to those old Colts-Giants title games, square off on Dale Mabry to see who gets another Super Bowl ring.

Then again, the Titans could make a run. Or the Steelers. Or the Panthers. Or the Chargers. Or the Falcons.

So many twists and turns.

The road ends here.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Photo: The curtain is about to open on the NFL playoffs, and league MVP Peyton Manning and the Colts are poised to make some noise. Manning's brother, Eli, also is in the hunt with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.

Copyright ? 2009, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@tampatrib.com



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 6, 2009

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