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Wild Card Week

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SATURDAY, JANUARY 3

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS–AFC SOUTH (12-4) AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS–AFC WEST (8-8)

 

NOTES

TEAMS MEET for 3rd time in postseason & for 2nd consecutive season in playoffs.

 

COLTS: Club enters playoffs with 9 consecutive wins…In ’08, club posted 7th consecutive season with 10+ wins & became 1st team in NFL history with 6 consecutive seasons with 12+ wins…Club has earned 9 playoff appearances in past 10 seasons…In regular season & postseason games, Colts are 7-4 (.636) at San Diego…TONY DUNGY is 1st head coach in NFL history to make 10 consecutive playoff appearances…Colts are 4-3 (.571) in Wild Card games…Club has won 4 of past 5 postseason games…In 1 career postseason game against Chargers, QB PEYTON MANNING completed 33 of 48 passes (68.8 pct.) for 402 yards with 3 TDs vs. 2 INTs & 97.7 passer rating. For career, Manning has 7-7 (.500) record in playoffs & has completed 323 of 522 passes (61.9 pct.) for 3,898 yards with 21 TDs & 17 INTs. In 5 Wild Card games, Manning has 11 TDs vs. 6 INTs. Incl. postseason, Colts are 11-2 (.846) when RB JOSEPH ADDAI has 20+ carries. Addai has 283 total yards in 3 meetings against SD (169 rush, 114 receiving). In past 4 postseason games with Colts, RB DOMINIC RHODES averages 4.9 yards per carry (62 att., 306 yards)…Incl. postseason, WR REGGIE WAYNE averages 80.4 receiving yards per game in 5 meetings vs. SD (402 total). Wayne has 7 TD receptions in 12 postseason games. WR MARVIN HARRISON has played in franchise-record 15 postseason games. Harrison leads Colts with 62 postseason catches & 863 postseason receiving yards...TE DALLAS CLARK posted 6 rec. for 95 receiving yards (15.8 avg.) in divisional playoff game vs. SD. Colts are 3-0 in playoffs when Clark has 100+ receiving yards…DWIGHT FREENEY has 6 career postseason sacks…S BOB SANDERS has 2 career postseason INTs…DE ROBERT MATHIS tied career-high with 11.5 sacks in ’08. Mathis was selected to 1st career Pro Bowl…K ADAM VINATIERI is NFL postseason career leader with 172 points & 41 FGs.

 

CHARGERS: Club has made postseason appearance in 4 of past 5 seasons…Club enters playoffs with 4 wins in row…Chargers aim for 2nd consecutive WC win at home (1/6/08 vs. Titans)…Head coach NORV TURNER guides team to playoffs for 2nd consecutive season. Turner is 3-2 (.500) in postseason as head coach…Incl. postseason, club has 21-5 record (.807) at home since ’06…In ’08, QB PHILIP RIVERS tied for NFL-high with 34 TD passes (DREW BREES) & surpassed DAN FOUTS (33 in 1981) for most TDs in franchise history. In past 4 wins, Rivers has 11 TDs vs. 1 INT & 120.3 passer rating. In past 2 against Colts (incl. playoffs), Rivers has completed 38 of 50 passes for 552 yards with 5 TDs vs. 1 INT & 136.4 passer rating. Team is 2-0 when Rivers has TD pass in postseason play. For career (incl. playoffs), Rivers is 21-5 (.808) as starter at home & has 21 TDs vs. 5 INTs & 93.8 passer rating…RB LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON averages 81.3 rush yards-per-game in postseason at home (245 rush yards, 70 att.) with 3 TDs. Tomlinson has 90+ rush yards in past 2 with 3 rush TDs. RB DARREN SPROLES totaled 244 yards last week (115 rush, 17 receiving, 16 PR, 96 KR) with 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.). In 4 career games vs. Colts (incl. postseason), Sproles has 24.5 PR avg. with 1 PR-TD (2 PR, 49 yards) & 24.8 KR avg. with 1 KR-TD (16 KR, 396 yards)…Team is 9-0 when TE ANTONIO GATES has 2 or more TD receptions…In 3 career postseason games, WR CHRIS CHAMBERS averages 92.7 receiving yards per game. WR VINCENT JACKSON had career-high 1,098 receiving yards in ’08. In past 3 playoff games, Jackson is averaging 100 receiving yards per game (18 rec., 300 yards) with 2 TDs…Defense has 9 INTs in past 3 against Colts…In 3 career games vs. Colts (incl. playoffs), CB ANTONIO CROMARTIE has 4 INTs…LB STEPHEN COOPER had 4 INTs in past 4 in ’08…DE LUIS CASTILLO has 2 sacks in past 3 postseason games.

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SATURDAY, JANUARY 3

ATLANTA FALCONS–NFC SOUTH (11-5) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS–NFC WEST (9-7)

 

NOTES

TEAMS MEET for 1st time in postseason. Head coaches MIKE SMITH (Atl.) & KEN WHISENHUNT (Arz.) make playoff debuts.

 

FALCONS: Club has won 11+ games for 4th time in team history (1980, 1998, 2004). Team’s 11 wins are tied for most in season by rookie head coach (Smith) & rookie QB (MATT RYAN) duo (Baltimore, 2008). Falcons had 2 players selected to Pro Bowl: RB MICHAEL TURNER (1st) & WR RODDY WHITE (1st). Marked 2nd time in franchise history that team had 1,300-yard rusher & receiver (1981)…Ryan is 1 of 2 rookie QBs (JOE FLACCO) in NFL history to start 16 games & lead team to playoffs. Passed for 3,440 yards & is 2nd rookie in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards (3,739, PEYTON MANNING, 1998). When Ryan has 100.0+ passer rating, team is 6-0…Rush offense ranked 2nd in NFL (152.7 yards per game). RB Turner ranked 2nd in NFL in rushing yards (1,699), scrimmage yards (1,740) & TDs (franchise-record 17). Led NFL with 84 rushing 1st downs & 45 runs of 10+ yards. Had 8 100-yard games, incl. 2 200-yard performances. Has 2 highest single-game rushing totals in team history (220 in Week 1 & 208 in Week 17). Has 11 rush TDs in past 8. When Turner has 8+ carries, his teams are 22-5 (.815). RB JERIOUS NORWOOD has 9 career TDs (7 rush, 2 rec.) & 5 have been 45+ yards. Had career-high 2 rush TDs last week…WR White set team record with 1,382 yards. Is 1st Falcon to record back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons. Had 7 100-yard games. In last game vs. Arz., White had 12 catches for 141 yards. Led NFL with 516 receiving yards on 3rd down. WR MICHAEL JENKINS recorded 2nd consecutive 50-catch season & had career-high 777 yards & 15.5 avg…DE JOHN ABRAHAM ranked 3rd in NFL with franchise-record 16.5 sacks. Has 84.0 sacks since 2000, 3rd most in NFL. Aims for 3rd playoff game in row with sack. LB KEITH BROOKING will play in 8th career playoff game. Has sack in 2 of past 3 postseason contests. Has recorded 100+ tackles in 8 consecutive years…K JASON ELAM has appeared in 14 playoff games. Had 129 points & has scored 100+ points in each of 1st 16 seasons to start career, longest in history.

 

 

 

CARDINALS: Host 1st playoff game since 1947 when team was in Chicago. Won 1st division title since 1975 when team was in St. Louis & clinched NFC East…Club scored 427 points, most in franchise history (423, 1984). Under head coach Whisenhunt, team is 12-4 (.750) at home. Team had 5 players selected to Pro Bowl: WRs ANQUAN BOLDIN (3rd) & LARRY FITZGERALD (3rd), ST SEAN MOREY (1st), QB KURT WARNER (4th) & S ADRIAN WILSON (2nd)…QB Warner has passed for 365+ yards in 4 postseason games, most in NFL history. Holds record for most passing yards in single postseason when he passed for 1,063 yards in 1999 with StL. Is 7-1 (.875) in career vs. Atl. with 21 TDs vs. 6 INTs & 117.0 passer rating. Has 3+ TDs in 6 of those 8. In starts with 15+ att. & 100.0+ rating (incl. playoffs), his teams are 36-3 (.923). Has 5-2 (.714) postseason record…RB TIM HIGHTOWER tied for lead among NFL rookies with 10 rush TDs & set club rookie record. Hightower (10) & WRs Fitzgerald (12) & Boldin (11) are 7th trio since 1970 to each score 10+ TDs in season. RB EDGERRIN JAMES has 5 rush TDs in past 5 playoff games…Fitzgerald (96), Boldin (89) & STEVE BREASTON (77) are 2nd WR trio in NFL history to record 75+ receptions in season (1989 Washington). Cardinals led NFL with 13 100-yard receiving games – Fitzgerald (7), Boldin (3) & Breaston (3). Club is 5th team in NFL history with 3 1,000-yard receivers in season – Fitzgerald (1,431), Boldin (1,038) & Breaston (1,006). In last game vs. Atl., Boldin had 13 catches for 162 yards & 2 TDs…S Wilson is 1 of 3 active safeties with 18+ INTs (18) & 18+ sacks (18.5). Aims for 3rd in row vs. Atl. with INT. In last meeting, had 99-yard INT-TD, longest INT-TD in franchise history. Rookie CB DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE tied mark this year (99 yards vs. StL, 12/7/08). Has 4 INTs in past 7. S ANTREL ROLLE has returned 4 of his 8 career INTs for TD for 50.0 pct. rate, best in NFL history among players with 4+ INT-TDs. LB KARLOS DANSBY led team with career-high 126 tackles, his 3rd consecutive 100-tackle season…ST Morey has played in 11 playoff games, most on team.

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SUNDAY, JANUARY 4

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES–NFC EAST (9-6-1) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS–NFC NORTH (10-6)

 

NOTES

TEAMS HAVE MET 2 times in playoffs. Eagles won both meetings: 1980 Divisional (31-16) & 2004 Divisional (27-14).

 

EAGLES: Game marks 35th postseason contest for franchise. Incl. playoffs, team has won 7 of past 8 meetings. Under head coach ANDY REID, club has advanced to playoffs 7 times in 10 seasons. Team scored 416 points, most in franchise history (415, 2002). Eagles had 2 players selected to Pro Bowl: S BRIAN DAWKINS (7th) & CB ASANTE SAMUEL (2nd)…QB DONOVAN MC NABB passed for franchise-record 3,916 yards. Has started 12 postseason games & has 7 wins, most in club history. Holds team playoff records in completions (249), attempts (419), yards (2,630) & TDs (18). Has guided Eagles to 4 NFC Championship Games & SB XXXIX. Has never lost to Min. (4-0, incl. playoffs) & has 8 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 113.4 passer rating. In his starts (min. 10+ att.) with 100.0+ rating (incl. playoffs), team is 40-1 (.976)…RB BRIAN WESTBROOK had 1,338 scrimmage yards (936 rush, 402 rec.), his 5th consecutive season with 1,200+ scrimmage yards. Is only player since 2004 with 4,000+ rush (4,915) & 3,000+ rec. (3,191) yards. Is also only player since 2004 with 20+ rush (29) & rec. (24) TDs. Aims for 3rd playoff game in row with 100+ rush yards. Aims for 4th consecutive postseason game with TD. Has 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 rush) in past 2 vs. Min. (incl. playoffs)…WR DE SEAN JACKSON led NFC rookies with 912 rec. yards & ranked 2nd with team-high 62 catches. Is 1st rookie WR to lead club in catches since 1942…S Dawkins ranks 2nd in team history with 4 postseason INTs (HERMAN EDWARDS, 5). His 7 Pro Bowl selections tie HOFer REGGIE WHITE for 2nd in club annals (HOFer CHUCK BEDNARIK, 8). CB Samuel has 20 INTs since 2006, 2nd most in NFL. Has played in 14 playoff games & his teams are 11-3 (.786), incl. 2 SB wins. Has 5 INTs (3 INT-TDs) in past 8 postseason games. His 3 INT-TDs tie for most in playoff history (HOFer WILLIE BROWN). DE TRENT COLE has 21.5 sacks in past 32. In last game vs. Min., Cole had 2.0 sacks. Last week, Eagles became 1st team in NFL history with 2 70+ yard FR-TDs in same quarter (DE CHRIS CLEMONS, 73 yards & CB JOSELIO HANSON, 96). K DAVID AKERS is franchise leader with 96 points & 21 FGs in postseason.

 

 

 

VIKINGS: Team makes 25th playoff appearance, tied with Pittsburgh for 4th most in NFL history. Head coach BRAD CHILDRESS spent 7 years with Eagles (1999-2005), incl. 4 seasons as offensive coordinator (2002-05). Team tied for most Pro Bowl selections in NFC with 6: DE JARED ALLEN (2nd), G STEVE HUTCHINSON (6th), RB ADRIAN PETERSON (2nd), DT KEVIN WILLIAMS (4th), DT PAT WILLIAMS (3rd) & CB ANTOINE WINFIELD (1st)…QB TARVARIS JACKSON makes postseason debut. In past 4 games, Jackson has 8 TDs vs. 1 INT for 115.4 passer rating…RB Peterson led NFL with 1,760 rush yards & is 4th player in NFL history to lead conference in rushing in each of 1st 2 seasons. Has 3,101 rush yards in 1st 2 seasons & is 1 of 5 players to reach 3,000 yards in 1st 2 years. Led NFL with 1,885 scrimmage yards. Since entering NFL in 2007, Peterson is averaging 103.4 yards per game, most in NFL & 16.0 yards per game more than next closest player (BRANDON JACOBS, 87.4). Has 85 runs of 10+ yards since 2007, most in NFL & 21 more than next player (CLINTON PORTIS, 64). RB CHESTER TAYLOR has TD in 4 of past 6…WR BERNARD BERRIAN had career-high 964 yards, 20.1 avg. & 7 TDs. Has TD catch in 2 of past 3 playoff games & both TDs have been 30+ yards. Has 22 career TD catches (incl. playoffs) & 16 have been 30+ yards, incl. NFL-record tying 99-yarder (11/30/08 vs. Chi.). TE VISANTHE SHIANCOE set career-bests in catches (42), yards (596) & TDs (7). WR BOBBY WADE led team with 53 catches & has led Vikings in receptions each of past 2 years…Team led NFL in rush defense (76.9 yards per game) for 3rd consecutive year. DE Allen has 57.5 sacks since 2004, most in NFL. Has 12.5 sacks in past 11. In 3 career playoff games, CB Winfield has 2 INTs, 1.0 sack & 1 FF. S DARREN SHARPER has 2.0 sacks, 2 FFs & 2 INTs in 9 postseason games. DT Kevin Williams had 8.5 sacks, 3rd time in career he has recorded 8.5+ sacks…K RYAN LONGWELL had 127 points & has scored 90+ points in all 12 NFL seasons.

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HERE WE GO! EVERYBODY’S 0-0!

 

It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters is that you’re here.

 

In one of the most storyline-filled NFL playoffs in memory, the scramble to reach Tampa Bay, Florida for Super Bowl XLIII on February 1 begins this Saturday and Sunday with Wild Card Weekend.

 

“We’re all 0-0 now,” exults quarterback PHILIP RIVERS of the San Diego Chargers, one of the teams with standout storylines entering the playoffs:

 

Three Wild Card Weekend teams – Atlanta (MIKE SMITH), Baltimore (JOHN HARBAUGH) and Miami (TONY SPARANO) -- are led by rookie head coaches. It is only the second time in history that three rookie coaches took their teams to the playoffs in the same season (1992: BILL COWHER, Pittsburgh; DENNIS GREEN, Minnesota; and BOBBY ROSS, San Diego).

 

The two first-round rookie quarterbacks who will start in the Wild Cards – Atlanta’s MATT RYAN (the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year) and Baltimore’s JOE FLACCO – have accomplished never-before feats. Never in the same season have two rookie QBs started all 16 of their team’s games and taken those teams to the playoffs. Ryan and Flacco also took their clubs to the biggest win-improvements in history by rookie QBs who started every game. Ryan led the 11-5 Falcons to a seven-win improvement over 2007, and Flacco to a six-win jump for the 11-5 Ravens. They will become the first rookie QBs to start in the same postseason.

 

Call it the “gumption” playoffs. The field is packed with teams that would just not give up! In addition to the Falcons and Ravens (above), there are the 11-5 Dolphins, who matched 1999 Indianapolis as the only teams in history to make 10-game improvements from one season to the next. The Chargers became the first team in history to start 4-8 and make the playoffs. The Colts began their season at 3-4, then won their last nine. The Vikings started 1-3 and won five of their last six. The Eagles were 5-5-1 in late November and won four of their last five. “Everybody turned their backs on us,” says Philadelphia safety BRIAN DAWKINS, in essence speaking for all these teams. “But we believed in one another.”

 

So let the 2008 NFL playoffs begin – with nine of the 12 teams with double-digit wins and, for the 13th consecutive season, at least five new teams from the year before:

 

ATLANTA FALCONS (11-5) at ARIZONA CARDINALS (9-7) (Saturday, NBC, 4:30 PM ET)

STORYLINE: The rookie first-rounder vs. the veteran no-rounder.

 

In other words, QB MATT RYAN (see above), the Falcons’ first-round draft pick this year, against 11-year NFL veteran KURT WARNER, the classic undrafted-free-agent-to-Super Bowl MVP success story.

 

They direct highly ranked units that could dominate the game. The Falcons, behind one of the greatest UFA acquisitions ever, MICHAEL TURNER, rammed the league’s No. 2 rushing attack (152.7 yards per game) down everyone’s throats this year. Newcomer Turner (No. 2 in NFL rushing with 1,699 yards) set a club record with 17 TDs (all rushing).

 

Warner’s Cardinals? Just how he likes it – air attack. Warner – coming off a four-touchdown game – ignited the league’s

 

No. 2 passing game this year (292.1) by throwing to only the fifth teammate receiver threesome in history with 1,000 yards

apiece – LARRY FITZGERALD (1,431), ANQUAN BOLDIN (1,038) and STEVE BREASTON (1,006). “They like to throw the ball around the yard,” understates Atlanta head coach MIKE SMITH.

 

Three of four NFC Pro Bowl receivers will be in action in the game: Boldin and Fitzgerald – the starters – along with Atlanta’s RODDY WHITE, a first-time All-Star. They join Carolina’s STEVE SMITH in the foursome.

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (12-4) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (8-8) (Saturday, NBC, 8:00 PM ET)

STORYLINE: Colts vs. Bolts – again!

 

It’s almost like they’re division rivals. Saturday will be the fourth time in the past two seasons the teams have met – with the first three games being decided by a total of nine points.

 

“It’s always a great game against these guys, and it’ll be another great game,” says Chargers QB PHILIP RIVERS. “You can’t ask for anything more in the playoffs.”

 

On November 11, 2007 in San Diego, Indy’s ADAM VINATIERI missed a 29-yard FG attempt with 1:31 to play in a 23-21 Chargers win. In the Divisional Playoffs in Indianapolis that season, San Diego’s BILLY VOLEK scored on a quarterback sneak with 4:50 remaining to ice a 28-24 Chargers win. Then Vinatieri got retribution this past November 23 in San Diego with a 51-yard game-winning (23-20) kick.

 

The quarterbacks, of course, could be key Saturday night. Indianapolis’ PEYTON MANNING just extended his NFL record with his ninth 4,000-yard season. Rivers, the only QB this year with a 100.0 passer rating (105.5), tied New Orleans’ DREW BREES for the most TD passes (34), but goes against a unit that allowed only six scoring throws, the fewest ever in a 16-game season.

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9-6-1) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6) (Sunday, FOX, 4:30 PM ET)

STORYLINE: Weak starts, strong finishes.

 

And it’s those strong finishes that can propel you deep into the playoffs. Both clubs started slowly (Eagles, 2-3; Vikings, 1-3), but finished the season with strong streaks (Eagles, 4 wins in their last 5; Vikings, 5 in their last 6). “We had to earn it, as it should be, and that makes it that much sweeter,” says Vikings head coach BRAD CHILDRESS, speaking, really, about both clubs. And why shouldn’t he? Childress was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator from 2002-05.

 

The teams are distinct in their offensive approaches. Philadelphia is a pass-first club, Minnesota a run-first. They have the people to back up those philosophies. Eagles QB DONOVAN MC NABB finished fourth and fifth in the NFL, respectively, in attempts and completions. Vikings RB ADRIAN PETERSON led the league in rushing (1,760 yards).

 

That said, the Eagles have the “most complete back in the NFL in rushing and receiving” in BRIAN WESTBROOK, says NFL Network’s STEVE MARIUCCI (Westbrook led the league in scrimmage yards in 2007). And the Vikings’ BERNARD BERRIAN is the only NFL receiver with at least 900 yards to average 20.0 yards a catch (20.1).

 

“It’s an exciting time right now,” says McNabb. Of course. It’s the NFL playoffs!

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