Thursday, January 08, 2009
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Playoff picks

Ravens-Titans a defensive struggle

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[January 08, 2009]  MIAMI (AP) -- Baltimore and Tennessee played one of the stranger playoff games in NFL history eight years ago, a 24-10 win in Nashville by the Ravens in which they had just 134 yards of offense.

Trent Dilfer was for Baltimore in that game what Kerry Collins is for Tennessee now, a steady veteran hand for a team built for running and defense. The Ravens scored TDs by returning a blocked field goal attempt and an interception by Ray Lewis, went on to beat the Raiders the next week in the AFC title game, then shut down the Giants (with Collins at quarterback) in the Super Bowl.

Look for more of the same in Nashville on Saturday in a game in which sixth-seeded Baltimore is a 3-point underdog to top-seeded Tennessee -- the home-field advantage.

There are three Ravens left from that 2001 game: Lewis, kicker Matt Stover and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

"The guys who were part of that can draw on that," Titans coach John Harbaugh says. "Rex has talked about that with me, and I've talked to Ray about that. I know they talk to different guys about it. It's neat. I think it's something that's positive. But this is a new year. That's a long time ago. This is two new football teams."


The Titans won 13-10 in Baltimore earlier this season and this should be the same type of game.

Both teams are built the same way: defense first, the running game next, and then passing. Give the much more experienced Collins the edge over rookie QB Joe Flacco, just as Kurt Warner demonstrated his playoff experience last week for Arizona against Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan.

But give Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens' defense the ultimate edge. And bruising running back Le'Ron McClain was used a lot less the first time they met.

RAVENS, 15-10


Arizona (plus 10) at Carolina (Saturday)

The Cardinals lost 27-23 in their first trip to Charlotte. But that was one of their better road games this season -- they didn't have an away win outside the weak NFC West. And while they were impressive in shutting down Michael Turner in their upset of Atlanta last week, it's not likely to happen this week against DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

It's nice to see a historically downtrodden franchise win a postseason game.

It won't happen again this weekend.


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Philadelphia (plus 4) at New York Giants (Sunday)

The Giants finished the season 1-3. The Eagles are on a 5-1 run, including a victory over the Vikings in the playoffs last Sunday. And, of course, a 20-14 win over New York at the Meadowlands on Dec. 7.

What does it mean?

"I don't think this team really looks at it like we've lost three of the last four," says center Shaun O'Hara. "We're done with last year. That was 2008. This is 2009."

Actually, 2008 was pretty good to New York.

GIANTS, 24-21


San Diego (plus 6) at Pittsburgh

The Chargers are a better team now than the one that lost the only 11-10 game in NFL history at Heinz Field on Nov. 16. And Ben Roethlisberger sustained a concussion in the final regular-season game for Pittsburgh.

But the Steelers' defense should be good enough on its own to win this game. LaDainian Tomlinson may not play and his replacement at running back, Darren Sproles, might be worn down a bit from 328 all-purpose yards last week. Beyond that, the footing might not be as good.



LAST WEEK: 2-2 (spread); 2-2 (straight up)

[Associated Press; By DAVE GOLDBERG]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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