It's Florida -- now back to the NFL

College football gives way at last after the Gators beat the Sooners without the promised scoring explosion. Plus: Round 2 playoff picks.


King Kaufman
January 9, 2009 5:00PM (UTC)

And it's another pooch of a National Championship Game for college football.

A hopeful nation tuned in to see 57-53 and instead got 24-14, the winning score for Florida over Oklahoma, plus three and a half hours of patented Thom Brennaman looooooooonnnnnnnng, draaaaaawwwwwwwwn-out syllables and the information that meeting Gators quarterback Tim Tebow for five minutes would make you a better human being. Remarrrrrrrrrkable kid.

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I don't think it'll still be there when you read this, but this sentence appeared in Brennaman's Wikipedia entry early Friday morning: "On January 9th [sic] he openly professed his love for Tim Tebow on national tv and asked how he could get a seat on the Tebowner."

But really, it was a great game if you like third and long. The Sooners brought the greatest offense in the hissssssssstory of football and looked like they were seeing an ambulatory defense for the first time in their lives. On the other side of the ball you have to wonder about a defense that is repeatedly baffled and beaten by the old quarterback draw -- by a quarterback, Tebow, who's a great runner and a so-so passer.

Tebow did salt the game away with a nifty anti-draw, faking a run into the line -- which probably would have resulted in a touchdown -- then completing a little jump pass for the score.

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I think we can all agree that Tulane would have cleaned the clock of either team and move on to the NFL playoffs, which resume Saturday with the weirdly named divisional round. Or, as we cleverly call it around here, the second round.

SATURDAY

Baltimore (11-5) at Tennessee (13-3)
4:30 p.m. EST, CBS
The Titans wobbled at the end of the season, going 3-3 down the stretch after having started 10-0. But they hammered the Steelers in Week 16 to secure the top seed in the AFC, and they open the playoffs healthier than they've been in a month.

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Tackle Albert Haynesworth, arguably the best defensive lineman in the league, is back from a knee injury, and end Kyle Vanden Bosch is set to return from groin surgery. They'll anchor a very good defense against a Baltimore offense that's better than it's been in recent years, but only decent, and led by a rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco.

He's getting a lot of praise for the poise he showed while beating the Dolphins on the road in his first playoff game, but the fact is he only completed nine passes, barely twice the number Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington threw that were caught by Ravens.

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It's the Ravens defense that wins games for them. Like Tennessee, Baltimore's defense can rush the passer, stop the run and create turnovers. Anything else you need? Safety Ed Reed sometimes seems to be playing a different game than everyone around him, one he's better at.

When these teams played in Week 5, the Titans pounded out a 13-10 win thanks to a late touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Alge Crumpler. Still, it's not the most comforting thing in the world to go into a playoff game against an elite defense with Collins at the helm. But this game will likely follow the blueprint of that first one, and the team that can force more turnovers will probably win it.

Since picking that team is nothing more than a guess and I don't want to pick all four home teams, I'll take the Ravens.
Prediction: Baltimore

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Arizona (9-7) at Carolina (12-4)
8:15 p.m. EST, Fox
Where did that Cardinals performance come from last week? They ran the football a little. They played solid defense. They beat a good team. One of the funny things about the Cardinals is they have never lost a home playoff game. They're 2-0 now, the other win coming against the Duluth Eskimos in 1947.

OK, Philadelphia Eagles. It's still funny.

Alas, the Cardinals won't be at home Saturday. They'll be on the road, where they're 1-5 all-time in the postseason. But! They're only on a one-game losing streak, having won at Dallas in 1998, their last playoff year, before losing at Minnesota. I love talking about the Cardinals. They've played fewer playoff games in the last 62 years than the Colts have played in the last five.

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Well, the road losing streak is about to be two. The Cardinals don't figure to be able to run much at all against the Panthers, though Kurt Warner and the passing game should do some damage, as they did in Week 8, when the Panthers came from 17-3 down to win at home 27-23.

They could also be damaged by Carolina's pass rush. And while the Cardinals bottled up Atlanta's Michael Turner last week, they've got a tougher assignment with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Warner and his brilliant receivers, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, give the Cardinals a puncher's chance in any game, but I'm going to believe Arizona's the team that went 3-7 against foes from outside its terrible division and 0-5 in the Eastern time zone, not the one that looked so sharp against Atlanta.

Far from home, in the cold, against a good team, the Cardinals playoff winning streak -- one, tied for the longest in franchise history! -- will come to an end.
Prediction: Carolina

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SUNDAY

Philadelphia (9-6-1) at New York Giants (12-4)
1 p.m. EST, Fox
The Eagles beat the Giants in New Jersey in Week 14, and this is supposed to have some kind of meaning. The Giants were 11-1, not assured of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but in solid shape for it, and they were in the middle of the Plaxico Burress shoots himself in the pants distraction.

Brian Westbrook went wild as the Eagles won and gained steam for their late playoff push. But would he have gone wild against a Giants team that was paying attention? We're about to find out.

The fact is that Westbrook, while still explosive and dangerous, isn't the player he once was. He says he's been bothered by nagging injuries. Well sure he has. He's a 200-pound back who's carried the ball 233 times at the age of 29, with 54 catches. He's in decline, plus he's at the end of a long, hard year.

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The Eagles got some improbable help from the Raiders in Week 17 to get into the playoffs, but they deserve a lot of credit. They've played well. Donovan McNabb has resurrected his career as he helped resurrect Philly's season. They bombed the Cowboys in Week 17 and beat a tough Vikings team on the road last week.

The Eagles will blitz Eli Manning and hope for the best, but Manning figures to rely on New York's powerful running game -- trying to throw downfield in the swirling Meadowlands winds at this time of year is a tall order -- and New York's own blitzing defense. Bruising runner Brandon Jacobs, who like Westbrook is banged up but unlike him has had a chance to rest lately, figures to play.

The biggest question for the Giants, losers of three out of four down the stretch, is whether they have a playoff switch they can turn back on. I think so, and I think their Week 16 win over Carolina for home-field advantage, the one meaningful game they've played in the last month, showed it.
Prediction: New York

San Diego (8-8) at Pittsburgh (12-4)
4:45 p.m. EST, CBS
Superstar running back LaDainian Tomlinson is unlikely to play with a torn tendon in his groin, and that's a big so-what for the Chargers, though not for me. I'm sitting funny just from typing it. But in San Diego it's all about Darren Sproles, last seen torching the Colts for about a fifth of a mile in all-purpose yards.

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But the Steelers on the frozen road are a different animal than the Colts on your own warm field. These teams played in the snow in mid-November -- remember the crazy ending and the first 11-10 final score in NFL history? -- and the Chargers, with Tomlinson active, didn't do any torching.

The Steelers, like the other three home teams this weekend, are rested after their first-round bye. They'll try to pick up where they left off in November, getting after quarterback Philip Rivers and forcing turnovers. If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Willie Parker, both benefiting from an extra week of healing time, can keep from giving the ball up, the Steelers should move on.
Prediction: Pittsburgh

Subsequent predictions: Pittsburgh over Baltimore, Carolina over New York, Pittsburgh over Carolina.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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