By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 8, 2005
FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Bye.
COACH: Andy Reid (69-36 overall; 5-4 in playoffs)
PLAYOFF HISTORY: For the past three seasons, the Eagles have been beaten in the NFC Championship game, losing to the Rams, Bucs and Panthers consecutively. Their only Super Bowl appearance came in 1980, when they lost the Raiders 27-10.
BLUEPRINT: With Terrell Owens, the Eagles were an explosive offense that hit defenses with the home run or kept them staggered with the threat of it. It all starts with quarterback Donovan McNabb's rare talent, a commitment to running the ball and a revitalized blitz-happy defense that finished 10th in the league.
TURNING POINT: Some will argue that there are two. The acquisition of receiver Terrell Owens in a dynamic offseason trade gave the Eagles that big name playmaker to compliment quarterback Donovan McNabb, leading to a 13-1 start. Now, Owens got hurt (Dec.19) in a loss to Dallas and likely won't play again this season. That could spell disaster for the Eagles.
BEST PLAYERS: McNabb (300-of-469, 3,875 yards, 31 TDs, 8 Ints), Owens (77 catches, 1,200 yards, 14 TDs); running back Michael Westbrook (177 carries, 812 yards, 3 TDs); Pro Bowl safeties Brian Dawkins (4 Ints) and Michael Lewis; Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard (5 Ints); Pro Bowl linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and Pro Bowl kicker David Akers (27-of-32, 122 points).
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FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Bye
COACH: Jim Mora (12-4 in his first season as an NFL head coach)
PLAYOFF HISTORY: In 1998, Jamal Anderson led the Falcons to a magical playoff run that ended with a 34-19 loss to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. The Falcons last dip in playoff waters came two seasons ago when they stunned Green Bay on the road in the opening round before losing at Philadelphia the following weekend.
BLUEPRINT: Michael Vick. Michael Vick. Michael Vick. Okay, the Falcons run the ball. They put significant pressure on the passer. They will get yards on special teams and their kicker, Tampa-native Jay Feeley, is quite consistent. But who are we kidding, this team goes where Vick takes it.
TURNING POINT: Knowing how badly Rich McKay wanted out of Tampa Bay, late last season Falcons owner Arthur Blank worked a deal that would bring the former Bucs general manager to Atlanta as President/general manager. All McKay has brought is integrity, personnel and salary cap expertise, and a winning philosophy. Nuff said.
BEST PLAYERS: Vick (181-of-321, 2,313 yards, 14 TDs, 12 Ints; 902 yards on 120 carries, 3 TDs); running back Warrick Dunn (265 yards, 1,106 yards, 9 TDs); running back T.J. Duckett (104 carries, 509 yards, 8 TDs); tight end Alge Crumpler (48 catches, 774 yards, 6 TDs); Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kearney (13 sacks) and Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking.
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FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Vikings
COACH: Mike Sherman (55-34 overall; 2-3 in playoffs).
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Playoffs have been nothing new Title Town. The Packers have made four Super Bowl appearances, including two in 90s. After the 1996 season, they defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI and then lost to the Broncos the following year. They have been to the playoffs the last three seasons straight years.
BLUEPRINT: When you have a gunslinger quarterback like Brett Favre, who is enjoying a revitalization of his career, you learn to live or die with his arm. The Packers do just that. Favre is going to pitch it around and take chances. And he's been winning most of the times. Still, Green Bay can and will let Ahman Green run the ball to keep some of the pressure off of Favre.
TURNING POINT: After being blown out by the Titans 48-27 on Monday night, the Packers regrouped and went on to win six straight, catch and pass the Vikings at the top of the NFC North division.
BEST PLAYERS: Favre (346-of-540, 4,088 yards, 30 TDs, 17 Ints); Green (259 carries, 1,163 yards, 7 TDs); receiver Javon Walker (89 catches, 1,382 yards, 12 TDs); receiver Donald Driver (84 catches, 1,208 yards, 9 TDs); Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera, Pro Bowl fullback William Henderson.
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FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Rams
COACH: Mike Holmgren (125-83 overall; 9-7 in playoffs)
PLAYOFF HISTORY: They are 3-6 overall and may best be remembered for quarterback Matt Hasslebeck's bold prediction of a win after winning the overtime coin toss in the wild card game in Green Bay last season. Of course, he promptly threw an interception to Al Harris who returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. Ball game.
BLUEPRINT: Homlgren's steady concept of the West Coast offense lives large with the Seahawks. It all begins with running back Shaun Alexander, whose consistency makes him a strong argument for the most productive player in the league. Then, with the running game established, the Seahawks will try to get Hasslebeck to connect downfield with receivers Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson. Defensive end Chiki Okeafor had 8.5 sacks.
TURNING POINT: Twice, the Seahawks avoided falling below .500. After three wins the begin the season, Seattle dropped its next three but knocked off the Panthers 23-17. Five weeks later, at 6-6, they did it again knocking off the Vikings 27-23.
BEST PLAYERS: Alexander (353 carries, 1,696 yards, 16 TDs; 4 receiving TDs); Hasselbeck (279-of-474, 3,382 yards, 22 TDs, 15 Int); Jackson (87 catches, 1,199 yards, 7 TDs); receiver Koren Robinson (31 catches, 495 yards, 2 TDs); receiver Jerry Rice (30 catches, 495 yards) and defensive end Chiki Okeafor (8.5 sacks).
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FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Seahawks
COACH: Mike Martz (53-32 overall; 2-3 in the playoffs)
PLAYOFF HISTORY: It seems like yesterday that the Rams were ripping through NFL defenses and making it to two Super Bowls in three years, including winning a 23-17 win over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. The Rams have made the playoffs in three of the last four years.
BLUEPRINT: They are called the greatest show on turf because of the speed of their attack. The Rams want to get a defense into a track meet, a situation that traditionally favors their speedy receivers, innovative running backs and overall offensive philosophy to get the ball upfield. With the emergence of rookie running back Steven?? Jackson, the Rams can function in a more physical game.
TURNING POINT: A very average team all year, the Rams' rebirth had little to do with them and everything to do with the Vikings, who did them a favor by losing four of their last five games.
BEST PLAYERS: Marc Bulger (321-of-485, 3,964 yards, 21 TDs, 14 Ints); Torry Holt (94 catches, 1,372 yards, 10 TDs); Issac Bruce (89 catches, 1,292 yards, 6 TDs); running back Marshall Faulk (195 carries, 774 yards, 3 TDs); running back Steven Jackson (134 carries, 673 yards, 4 TDs); Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace.
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FIRST ROUND OPPONENT: Packers
COACH: Mike Tice (15-18 overall)
PLAYOFF HISTORY: During their glory days, the Vikings went to four Super Bowls and lost them all. Since then, Minnesota has clawed back into regular playoff contention. In 1998, they lost the NFC Championship game 30-27, after going 15-1 in the regular season. They also played in the post season in 1999 and 2000.
BLUEPRINT: It's Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss. Nothing else really counts. True, the Vikings will tell you that they want to run the ball using a stable of running backs. They will try. But their success comes down to the number of big plays made by Culpepper and Moss.
TURNING POINT: They should consider themselves lucky. A 5-1 start helped the Vikings amass just enough wins to stay in contention while they were imploding coming down the stretch.
BEST PLAYERS: Culpepper (379-of-548, 4,717 yards, 39 TDs, 11 Ints; 88 carries, 406 yards, 2 TDs); receiver Randy Moss (49 catches, 767 yards, 13 TDs); tight end Jermaine Wiggins (71 catches, 705 yards, 4 TDs); receiver Nate Burleson (68 catches, 1,006 yards, 9 TDs); running back Onterrio Smith (124 carries, 544 yards, 2 TDs) and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams (12 sacks).