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Monday, January 7, 2008
Handicapping the wild-card winners

By DJ Gallo
Page 2

The last two Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts, emerged from wild-card weekend.

There is no reason it can't happen again this year. But it won't be easy.

Here are three things each victor from this weekend must do in order to win the Super Bowl and extend that wild-card round streak to three, with the teams listed in order of their likelihood of pulling it off.

Jacksonville Jaguars (15:1)

1. Play like a warm-weather team
We've all heard it by now: The Jacksonville Jaguars are from Florida … but they're built to play up North in the postseason! They're big! They run the ball! They have a defense! They don't have tans! They enjoy hot soup! They wear football spikes, not flip-flops! Their ancestors fought for the Union at Gettysburg! They hate grits! All of this is supposed to be to the Jaguars' benefit. The only problem is, the goal is to win the Super Bowl. If they beat the Patriots this week, they'll have to play indoors in Indianapolis next or at San Diego. And this year's Super Bowl is being played in Arizona, average February temperature: 70 degrees. That's two warm-weather games out of a possible three. So the Jaguars might not want to go overboard with the cold-weather stuff -- especially because grits are rather tasty. (Mmm … corn mash.)

2. Keep David Garrard running
David Garrard beat Pittsburgh on Jacksonville's final drive with his feet. And of the eight quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs, Garrard is by far the biggest threat on the run. Jacksonville should have more running plays specifically for Garrard. The fact that Jacksonville's old starting quarterback was only mobile when his linemen were carrying him is not a good excuse for having an outdated playbook.

3. Stop blowing huge leads
Four weeks ago against the Steelers, the Jaguars blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead before coming back to win. Then on Saturday night Jacksonville gave up an 18-point fourth-quarter lead in less than nine minutes. With defense like that, if the Jaguars get a lead against the Patriots, they are going to be hard-pressed to keep it against New England's potent attack. So they must find a fix. And preferably not the one the Patriots' AFC East "rivals" use: never having a lead.

New York Giants (25:1)

1. Be wary of Tom Coughlin
Sure, the Giants won in Tampa on Sunday. But it's January. We all know it's not Tom Coughlin's time to shine. Just wait. In the next few days, I guarantee we will hear Tiki Barber put the blame for his brother Ronde's loss squarely on Coughlin and his brilliant game plan.

2. Continue being annoying
The Giants offense routinely made "annoying third-down conversions," said Tampa Bay linebacker Barrett Ruud. "If it [was] third-and-8, [they got] 8½ yards." So kudos to the Giants for continuing to be incredibly annoying, even with Jeremy Shockey on the sideline.

3. Bank on the fact that Eli Manning has finally turned the corner
So maybe he's not hopeless. Maybe he hasn't always been overrated simply because of his last name. Maybe he is, in fact, "unstoppable." After all, Eli Manning has had two good games in a row. Perhaps this is the time he has finally arrived as a topflight NFL quarterback. Maybe he really has turned the corner. I, for one, believe he has. In fact, I've always felt that Eli turns the corner better than anyone else. The problem is, he always turns in the same direction at every corner. So by the third turn, he's always right back on the same corner on which he started. And it's a smelly corner. There's a dumpster on it and a sewer grate.

San Diego Chargers (30:1)

1. Keep Philip Rivers loose
For young quarterbacks, playoff pressure can be overwhelming. The Chargers need to make sure the postseason spotlight doesn't get to Philip Rivers. They need to keep him the same mediocre, yet incredibly cocky quarterback he is. That way, opponents will commit too many men to trying to rip his head off, leaving the talented Chargers such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers open.

2. Trust in Norv Turner
The Chargers finally won a playoff game and they did it under Norv Turner. Now Turner has the Chargers where Marty Schottenheimer couldn't get them: on the road in the second round of the playoffs. You know, 'cause last year Schottenheimer only got them to the second round via a bye. And they were at home. Umm … BOOOOOOOOO, Marty Schottenheimer!

3. Get some luck
The Chargers had the No. 1 overall seed last year in the playoffs, but failed to win the Super Bowl. Despite that disappointment, they still made it into the postseason again this season. That's exactly the same two-year path the Steelers and Colts took when they came out of the wild-card round to win it all. Are the Chargers primed to do the same? If so, they'll need some luck. Perhaps that evil, rogue supplement tainter will strike again and not target only purity incarnate Shawne Merriman, but the entire Chargers team.

Seattle Seahawks (50:1)

1. Set Mike Holmgren loose on Matt Hasselbeck
In recent weeks, Mike Holmgren has vowed to give himself at least 45 seconds to cool down before approaching Matt Hasselbeck after his quarterback makes a particularly stupid, Matt Hasselbeck-esque decision. He can't afford such a luxury in the playoffs. There is too much on the line. Especially against the Packers. For example, what if the game goes into overtime and Hasselbeck announces: "We want the ball and we're going to score!" Holmgren can't wait 45 seconds. By that time it will be too late. The interception will be thrown. Holmgren needs to knock him out right away.

2. Continue using old pitchers
Forty-five-year-old major league pitcher Jamie Moyer got the Qwest Field crowd going crazy before Saturday's game by raising the 12th Man flag and jumping around wildly on a balcony looking over the south end of the stadium. Who knew the people of Seattle are such big fans of the Phillies? Anyway, the Seahawks need to continue using aged pitchers to their advantage. Bring Moyer along to Green Bay for motivation. And to help their shoddy offensive line, maybe see if Roger Clemens would be up for playing tackle. He's built like a lineman and he might welcome a move to a league whose fans don't seem to care about steroid use.

3. Leave the 12th Man at home

There is no denying the support the Seahawks receive from the 12th Man. But Seattle fans do not show up en masse to road games like Cowboys and Steelers fans. The Seahawks need that to change this week. The 12th Man must make its presence felt at Lambeau Field. The 12th Man must show up in its official jersey -- Fan, No. 12. Wait. You know what? Forget you, 12th Man. What's this about wearing your own jersey all the time? A little selfish, don't you think? This is the playoffs. There's no time for self-promotion. It should be about "we," not "me." How come you're not wearing a Matt Hasselbeck jersey? Or a Patrick Kerney jersey? Or a Bobby Engram jersey? Those are the guys out there taking the hits. You're just sitting in a comfy seat drinking a beer and yelling at appropriate times. And you can't even wear one of the players' jerseys in a show of support? Screw you, 12th Man. The Seahawks don't need this kind of behavior right now. Not when they're getting ready to play in Lambeau Field in January. Get lost. Scram. And take worldwide superstar Jamie Moyer with you. The Seahawks will take on the Packers with just 11, thank you very much. And to think they routinely risked a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty for you. For shame.

DJ Gallo is the founder and sole writer of the sports satire site SportsPickle.com. He is also a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and has written for The Onion and Cracked. His first book – "SportsPickle Presents: The View from the Upper Deck" – is on sale now.