John Madden
John Madden
Redskins, Eagles game of the week
By John Madden

The Washington Redskins are really peaking at the right time. I know that Mark Brunell's injury has come at a bad time and Patrick Ramsey may have to step in in this game and may have to step in later but they still have Clinton Portis and they still have excellent defense. There is enough there for them to win this game and get to the playoffs.

It didn't look good for the Redskins a few weeks ago and everyone was a little quick to jump off their band wagon. If you look back to last year and at Brunell you said gees I don't know if he still has what it takes, he comes back this year, takes the team on his shoulders, then the team begins to play well and they hit a bump in the road and lose to the Oakland Raiders and it looked like their season may take a turn for the worse. They come out of that and put together a few more wins and that game turns into a bump in the road. If they go the other way after that loss and lose a few more games then that game becomes a heck of a lot more than a bump in the road.

Offensively for the Redskins they have that combination of speed on the outside, a pass catching threat on the inside like Chris Cooley, along with a running game that really puts defenses in a bind. Defenses have to stay deep for Santana Moss and then you better not just go to that Cover 2 and leave the middle open because they have Cooley in there and then you better not play soft because they will hit you with a heavy dose of Portis and the running game.

Two weeks ago I watched this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team against the New England Patriots and during that game I thought hey this defense is playing pretty well right now. I know that some will say then how did they give up 28 points but they did play well and consistently and you can just see that it is all about defense for this Buccaneers team. Jon Gruden is an offensive coach and has all of his elaborate plays but his team is all about playing great defense, creating turnovers and controlling the ball with the running game.

You can say that you are going to run the ball, play good defense, defense will create turnovers, kicking game all those things but there is always a point in the game where your quarterback is going to have to make a play to win the game.

It's really simple for the Carolina Panthers this week, win and you're in. If you are really a playoff caliber team then you have to win right now. They have lost two out of the last three games and they are a borderline playoff team. I know that some people have picked them for the Super Bowl, but they are a team that when you think they are good and are going to win they lose and when they are not playing well and you think they are going to get beat they turn it on and get the win. They are in a position to beat the Atlanta Falcons and they are in but if they can't do that then they don't belong in the playoffs anyway!

The Dallas Cowboys are going to be sitting around watching and waiting to see if they need a win to get into the playoffs or if they are just playing a meaningless game heading into the off season. But I talked to Bill Parcells this week and some other people down in Dallas and they all feel that they need this as a win anyway. They know that making the playoffs is your ultimate goal but if that can't be accomplished then a 10-6 season is something to play for. If that record isn't enough to get them into the playoffs then having that record is a good foundation to build on and get started for next year. Parcells finally has his guys and this is a team that he has built and again they may be a team that isn't in the playoffs but they can be a 10-6 team that is better than they were a year ago, a lot better defense than a year ago, and they are going to be better next year than they were this year.

This game is fairly meaningless to both teams. The Chicago Bears have already wrapped up the No. 2 seed in the NFC so they will have next week off and then host a game during the divisional playoff weekend. The question for this Bears team and Lovie Smith is how much does he play the often injured Rex Grossman? I think he needs more reps than rest. I would play him because he has been out for so long and now he has come back and really given them a spark. He looks like he is the real deal but you have to find that out. If he is going to get hurt every time he plays 2 or 3 games then you know you can't count on him over the long haul. At some point he has to prove that he can go in and play and doesn't live in a glass house. He is going to have a week off before he plays another game anyway so any bumps and bruises will heal and if he is going to get another serious injury then heck that is going to happen anyway.

The Cincinnati Bengals have won their division and are playing to hold onto their 3rd seed for the Wild Card Weekend so they do have something to play for. But we always talk about playing your guys I think there is some middle ground on that. If you have a guy that is banged up and could use a little time off then now is the time to do that but if a guy is rested, healthy and ready to go then that is something different. It is a tough thing for a coach because part of him wants to play everyone and go into the playoffs with some momentum but the other part says hey wait a second if there is any question about someone's health then I am not going to play the guy.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

I guess the same kind of kind of question applies to the New England Patriots. How do you play this game? Knowing Bill Belichick I am not sure. Normally you could say oh yeah knowing this guy he will play his guys or he won't play his guys the fact is that with Belichick you just never know. In talking to him last week he thinks his team is getting better but he also feels that they are not good enough yet. He said "we have to continue to improve every week", last week against the New York Jets as well as against the Miami Dolphins this week "and then we have to improve as we get into the playoffs." That part of me says that he will play his guys because they have to improve but the other part of me says wait a second he has a veteran team, he knows what he has in certain situations so let's just keep that nucleus together and get them ready for the playoffs and not go all out by playing all his players. I think it goes back to that middle ground where if a player is not healthy then you don't play the guy.

I always talk about peaking at the right time and that time is December and going into January and this Patriots defense is really hitting on all cylinders. I know that Tedy Bruschi was hurt last week and his status for the playoffs is uncertain but that front seven is really something special. It all starts with the defensive line and those guys are tough. They two gap and take on everything with those linebackers Rosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and even if it's Monty Beisel that front seven is as good as any in the NFL. Their problems, when they have had problems, on defense have been their secondary. They have had 12 different starters in their secondary this season. And then of course Tom Brady. You say ok you have first pick to start a team, I take Brady. They will run the ball with Corey Dillon when he is healthy but even when he is not healthy they will modify their offense and throw the ball every down and beat you that way.

These Pittsburgh Steelers with a win get into the playoffs and they have that combination that works so well in the playoffs. Run the ball and play tough defense. Now of course if you get to playing Indianapolis indoors then you don't worry about those things but they do have a team to play in any kind of weather.

Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden is an analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football.

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