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 Moose breaks down the elite eight 
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Post Moose breaks down the elite eight
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Moose breaks down NFL's Elite Eight
Daryl "Moose" Johnston provides his Divisional Playoff Ratings, breaking down the NFL's remaining playoff teams and players.
Team most likely to be upset this weekend

1. Bears ? Really, if you look at the entire playoff field, if any of the teams lose this week it wouldn't be a complete surprise. But the Bears appear to have the biggest chance in getting knocked off. Sooner or later, their lack of playoff experience at quarterback will likely come back to haunt them. It was a big factor in the season finale loss at Minnesota, as well as in every loss this season. In each of their five losses, the Bears scored 10 points or less.


Plus, Carolina is a different team now than in the previous meeting with Chicago. In the regular season loss, the Panthers were hampered by a running game that was struggling with aging Stephen Davis wearing down toward the end of the season, and before DeShaun Foster rejuvenated the Panthers' bread-and-butter on offense.

The improved run game has proved to be the fulcrum of the late-season surge for the whole team, taking a bit less pressure off QB Jake Delhomme (two INTs in first meeting with Bears) and the offensive line (eight sacks allowed in last meeting). Carolina played one of the its worst games of the season in Week 11, but they are playing John Fox's style perfectly over the past two weeks.

Ranking the Rest:
2. Broncos
3. Seahawks
4. Colts


Team with the best home-field advantage this weekend

1. Colts ? Yes, they did lose to the Chargers late in the year to ruin their bid at an undefeated season. But I don't think any team (even the Patriots) would voluntarily head to the track meet at the RCA Dome for a playoff meeting in Indy.

Depending on the conditions, you would think Chicago would have the best home-field edge because of the elements. But looking at the style of play of the remainder of potential playoff opponents in the NFC, all three teams (Carolina, Seattle and Washington) could run if they were forced to ditch the passing game due to rough weather ? thereby lessening Chicago's Soldier Field edge.

Ranking the Rest:
2. Bears (7-1 at home this season)
3. Seahawks (8-0)
4. Broncos (8-0)


Underdog this weekend that no one wants to play

1. Patriots ? Would you want to play the three-time Super Bowl champs?

People had perceptions of the team from New England's struggles early on this season ? that they are a wild-card team, 11-5 and finally vulnerable ? that Jacksonville found out were definitely off the mark. The Patriots have corrected a lot of the problems that surfaced early when injuries decimated the team, and they appear to have their collective chip on their shoulder at the worst time for the rest of the AFC.

Ranking the Rest:
2. Panthers
3. Steelers
4. Redskins


Most balanced team on offense

1. Steelers ? This may be a surprise to some of you. Pittsburgh is known as a running team, but second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has developed into an added threat in the passing game.

Most teams have a defined strength but struggle when their strength is taken away. Pittsaburgh likes to run the ball, but Ben is more than capable to win the game by throwing if he must ? which is a key difference for the Steelers this season compared to last.

The big thing to me is to define a "balanced attack" ? and not necessarily solely by statistics. If one facet of their offense is shut down, can teams win it the other way? With a healthy Roethlisberger, the Steelers can.

Ranking the Rest:
2. Broncos
3. Colts
4. Seahawks
5. Panthers
6. Patriots
7. Redskins
8. Bears

Most balanced team on defense

1. Bears ? Chicago's shut-down defense can shut teams down in every way. Looking at the numbers, one might view the fact that the Bears are ranked 11th in rushing defense and see some vulnerability. But remove the 149 rushing yards allowed to Minnesota in a meaningless season finale (at least on defense), and the Bears' per-game average drops to 99.2. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris is the key there in the middle, because the Steelers proved that if Harris is neutralized, then so is the Bears' run defense.


Nathan Vasher has emerged as a playmaker in the Bears' defensive backfield. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

I love Chicago's secondary, which returned four picks for touchdowns this season. Nathan Vasher intercepted eight passes himself in a breakout performance this season.

As for the Patriots at No. 8 below, normally they are not ill-balanced but New England's secondary is the clear attacking point for other offenses because of all the injuries. Plus, now with DE Richard Seymour and possibly with LB Tedy Bruschi back this weekend, the Patriots are very good with their front seven. So most teams will come in and want to throw the ball against them.

Ranking the Rest:
2. Colts
3. Panthers
4. Steelers
5. Broncos
6. Seahawks
7. Redskins
8. Patriots

Best coaching staffs (staff I wouldn't want to have to scheme against to win a playoff game)

1. Patriots ? Indianapolis does what they do. Chicago comes at you on defense and dictates the approach of opposing offenses and most teams will generally stick with their preferred style of play in the playoffs.

But you can never be sure what you're going to get out of New England. Bill Belichick will try to find your biggest weakness and exploit it, then he'll also try to take away your biggest strength. You spend the whole first quarter trying to sort out what they're gonna do.

Ranking the Rest:
2. Steelers
3. Broncos
4. Colts
5. Redskins
6. Panthers
7. Seahawks
8. Bears

Best difference-maker on offense

Tom Brady, Patriots QB ? Because of his playoff record and his unmatched poise. Until somebody beats him, his decision-making, experience and ability to raise everyone's play around him makes him the most indispensible offensive player in these playoffs.

Best difference-maker on defense

Dwight Freeney, Colts DE ? If he's having a big day, you have to account for him in the pass rush on every play by either putting a back or tight end over to his side of the rush. He affects the protection than anyone else in the playoffs and can change the momentum of a game with sack or forced fumble at any time.

Biggest Unsung Heroes

LB Lofa Tatupu, Seahawks ? The culture has changed in Seattle, and he's one of those guys that has been a huge part of it. And for a rookie, he has played like a big-play veteran down the stretch with the knack for making the back-breaking plays.

RB Thomas Jones, Bears ? He's played hurt in almost every game and still racked up 1,335 rushing yards while scoring almost half of Chicago's offensive touchdowns this season. On top of that, he's running into eight- and nine-man fronts and nobody ever talks about him.

G Mike Wahle, Panthers ? Maybe the most important off-season pickup of any team, as he has solified a trouble spot on the O-line for Carolina from the previous season.

DT Joe Saleve'a, Redskins ? When he was out injured this season teams could run on Washington and turn the tables a bit on what defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wanted to accomplish, which is control the down and distance.

DT Corey Simon, Colts ? Allows defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis the ability to rush from the outside knowing the interior is covered. Has shored up the inside of the Colts' defense and frees up the linebackers to make plays.

Defensive line coaches Andre Patterson and Jacob Burney, Broncos ? Have taken a group of free agents and traded players and mixed them together with a few draft picks to create a defensive line with playmakers and depth. The linebackers get a lot of credit in Denver, but it all starts up front for the Broncos' defense.

LB Rosevelt Colvin, Patriots ? Starting to provide the plays the Patriots expected when they brought him in as a free agent in 2003. A good edge pass rusher that will win most one-on-one encounters against any running back. Another versatile play-maker on the Pats' defense that offenses must worry about.

LT Marvel Smith, Steelers ? The Steelers are not the same without Marvel in the lineup. He protects Ben Roethlisberger's blindside and is a key element in the Steelers' run game. Was out of the lineup or not healthy during Pittsburgh's three-game slide late in the year, and his absence showed on the field.

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[b]New York Giants 26 - San Fransisco 3 - CandleStick Park - Who's got it better than us???[/b]


January 11th, 2006, 3:05 pm
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I actually would love to see New England Win and play the Colts in the Championship game. And I hate the Pats. But that would be one for the ages.

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[b]New York Giants 26 - San Fransisco 3 - CandleStick Park - Who's got it better than us???[/b]


January 11th, 2006, 3:07 pm
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Go Colts!


January 12th, 2006, 7:20 am
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