Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the two Wild Card Round games to be played Sunday:
(5) NEW YORK GIANTS (10-6) at (4) TAMPA BAY (9-7), 1 p.m., FOX
The New York Giants would love to show the NFL world that they're ready to win their first postseason game since Minnesota, 41-0, in January 2001, that their seven-game road winning streak is indicative of things to come, that QB Eli Manning is ready for some Peytonian respect and that head coach Tom Coughlin is ready for a contract extension.
But first they've got to get past Tampa Bay and Jeff Garcia.
That's Tampa Bay as in the Buccaneers as well as in the body of water by the central Florida city. The Giants' playoff woes began in Tampa in Super Bowl XXXV in their 34-7 loss to the then big, bad Ravens. They've been one-and-done three times since then, twice to Garcia, who helped lead the 39-38 comeback for San Francisco in the '02 playoffs and the 23-20 holdon for the Eagles last season.
Garcia, who's played about 1½ of the Bucs' last five games due to a back injury, said all the right things this week about tackling Big Blue.
"I'm not expecting any sort of letdown by the Giants after a physical, tough game against the New England Patriots," he said. "I'm expecting them to be hungry and excited. They are a real good team, a solid team throughout every aspect of the game and so we are going to get their best this weekend. We have to be prepared for that."
New York finished the regular season with top-10 rankings in rushing offense (4th), overall defense (7th) and rushing defense (8th), and with no bottom-10 rankings in the eight main team categories.
Tampa Bay finished in the top 10 in overall defense (2nd), passing defense (1st) and scoring defense (3rd) and had no bottom-10 rankings.
The Giants have a minus-9 turnover margin (minus-10 in their last eight games) while the Bucs are plus-15 (plus-14 in their last eight games). Manning's 20 interceptions are the most thrown by a QB in the playoffs while Garcia's four are among the fewest.
Brandon Jacobs is the only 1,000-yard rusher in this game, easing over the four-figure barrier in the RS finale vs. New England to finish at 1,009 (5.0 avg., four TDs). Plaxico Burress is the Giants' leading receiver with 1,025 yards on 70 receptions (14.6 avg., 12 TDs), while the Bucs are led by their own deep threat, Joey Galloway (57-1,014-17.8-6), plus Ike Hilliard, whom the Giants stuck a fork in after 2004.
New York DE Osi Umenyiora is a danger to Garcia's improving health with 13 sacks, fifth in the NFL — just ask Donovan McNabb. Big Blue's Domenik Hixon is the hot returner, taking a kickoff to the house in his last game vs. the Patriots.
The Giants are 16-23 all-time in the postseason, 12-10 since 1981, including Super Bowl wins under Bill Parcells after the 1986 and '90 seasons and the SB appearance under Jim Fassel after 2000. This is the third straight season Coughlin and Manning have coaxed the G-men into the playoffs, but the record the previous two Januarys is 0-2.
Tampa Bay is 6-8 all-time in the postseason and the franchise has earned its second playoff berth since Jon Gruden's triumphant first Bucs team won Super Bowl XXXVII over Oakland.
The Giants and Buccaneers have never met in the playoffs and just once in the past four regular seasons, a 17-3 Giants home win in 2006.
If you're rooting for the team with more ex-Jets, the Buccaneers win, barely.
Tampa Bay's starting FB is B.J. Askew and its backup TE is Anthony Becht. Do you want to count backup LB Ryan Nece, son of former Jets S Ronnie Lott? And the Bucs staff has these former Green & White coaches (years of Jets service in parentheses): Bob Casullo, TEs (2004), Larry Coyer, AHC/DL (1994), Paul Hackett, QBs (2001-04), Richard Mann, WRs (1994-96), Bill Muir, OC/OL (1995-2001), Tim Berbenich, OQC (2003-05), Monte Kiffin, DC (1990) and Raheem Morris, DBs (2001).
The Giants feature starting RT Kareem McKenzie, backup rookie RB Danny Ware (who replaces another former Jet, Derrick Ward, now on IR), and, in a stretch, backup LB Zak DeOssie, son of Steve DeOssie, a Jet in 1993. In the coaching area, Peter Giunta (1995-96) handles Big Blue's cornerbacks, David Merritt (2001-03) their safeties, and Markus Paul (2005-06) assists with their strength and conditioning.
The Jets fell from ahead in a Meadowlands "road game" in their 35-24 loss to the Giants in Week 5, their fourth straight loss to their stadium mates. Their record vs. the Bucs has been more favorable — six straight wins, the most recent by 14-12 in 2005.
(6) TENNESSEE (10-6) at (3) SAN DIEGO (11-5), 4:30 p.m., CBS
The Titans took control of their playoff destiny when they edged the Jets and the Browns fell to the Bengals in Week 16. Then they did what they had to do against Indianapolis, QB'd by Jim Sorgi, not Peyton Manning, for the final three quarters with a 16-10 Sunday night win to clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons.
But injuries are hounding this year's biggest postseason underdog. First it was QB Vince Young, who didn't finish the regular-season finale due to a quadriceps pull. Young was limited at practice this week, but he lost his prime target in TE Bo Scaife, placed on IR with a lacerated liver, and his top WR, Roydell Williams, who broke his ankle at Wednesday's practice.
San Diego is a supercharged Cinderella story all its own. After that 1-3 start under new coach Norv Turner had the critics out in force, the Chargers regained their equilibrium to win their last six and finish at 11-5 to win the AFC West and gain the third seed.
One of those wins in that streak was by 23-17 in overtime at Tennessee, a chippy affair that had both sides chirping in the days before the game.
"We won the game. That's all that matters to us," said San Diego QB Philip Rivers about a grudge match. "It's a new game now. We get to play them at home. It's going to be another fun, physical game. I'm looking forward to it."
"If people missed the first one we played," Tennessee LB Keith Bulluck said, "tune in."
Tennessee finished the regular season with NFL top-10 rankings in rushing offense (5th), overall defense (5th), rushing defense (5th), passing defense (10th) and scoring defense (8th). The Titans were in the bottom 10 in passing offense (27th).
San Diego finished in the top 10 in rushing offense (7th), scoring offense (5th) and scoring defense (5th). The Chargers were in the bottom 10 in passing offense (26th).
The 'Bolts led the NFL in the regular season with a plus-24 turnover margin, fashioning a plus-21 In the 10 games since their bye week. CB Antonio Cromartie was a big part of those gaudy numbers with a league-leading 10 interceptions. The Titans had a zero TO margin.
Tennessee's offense was last in the NFL in red-zone TD percentage at 36.4 percent (20-for-55). However, the Titans defense was first in the league in yards allowed per first-down play (4.34).
LaDainian Tomlinson came on strong in the second half to defend his NFL rushing-yardage and rushing-touchdown titles with 1,474 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and 15 TDs. LenDale White got his first 1,000-yard season with 1,110 yards (3.7 avg., 7 TDs) for the Titans. Darren Sproles is the return X-factor in this game with one punt-return and one kickoff-return TD. Tennessee DE Kyle Vanden Bosch's non-stop motor drove him to 12 sacks. Pro Bowl K Rob Bironas was 13-for-15 on FG tries of 40 yards or longer.
Tennessee is making its first playoff appearance in four years. The Titans are 5-4 in the postseason since moving to Tennessee and 14-17 in their history, which includes three games as the Houston Oilers against the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, in 1960, '61 and '79. The Oilers won all three.
San Diego is 7-13 all-time in the playoffs and 6-9 since the merger after losing in its last four appearances, most recently being upset at home, 24-21, by New England in last year's Divisional Round game.
The Chargers have won the last five meetings between these teams, prevailing at home in 1993, 2004 and '06 and four weeks ago in Nashville, overcoming a 17-3 third-quarter deficit for a 23-17 overtime victory.
Kevin Mawae, the Jets' six-time Pro Bowl center, has missed the last two games and has sat out practice so far for this playoff game with a calf injury. P Craig Hentrich, lest we forget, was the Green & White's eighth-round draft choice in 1993. John Zernhelt, who coached the Jets' TEs in 2005, now coaches the Titans' tights.
Until their 10-6 loss at LP Field two weeks ago, the Jets had been big fans of the Titans incarnation of this original AFL franchise, having beaten them three straight in 1998, 2003 and in the '06 opener.
The Jets' last several meetings with San Diego have also been memorable, one way or another. In 2005, the Chargers won at the Meadowlands as Tomlinson scored four TDs and Wayne Chrebet played in his last NFL game. The Jets swept a pair of meetings at San Diego in '04 — Game 2, when Curtis Martin took over the team's all-time rushing-yardage lead, and in the Wild-Card Round with a 20-17 overtime win.
Lorenzo Neal, who played the 1997 season with the Jets, is San Diego's starting FB in his 15th pro season (although he's been limited by a fibula injury). Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell followed a pattern similar to his time as the Jets' DC 2001-03 by getting his struggling stars playing up to potential down the stretch. And Teddy got input from old friend and former Jets secondary coach Bill Bradley as the Chargers' DB boss.