NFL Playoffs Free of Surprises

The pro football playoffs get under way with some familiar teams advancing. The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins all won opening-round games.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The National Football League playoffs got off to a surprising start this weekend with three of the four road teams winning their games to advance to next week's divisional round. The only home team that won was defending Super Bowl champion the New England Patriots. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK, so Carolina wins in New York, Washington in Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh in Cincinnati. Which of these games was the biggest surprise?

FEINSTEIN: How about none of the above, believe it or not. If you look really at the games, Washington had lost in Tampa by one during the regular season. They've been on a five-game winning streak. Certainly not a shock for them to go in and win, although they had no offense and got a couple of lucky breaks during the game. The Giants were terribly banged up with injuries. An inexperienced quarterback starting his first playoff game, Eli Manning. They were overwhelmed by Carolina. And Pittsburgh was actually favored going into the Cincinnati game, and when Cincinnati starting quarterback Carson Palmer tore up his knee in the first quarter, that made it a very uphill battle for the Bengals. So none of those road wins was really a shocker, by any means.

MONTAGNE: The Patriots appeared too injured to defend their title earlier this season. But they looked pretty good Saturday night, didn't they?

FEINSTEIN: They really did. They just dominated a good Jacksonville team. Tom Brady's a Hall of Fame quarterback. He was superb. Bill Belichick is now moving into Vince Lombardi territory as a coach: 10 straight playoff wins. They go to Denver this weekend. That is certainly a winnable game for them. The Indianapolis Colts, who play Pittsburgh now, have to still be the favorite because of what they did in the regular season. But if I'm the Indianapolis Colts, Renee, I am rooting like heck for the Denver Broncos this weekend because I don't want to face New England again.

MONTAGNE: And what about the NFC next week? Any clear-cut favorites?

FEINSTEIN: No. There really aren't. The NFC is so wide open, because, unlike the AFC, where you've got two sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and a possible third in Ben Roethlisberger down the road, there are no great quarterbacks in the NFC. And I think if Washington went in and won at Seattle, which is the favorite, it wouldn't be stunning. Or if--Carolina probably will be favored against Chicago, which is playing Rex Grossman at quarterback, who didn't start until two games ago. So I think any of those four teams could end up in the Super Bowl. And whomever gets there, the AFC team will be the heavy favorite.

MONTAGNE: Switching gears here, John, golf opened its new season over the weekend in Hawaii with Stuart Appleby defeating Vijay Singh in a playoff. Where was Tiger Woods?

FEINSTEIN: Home watching on television, Renee, and--as was Phil Mickelson. This is the Tournament of Champions. You have to be a champion on the PGA Tour the previous year to open the season in Hawaii, and both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson opted not to play. Mickelson wanted more family time. Woods said he was tired because he spent a month on the road in November playing for huge appearance fees overseas. And this is really not good for the PGA Tour in one of their big events that the two biggest names they have just decide not to show up.

MONTAGNE: Right. So is there anything the tour can do about this sort of thing?

FEINSTEIN: Well, yeah, they're goo--what they've done is they've caved to Tiger and Phil, and they're changing their schedule starting in 2007 so that the season will end in September not November, so that Tiger can play for more appearance fees, Phil can have more off-season. The rank and file aren't happy about it, but at least this way they hope they'll get Tiger and Phil to show up for their big events during the regular season.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein. His latest book is, "Next Man Up: Behind the Lines in Today's NFL."

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