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NFL's smaller markets have much in store

January 17, 2006|by TIM KOELBLE

National Football League and television execs must be cringing at their potential ratings for Sunday's conference championships.

A ratings-winner setup? Seattle against Carolina; Pittsburgh against Denver? Not your major markets hanging around at season's end.

It was a weekend some of the so-called heavyweights took a plunge into working on draft day.

Indianapolis, once 13-0, falling off the deep end with Peyton "don't blame me" Manning at the controls against Pittsburgh.

Chicago, with all the hype as the "most vaunted defense" in the NFL, giving up 29 points to Carolina.

New England, a three-time champion, really never had enough in the long haul to keep going, losing to Denver, who might well be the best team remaining.

And even though they wouldn't be classified as a heavyweight, the Redskins went out west to fold their tent against Seattle. Was that really a playoff team all year long?

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The player of the week should be Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. You lose Shaun Alexander with a concussion and still have the poise to adjust and maintain control of the game and win. To me, he was the star of the weekend, even though you could cite Steve Smith's 12-reception game for Carolina against Chicago.

The "lucky I'm not a goat" award of the weekend goes to Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis. The Steelers' future Hall of Famer (and ex-Notre Damer) fumbles near the goal line, leaving Indianapolis with a chance to tie the game.

He can thank the "goat of the week" award-winner Mike Vanderjagt, who missed the game-tying field goal for Indianapolis in the aftermath of Bettis' fumble.

And then there's Manning, winner of the "stupid comment of the week" award, telling reporters "I'm trying to be a good teammate" when assessing blame for the loss.

Maybe he can start with Pittsburgh's defense, one that had Indy messed up the entire game with its array of blitz packages.

At any rate, I'm going to be pulling for Seattle and Denver this weekend. Hoping Denver wins is a no-brainer since I hate the Steelers.

For Seattle, this is the only franchise of the remaining four that has never been to a Super Bowl. The key words are "remaining four" since my Cleveland Browns haven't been there either. I'm hoping Alexander is 100 percent recovered from his concussion and rarin' to go. Time to hop on the Seattle bandwagon for one day.




Tim Koelble is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at koelble@herald-mail.com

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