Hoping I’m wrong

This week, after going 3-1 in my opening week of playoff predictions (sure, tell me you knew the Falcons were going to beat the Packers), I’m going to adopt the philosophy of going with the teams I’d rather see have their buses run out of gas on the way to the stadium than win the Super Bowl.
That way, if I’m wrong, I can sit back and enjoy teams I can stomach more easily as they work their way towards claiming the big trophy.
And if I’m right, then I look like football’s version of Miss Cleo—without the bad clothes and fake Jamaican background.
Here goes nothing, mon.
AFC
Pittsburgh (10-6-1) at Tennessee (11-5)
These two teams I can deal with all right. The Steelers were miracle workers in rallying from a 17-point deficit against Cleveland last Sunday, but it will take some serious divine intervention to knock off the red-hot Titans.
Tennessee beat Pittsburgh 31-23 in the regular season—and that was before they ripped off a second five-game winning streak to finish the year. They’ve won 10 of their last 11, and have given up a mere 37 points in the last four games to provide their potent offence with some rock-steady defence.
Quarterback Steve McNair has been a warrior in the second half of the season, and running back Eddie George is finding his feet once again.
Pittsburgh’s Tommy Maddox may survive four quarters this time, unlike their previous meeting, but the Steeltown crew won’t survive the Titans.
Titans 24, Steelers 13
New York Jets (10-7) at Oakland (11-5)
New York will be making its fourth trip to Raiderland in the last 53 weeks, including a 26-20 loss earlier this year and a first-round playoff loss last year.
The Jets were dominant in shutting out the Colts last weekend, and Chad Pennington is quickly becoming the media darling of the playoffs. I would love almost nothing better than to watch the Raider maniacs be rendered silent in their own home stadium.
Having said that, the Jets rushed for only 32 yards in the last meeting and Rich Gannon is coming off the high of being named MVP. Throw in Jerry Rice, who’s playing like it’s 1990 again, and New York is in tough.
I’ll be cheering J-E-T-S, but the best B-E-T is the Raiders.
Raiders 31, Jets 24
NFC
San Francisco (12-5) at Tampa Bay (12-4)
The Niners must have writer’s cramp for all the thank-you cards they’ve sent out since Sunday’s victory over the Giants.
From long snapper Trey Junkin to kicker Matt Bryant to the officials who stared at a blatant pass interference play at the end of the game and didn’t call it, San Fran has one whopping debt of gratitude piled up.
It would be beautiful to see the Buccaneers’ No. 1-ranked defence make the Niners pay in full. But San Fran seems to have more lives than a cat come playoff time, as last Sunday proved.
Now they face a Tampa team which is dying to shed its paper tiger reputation but is starting quarterback Brad Johnson, who is one stiff shot in his injured back away from being dispatched to the sidelines.
I despise the Niners—and a sixth Super Bowl would put them ahead of my beloved Cowboys. But I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Niners 21, Buccaneers 20
Atlanta (10-6-1) at Philadelphia (12-4)
Take my Niners’ hatred and multiply it by 10 when discussing the Eagles, they of the incredibly rude fans, lousy stadium, and cheap-shot tactics (this Dallas fan will never forgive the attempt to injure Troy Aikman’s knee and the booing of Michael Irvin’s paralysis).
Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick beat unfathomable odds and won in Lambeau Field, which no visitor has ever done in a playoff game. And Philly pivot Donovan McNabb will be making his first start in two months after a broken fibula.
Everything points to a Falcons’ upset of the NFC’s top seed.
But the Eagles have a killer defence themselves, and, well, it’s the Eagles. Which means, just to spite me, they’ll find a way to get the job done in this Battle of the Birds.
Eagles 31, Falcons 17
• • •
Kudos to Fort Frances native Rustyn Dolyny, now with the Muskegon Fury of the United Hockey League, for winning the UHL’s player-of-the-week award for the week ending Dec. 30.
The 26-year-old right-winger, in his second year with the Fury, had four goals and five assists in four games during that stretch, which surely has his father, Roger, beaming proudly these days.
• • •
Another hockey salute to Fort Frances’ Chris Lindbergh, who has been part of two successful Team Canada triumphs so far this season on the international scene.
The 35-year-old forward, currently with HC Ajoie in the Swiss Hockey League, helped the red-and-white brigade to gold at the Swiss Challenge in November.
Then late last month, he provided veteran leadership to help Canada capture the Spengler Cup title against the host squad from Davos, Switzerland.
Nothing warms the heart like a local-boy-makes-good story.
• • •
I was channel surfing in the wee hours of the morning New Year’s Eve when I came across a CBC replay of Game 5 of the 1984 Patrick Division semi-final between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders.
I remember watching the game originally, and it still is one of the best playoff games I’ve ever seen. An added bonus was watching Fort Frances’ own Mike Allison, then of the Rangers, try and help the Broadway Blueshirts derail the Islander dynasty.
In case you forgot (poor Mike probably still hasn’t), the Islanders pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory on Ken Morrow’s winning goal—one of Bob Cole’s best play-by-play calls ever.
It took my beloved Oilers to halt New York’s “Drive for Five” in the Stanley Cup Final that year. Ahh, the good old days!
• • •
And in non-hockey musings, congratulations to Fort Frances resident George Paulenko, who pulled off the rarest of cribbage feats the Monday before Christmas with a hand of 29 during his game against Kaye Latonas.
If you are planning any sporting events, or have some sports-related information or scores, feel free to call me at 274-5373 ext. 237 or by e-mail at jpayeur@fortfrances.com

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