- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

America’s football festival officially begins today with the first round of the NFL playoffs.

I don’t include the college bowl season among this festival, because this part of the season has been diluted with so many bowl games, spread out over so much time, that there is little festive about it — including Monday night’s national championship game. Schools and bowl organizers may be making money, but they devalue their product in the process.

College basketball, with an organized postseason tournament that leads to a national champion, only grows in stature and diminishes the NBA with each passing season. College football bowl season, on the other hand, becomes more of an afterthought every year. In contrast, the NFL playoffs create a festival-like atmosphere, beginning with teams from seven of the country’s biggest cities — New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Indianapolis and Kansas City — this weekend.

It starts this afternoon with the drama of whether the Indianapolis Colts can defend their home turf and beat the Kansas City Chiefs. If they can, it would set the stage for a great morality play — Baltimore’s former team, the Colts, coming back to Baltimore next weekend to face the city’s current team, the Ravens.

Call it the Mayflower Bowl.

There would be nothing sweeter for Ravens fans than for their current team to knock their former team out of the playoffs. The game might not mean squat to the players in that regard, but in a city and a region where the Colt Corral — a fan club dedicated to following the team — kept meeting for the 12 years the city didn’t have NFL football after the Colts left in Mayflower moving vans on a March night in 1984, it may be their Super Bowl.

Ravens fans likely will get their wish. As much as the Chiefs will run Larry Johnson down the throat of the Colts defense, Peyton Manning should prevail in a shootout. RCA Dome, a place where Kansas City hasn’t won in three tries, should be worth about four points to the Colts. Indianapolis 35, Kansas City 31.

Of course, all of that might pale in comparison to the show that could take place in today’s second game — the Dallas Cowboys at the Seattle Seahawks.

If you’re not a Cowboys fan, you have to be rooting for a total meltdown of America’s team, which will then light the Terrell Owens fuse, sending off an explosion that could reach new heights, even for T.O. He will throw his teammates and coaches under a fleet of Greyhounds and, speaking of buses, coach Bill Parcells could be driving one out of Dallas for good if there is a meltdown. Jerry Jones’ face could get so tight his ears could wind up meeting in the back of his head.

The Seahawks defense will do its best to rattle quarterback Tony Romo, while Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and company will tap into the anger that should still be in their hearts for the way the officials took the Super Bowl away from them last season, sending the Cowboys into a thoroughly enjoyable state of chaos. Seahawks 28-17.

Tomorrow’s games don’t offer the same juicy story lines.

It would be fun to watch Patriots coach Bill Belichick have to walk across his home field after the game to congratulate his protege, New York Jets coach Eric Mangini, for the second time this season. You know how much it would kill New England’s genius, despite his effort this week to show he is no longer bothered by Mangini’s presence with the Jets.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen. The Jets have overachieved this year, but underdogs don’t beat Bill Belichick in a playoff game. Heck, most great teams don’t, either. After the Patriots lost to the Jets on Nov. 12, they won six of their final seven games. Patriots 24-13.

The finale — the New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles — is a complete letdown. The Giants are such an underachieving, dysfunctional team, particularly when stacked up against the Eagles, that they are offensive to watch. It seems as if everyone is looking forward to the end of the Giants’ season — including the Giants players themselves — while the Eagles enter as the darlings of the playoffs. Philadelphia has been on a remarkable tear, led by backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, who replaced starter Donovan McNabb when he went down with a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee on Nov. 19. After the Eagles win 21-19, Tiki Barber will become ABC’s White House correspondent, and Mama McNabb will refuse to feed the Eagles any more Chunky Soup until they lose and start loving her son again.

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