- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

The late Rodney Dangerfield would have loved the NFC, a veritable mother lode of no-respect one-liners.

How bad is the NFC? So bad that:

• Its 16 teams went 16-48 against the AFC.

• Only the NFC’s four division champions finished with winning records while the AFC had three 9-7 teams fail to make the playoffs as wild cards.

• All four NFC divisions finished below .500.

This weekend’s NFC playoffs are such a joke that some NFL observers weren’t kidding when they said the league should give Philadelphia (13-3) and Atlanta (11-5) byes into the NFC Championship and cancel the first two rounds.

Alternate suggestion: Rework the playoff format so the top 12 teams qualify, regardless of conference.

Instead, fans will be subjected to the third matchup of the season between Green Bay (10-6) — which lost at home to has-beens Chicago, Tennessee and the New York Giants — and Minnesota (8-8) — which lost seven of its last 10 games.

Another dandy sends Seattle (9-7) — which was outscored 81-48 in consecutive post-Thanksgiving home games against non-playoff teams — against St. Louis (8-8) — which was pounded by lightweights Miami and Arizona.

“Unfortunately, we don’t come into this thing with tremendous rhythm,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said. “We didn’t march into the playoffs face first, we backed in. Maybe getting in [after three years out of the playoffs] is what the doctor ordered for these guys so maybe they’ll relax more and not make mistakes at the worst times.”

How’s that for a vote of confidence?

With the forecast calling for a 50 percent chance of snow, the Seahawks did not sell out tomorrow’s game until yesterday afternoon. In hopes of avoiding a local blackout, the team received a 24-hour extension from the NFL.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we sell out Friday night or Saturday morning,” NFC rushing champion Shaun Alexander said before the blackout was lifted. “It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, what’s going on? Oh, the playoff game. I wonder if there are any tickets left.’ Football is still entertainment out here. It’s not like Washington [D.C.] or Dallas, where it’s, like, everything.”

Astute Seattle residents can’t be blamed for being reluctant to pay to see two teams who don’t even deserve to be in the playoffs.

The Packers, Vikings, Seahawks and Rams all finished in the bottom 12 in scoring defense, and all but the Rams were in the bottom eight in yards allowed. However, each team does have a playoff-worthy offense with Green Bay (third), Minnesota (fourth), St. Louis (sixth) and Seattle (eighth) among the elite in yards. Surprisingly, the Rams had a hard time finding the end zone, ranking 19th in scoring.

Quarterbacks Brett Favre of Green Bay and Daunte Culpepper of Minnesota provided plenty of entertainment in a pair of 34-31 seesaw Packers victories. Quarterback Marc Bulger rallied St. Louis from a late 17-point deficit to win in Seattle and then beat Alexander and Co. by a clearer 23-12 margin at home.

The incompetence of these four teams also isn’t characteristic of their coaches. Seattle’s Mike Holmgren has been to two Super Bowls and won one. St. Louis’ Mike Martz lost a Super Bowl in the final seconds. Mike Sherman is in the playoffs for the fourth time in his five years in Green Bay. Only Tice is in virgin territory.

On the other hand, all four defensive coordinators — Minnesota’s Ted Cottrell, Green Bay’s Bob Slowik, Seattle’s Ray Rhodes and St. Louis’ Larry Marmie — were fired by previous teams, all but Slowik having been dismissed after the 2002 or 2003 seasons.

History says to watch Green Bay and St. Louis. The Packers have won five of the last six at Lambeau Field against the Vikings, who are 3-23 outdoors dating to Oct. 29, 2000, and Martz is 5-2 against Holmgren. Plus, nine of the previous 14 teams that swept their playoff foes during the season — as the Packers and Rams did — beat them again in the playoffs.

However, the Rams’ minus-24 turnover ratio is easily the NFL’s worst, and the Packers are minus-14.

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