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Saturday, Jan 7

   by Larry Ness - 01/07/2006

The NFL took 17 weeks to narrow its playoff field to 12 and now will play an 11-game postseason to determine its champion. The New England Patriots will try and become the first team to ever win three Super Bowls and join the Green Bay Packers as the only team to have won three straight NFL titles. Green Bay won the NFL title in 1965 and then won Super Bowls I and II following the 1966 and 1967 seasons.

As I mentioned yesterday, SEVEN of this year's playoffs participants were not part of last year's postseason, something that's become somewhat of a trend in recent years. In fact, SIX of this year's playoff teams are coming off 2004 seasons in which they were .500 or worse. That list includes Carolina (7-9), Chicago (5-11), Cincinnati (8-8), the New York Giants (6-10), Tampa Bay (5-11) and Washington (6-10).
One-year turnarounds like these have become almost routine in the NFL since 2000. Over the last six seasons, 31 of the 72 playoff participants (43.1 percent) have been teams that were .500 or worse the year before.

My free play for Saturday is in college hoops on George Washington over Marshall at 7:00 ET.DON'T miss my LEGEND Play (13-2 in FB '05) in the NFL for this wild card weekend or my 20* Wild Card Game of the Year. Both are available right now at the picks for sale page. In Saturday's college hoops, I'm featuring just my fourth LEGEND Play of this year's basketball season (off to a 3-0 start!), as well as a number of other BKB plays (NBA and college) available by 10:00 ET!

NFL head coaches have been in the news since the end of the regular season with teams firing them left and right. THREE of this year's playoff teams will feature head coaches making their playoff debuts. Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis debut this weekend, with Chicago's Lovie Smith getting his chance next weekend. New England's Bill Belichick and Washington's Joe Gibbs each own three Super Bowl rings but of course Gibbs' last Super Bowl triumph came way back in the 1991 season (SB XXVI).

Mike Shanahan of the Broncos owns two Super Bowl rings, while Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren won his ring after the 1996 season with Green Bay and Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden won his just three seasons ago with the Bucs. Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher and Carolina's John Fox have both led their teams to a Super Bowl but both lost in their one opportunity. The NY Giants' Tom Coughlin and Indy's Tony Dungy both have loads of playoff experience, but neither has reached the NFL's "ultimate" game.

FIVE of this year's teams will open the playoffs with a QB making his first postseason start. Chris Simms for Washington and either Byron Leftwich or David Garrard for Jacksonville debut Saturday. Eli Manning of the Giants and Carson Palmer of the Bengals get their chance on Sunday, plus the Bears' Rex Grossman gets his first playoff start next weekend. However, you may find it surprising that FIVE of the last 10 Super Bowl champions have been led by a QB making his first postseason appearance.

Tom Brady is the "leader in the clubhouse", when it comes to postseason experience and wins among this year's group of playoff QBs. Brady has led New England to three Super Bowl titles over the last four seasons, going a perfect 9-0 in postseason games. Brady is the only one of this year's playoff QBs to have won a Super Bowl.

Brunell (4-4) and Manning (3-5) rank behind Brady with eight playoff appearances each. Delhomme (3-1) has made four previous postseason starts, leading the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII following the 2003 season. Jake Plummer (1-3) also owns four playoff starts, while Ben Roethlisberger (1-1) and Matt Hasselbeck (0-2) will be making their third postseason starts in this year's playoffs.

Saturday's games are Washington at Tampa Bay and Jacksonville at New England. The Bucs beat the 'Skins in Tampa back in Week 10 (36-35), while the Jags and Pats haven't met since late in 2003. The Bucs are favored by 2 1/2 points (total of 37) and the Pats are favored by 7 1/2 points (total is also 37).

Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET and Saturday and Sunday at 7:00 ET.

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