The magnitude of these games is certainly not lost on the players. Billy Volek realized it when his children started asking why the other kids were suddenly being nice to them. Ryan Grant realized it when he began being mentioned in the same sentence as the great Dorsey Levens.
Hoping to find out more about what this week is like for the players, I decided to spend all of Tuesday shadowing Philip Rivers. Here is how his day went.
8:50 a.m. -- Calls neighbor across the street to gloat that his recycling was picked up first.
11:00 a.m. -- Light workout at Chargers practice facility; brags to Antonio Gates that his knee is healing better that Gates' toe.
12:27 p.m. -- Kicked out of team meeting for yelling "stink" every time Norv Turner says the word "Patriots."
4:30 p.m. -- Visits sick children in hospital; guarantees he can take three anesthetics and still run up and down the building's eight flights of stairs.
8:56 p.m. -- Wakes up on floor of hospital room.
10:24 p.m. -- Calls the number Tom Brady gave him for a little pregame chat; call cannot be completed because the number dialed is currently not in service; the number is only eight digits.
11:15 p.m. -- Begins playing Chargers vs. Patriots on Madden 08; pushes "reset" button midway through the 2nd quarter; immediately goes to sleep.
Overall, it was an unforgettable day. Now let's move on to the games.
San Diego at New England (-14): The Patriots have a swagger like nobody else in professional sports. Every time they step on the field each player believes he's unstoppable. After 17 straight wins you can't argue they don't deserve to feel that way. (Except for Laurence Maroney. I don't care if Bill Belichick says he's an important part of the team -- the Patriots could win the Super Bowl with Larry Izzo playing running back.)
To combat this swagger the Chargers have been talking a lot of "smack," something which will inevitably lead to the Patriots feeling disrespected. This will happen even though it's clear the Chargers are only talking trash because the team is terrified. Completely and utterly terrified. Don't be shocked if a bunch of their defensive backs suddenly disappear to an island in the South Pacific, never to be heard from again.
Eighteen weeks ago the Patriots demolished the Chargers in Foxboro. Everybody remembers that. What people don't remember is that the game was only in Week 2. At that time the other 31 teams still didn't know that Tom Brady was going to throw the ball on every play. The Chargers defense probably spent 35 percent of their time trying to figure out how to slow the Patriots running game. They were preparing for a different team than the one they faced. Now the Chargers know what team to prepare for. Does that mean they have a chance?
Pick: New England 31, San Diego 10.
New York Giants at Green Bay (-7): On Sunday the temperature in Lambeau Field is expected to be anywhere from 2 to 5 degrees. Fahrenheit. That's good news for Plaxico Burress (it's like his sore ankle is being iced the entire game!) and bad news for the winning coach (who must avoid being knocked unconscious when a giant block of Gatorade ice is dumped on his head.)
Eli Manning is going to be having fun regardless of what the weather is like. Do you realize this is probably the first time in his life that his team's season has lasted longer than Peyton's? Even when they were kids I assume Peyton's team always went farther, leaving Eli to bitterly watch as Peyton led his team towards a championship. Now the shoe is finally on the other foot.
So can the Giants pull off the upset? There are two key factors to look at.
The first is yellow towels. You heard me right. Last week the Packers gave their fans yellow towels to wave in support of the team. That's an absolute no-no. The yellow towel belongs to the Steelers. It's been that way for almost 40 years. There was no reason for the Packers to hijack the Steelers tradition. Packers fans shouldn't need to towels to get fired up for a Lambeau playoff game. If the Packers give away the towels again on Sunday the NFL's karmic forces might smite them down.
The other (and more earthly factor) is the Giants banged up secondary. They'll have to give the Packers receivers sizeable cushions, and that will give Brett Favre the space to shred the defense with quick slants and short crosses. Sorry Eli, your time as the good son will soon come to an end.
Pick: Green Bay 28, New York 17
Last Week: 2-2Playoffs: 6-2
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