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Unconventional Preview: The wild cards

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 3, 2014 10:32 AM

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Welcome to Season 2, Episode 17 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-yet-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday around noon. Actually, amend that: Because the Patriots have a hard-earned and necessary bye this weekend, let's instead take a look at this weekend's four compelling wild-card playoff games, with the requisite (but not Patriots-centric) video clips, football cards, and woefully inaccurate predictions included. Kick it off, Succop, and let's get this thing started ...

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FOUR PLAYERS WE'LL BE WATCHING WHO AREN'T TOM BRADY (SINCE TOM BRADY DOESN'T HAVE A GAME THIS WEEK AND ALL)
1. Jamaal Charles:
Chiefs at Colts, 4:35 p.m. Saturday, NBC
The Kansas City running back put together another stellar season, rushing for 1,287 yards (his fourth 1,000-yard season) and a career-best 12 touchdowns. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry, which actually lowered his career average to 5.6 yards per attempts. Tell me again how he lasted until the third round in the 2008 NFL Draft, where the Chiefs took him 11 picks after the Patriots grabbed Terrence Wheatley?

2. Chip Kelly
Saints at Eagles, 8:10 p.m. Saturday, NBC
Right, Kelly's not a player -- but the Eagles coach might be the most fascinating personality in this game. Don't know about you, but I get the sense Kelly could get the Eagles to average 25 points per game with his former New Hampshire star Ricky Santos at quarterback. Yes, I would say his style has translated to the NFL just fine. At last check, the over/under for this game was 53.5. Seems about 30 points short of what I expect, even in frigid conditions.

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3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Chargers at Bengals, 1:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Flashy rookie Giovani Bernard ran for 695 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, but he has struggled lately. In the Bengals' final three games of the regular season, he carried 39 times for 75 yards. Meanwhile, the workmanlike Green is coming off an 11-carry, 66-yard performance in the regular-season finale against the Ravens, and he had a 92-yard performance against the Chargers on December 1, a 17-10 Bengals win. He could have some fun once more against San Diego's 21st-ranked run defense.

4. Colin Kaepernick
Niners at Packers, 4:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox
There's no bigger wild-card player in the wild-card round than the Niners quarterback, who so memorably tore up the Packers with 181 rushing yards and four touchdowns (two passing) during San Francisco's 45-31 win in the NFC Championship Game last January. Kaepernick has been uneven in his first full season as a starter, and it will be fascinating to see how he fares as he attempts to go 3-0 in his career against Green Bay.

STUCK IN COLDER WEATHER, MAYBE TOMORROW WILL BE BETTER ...

This isn't the first Chiefs-Chargers postseason matchup in Cincinnati, and no matter how it plays out, it's unlikely to be the most memorable. What we have here is the full game video of NBC's coverage of the infamous Freezer Bowl, the January 10, 1982 AFC title game matchup between the Chargers and Bengals, an ice-fest that was played in sub-zero temperatures. It was so cold that day in Cincinnati -- a minus-47 degree wind chill by some accounts -- that Dan Fouts's beard is still thawing to this day.

delaneyjoefinn13.JPGCOMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD References to Charles tend to send us into reminiscence about a dynamic Chiefs back of the past who might have done great things on Sundays had he not been a hero on another fateful day. Joe Delaney made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1981, rushing for 1,121 yards at 4.8 yards per carry. Plagued by eye and knee problems his second year, he didn't have quite the same success, but he was still considered a cornerstone of the Chiefs' future. That all took a tragic turn on June 29, 1982, when Delaney, just 24 years old, died while attempting to rescue three children from drowning at a man-made swimming hole in his hometown of Monroe, Louisiana. Delaney could not swim. If you're unfamiliar with his story, Rick Reilly wrote a worthwhile remembrance in 1993 near the 20th anniversary of his death. The Chiefs also pay homage with a short film on their website.

THE TWELVE PLAYOFF QUARTERBACKS, BEST-TO-ALEX SMITH
Shaughnessy has his list. I have mine:

1. Brady: Put him in Denver, and is there any doubt he matches all of Manning's numbers with those weapons? And he owns Manning head-to-head. This hasn't been his flashiest season or even his best, but it has come with the highest degree of difficulty, and he's been brilliant in ways both subtle and obvious.

manningfinn1314.JPG2. Peyton Manning: He just completed the greatest statistical season a quarterback has ever had, and yet if Denver falls before February, don't we have to start thinking of him in the same vein we do Brett Favre? Great stats, too reckless in the postseason? Also: if you thought there was a chance the league was taking away his passing yardage record because a completion was really a lateral, you could use more cynicism in your life. He could have punted the ball backward over his shoulder and they still wouldn't have given the record back to Drew Brees.

3. Aaron Rodgers: There aren't five quarterbacks in NFL history who could have made the play Rodgers pulled off to get the Packers into the playoffs. And to think he did it in his first game back from a busted collarbone.

4. Drew Brees: Remember when 4,000 passing yards was considered a great season for a quarterback? Brees has now had four 5,000-yard seasons.

wilsonrussellarchives1314.JPG5. Russell Wilson: Tempting to put him higher, but the four above him already have hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. He's the odds-on favorite to do so this year, but he'll have to overcome his coach to do it.

6. Cam Newton: Has more pure ability than anyone on this list other than perhaps Rodgers, and as he showed in the Panthers' victory over the Patriots in November, he's also mastering the complexities and subtleties of playing quarterback in the NFL. With a Panthers playoff run, he could crack the top three on this list next year.

7. Kaepernick: Not that Ron Jaworski's August proclamation that Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever was premature, but I suspect he's one bad playoff half away from Jim Harbaugh losing his mind and inserting himself at quarterback.

8. Philip Rivers: Named the quarterback on the All-Punchable-Face Team for the ninth straight season, Rivers nonetheless had an outstanding season, completing 69.5 percent of his passes en route to 4,478 passing yards and 32 TDs.

9. Andrew Luck: Tallied the same number of TD passes (23) and four more completions (343) than he did as a rookie, but threw for more than 500 fewer yards. His time will come, but not this season.

10. Nick Foles: In 13 games this season, he threw 27 touchdowns passes against two interceptions, which is 21 more TDs and three fewer picks than he had in seven games as a rookie.

11. Andy Dalton: The Bengals are loaded. But you get the sense their fans would feel more comfortable if Ken Anderson were starting at quarterback this week. And while he was excellent in his own right, he's also 64 years old.

12. Alex Smith: Are we sure he's better than Chase Daniel?

PREDICTION, OR FOUR-PREDICTIONS-FOR-THE-PRICE-OF-ONE, ACTUALLY : We'll keep this simple: Chiefs, Bengals, Niners, Saints. The Pats get the Bengals next weekend, and the Chiefs get to hand Peyton his ninth one-and-done. Book it.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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